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Together, Separately: Maya Deren

"It is the film machine which is the impregnated woman. It is out of this that the male artists’ respect for their medium comes — that they are less spontaneously self-expressive and concern themselves with the machines of the instrument which they impregnate, whereas most women artists are best when they are sort of spontaneous? I mean that women should be, for example, singers — themselves a source of the action — whereas men are composers — impregnating the orchestral instruments? Or women be actresses, but hardly playwrights, which is the same principle. Yet, I once said it in reverse. That woman expresses herself through the creation of another human being — be it child, or the lover she inspires, or the husband she protects and encourages, whereas men express themselves so directly.
In any case, for me, this physical contact with the film instrument seems always to have been initially important. The Rolleiflex which I can hold in my hands, steady with my neck, press against my chest and hold my breath at the moment of snapping the shutter; or the Bolex, with the vibration of the motor running down my arm — I would like to shoot by hand altogether but of course this would limit the camera. Like a cat, it sometimes permits itself to be held warmly. But there are other times when you have to let it stand on its tripod legs.
I think one must at least begin with the body feeling. Once established, we understand each other and can work better together, separately."

- From the Notebook of Maya Deren. February 16, 1947

Maya Deren is one of the most influential American avant-gardist filmmakers, with a background in choreography and poetry visibly incarnated in her films. Images move across the screen in rhythms dancerly and urgent, making for a pioneering oeuvre of feminine/feminist filmmaking.

Meshes of the Afternoon, one of her early works, is an uncanny, California-set short which lead to New York Times dance critic John Martin coining term ‘choreocinema’ as a descriptor for Deren’s connection between dance and cinema. It follows a surreal and suprematist drama of two lovers diametrically opposite: a beautiful woman and a cloaked figure, shadowy apartment interiors and bright exteriors, movement jolted by frames of mathematical rigidity and stoicism.

Ritual in Transfigured Time, as the title pertains, is Deren at her most ritualistic and formally driven. The camera dances with its subjects so generously its mechanics feel animated in ways modernist and self-expressive. It lingers playfully on bodies in synergy and dance as a game of chess, making clear the enticing sociality of Deren’s filmmaking.


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