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Maya Deren

Maya Deren: Incomplete Control

Sarah Keller
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Maya Deren
    Book Description:

    Maya Deren (1917-1961) was a Russian-born American filmmaker, theorist, poet, and photographer working at the forefront of the American avant-garde in the 1940s and 1950s. Influenced by Jean Cocteau and Marcel Duchamp, she is best known for her seminal film Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), a dream-like experiment with time and symbol, looped narrative and provocative imagery, setting the stage for the twentieth-century's groundbreaking aesthetic movements and films.

    Maya Deren assesses both the filmmaker's completed work and her numerous unfinished projects, arguing Deren's overarching aesthetic is founded on principles of incompletion, contingency, and openness. Combining the contrasting approaches of documentary, experimental, and creative film, Deren created a wholly original experience for film audiences that disrupted the subjectivity of cinema, its standards of continuity, and its dubious facility with promoting categories of realism. This critical retrospective reflects on the development of Deren's career and the productive tensions she initiated that continue to energize film.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53847-3
    Subjects: Film Studies, History, Art & Art History, Philosophy

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction Unfinished Business
    (pp. 1-29)

    On October 23, 1961, Maya Deren’s car was parked illegally, and she was issued a ticket. Deren’s car was often parked illegally; her archives contain a sheaf of emerald green violations from 1960–61, neatly bound together. However her liability for the tickets might have been determined prior to late October of 1961, Deren could not be held responsible for this particular ticket: she had died in a Manhattan hospital ten days earlier, the victim of a cerebral hemorrhage. In the days that passed between suffering collapse and her death on October 13, Deren lay in a coma. While in...

  5. ONE Done and Undone Meshes of the Afternoon and Witch’s Cradle
    (pp. 31-80)

    Meshes of the Afternoon, Maya Deren’s earliest and best-known film, was made early in 1943 in collaboration with her then-newlywed husband, Alexander Hammid. A film that initiates Deren’s most substantive artistic interests translated into cinematic form, it was made in the first phase of Deren’s excitement about the qualities particular to the medium of filmmaking. Then and thereafter, in an auspicious beginning to a career as a filmmaker, Deren apprenticed herself to learn from Hammid, an already gifted filmmaker.Meshesis still one of the most recognizable touchstones of American experimental film, and it has shaped cinema history’s sense of...

  6. TWO Toward Completion and Control At Land, A Study in Choreography for Camera, and Ritual in Transfigured Time
    (pp. 81-134)

    Maya Deren’s active years of filmmaking lasted from 1943 until her death in 1961—a total of eighteen years. During that time she finished six films, four of which she made during a concentrated, robust period of work from 1943 to 1946. With the exception of the incompleteWitch’s Cradleproject, these early years bore abundant fruit: Deren completed a film per year and at the same time wrote several of the theoretical texts most associated with her legacy. In September of 1947, however, Deren took the first of several trips to Haiti; after that point, it would take her...

  7. THREE Haiti
    (pp. 135-188)

    Although Maya Deren began to focus her energy on plans for a film involving Haiti as early as 1946 in the wake of her success in securing a grant from the Guggenheim Foundation, and although she continued to make progress on that project long thereafter, it never came to fruition in the form she initially intended. It became instead her great, unfinished labor. She never relinquished her plans for it entirely and continued to repurpose her work concerning Haiti until her death in 1961. Over this span of years, she devised several other kinds of projects related to Haiti as...

  8. FOUR Full Circle
    (pp. 189-240)

    At the same time that Deren was laboring on many Haiti-related works, she proposed and worked on several things not immediately related to those materials. Deren finished and distributed two more films during this period,Meditation on ViolenceandThe Very Eye of Night, and she made headway in her plans for other films, including one on Medusa, one about the circus, and one that she called a “haiku film,” through which she intended to explore poetic form and themes of communal relations. In addition, Deren continued a program of lectures, traveled with her films around the United States, served...

  9. Conclusion In Completing a Thought, A Last Word (for now …)
    (pp. 241-246)

    The trajectory of Maya Deren’s career is intersected by the ethos of incompletion, usually discernible in tension with its complementary idea of completion. Even the films generally accepted as whole and complete—Meshes of the Afternoon, for instance—are marked by incompletion, so that Deren could radically shift the registers of its meaning by adding a soundtrack some fifteen years later. We might further note the openness of the film if we think about what Lucy Fischer has termed its “afterlives.”¹ In Fischer’s provocative keynote address for a symposium marking the fiftieth anniversary of Deren’s death, she outlined the manifold...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 247-268)
  11. Index
    (pp. 269-278)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 279-282)