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Maya Deren - Experimental Films

4.6 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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(Jun 26, 2007)
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Editorial Reviews

The collected shorts of Maya Deren the ""Mother of the trance film"" who worked completely outside the commercial film industry and made her own inner experience the center of her films.

Special Features

None.

Product Details

  • Actors: Maya Deren
  • Directors: Maya Deren
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Unrated
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Microcinema International
  • DVD Release Date: June 26, 2007
  • Run Time: 76 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000PY3XE6
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #117,287 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Craig Dickson on March 5, 2008
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I think it was Stan Brakhage who once explained the importance of Maya Deren to the development of underground film culture by saying, "She is the mother of us all." This DVD collects the short films that prove Brakhage right. All of them are in black and white; most of them are about 15 minutes long (the one exception is even shorter than that); and all are silent, though some have musical accompaniment.

"Meshes of the Afternoon" (1943), made in collaboration with her then-husband, Hollywood cameraman Alexander Hamid, is the foundation of American experimental cinema. It tells a dream-like story that loops back on itself with variations, telling a dream-like story of a woman (Deren) following a strange, cloaked figure with a mirror for a face. It is an endlessly fascinating film made all the more intense by its brevity. Along with Kenneth Anger's "Fireworks", it is the finest distillation of dream into film that I have seen.

"At Land" (1944) begins with a woman (Deren again) being washed up on the shore by the ocean and climbing up into a series of curious adventures. A good early example of the "trance" film.

"A Study in Choreography for Camera" (1945) is only four minutes long and doesn't really tell a story; it's more a brief experiment in the cinematography and editing of dance footage, with an innovative opening in which the camera rotates in place and manages to pass the same figure four times before completing the circle.

"Ritual in Transfigured Time" (1946) is arguably Deren's greatest film. Three women (Deren, writer Anais Nin, and dancer Rita Christiani) play archetypal roles in the the transformation of "widow into bride" (as Deren explained it).
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... but, this Mystic Fire Video release, at least as of 2013-4, is in the format of DVD-R, not DVD. If it has to be done this way, at least, I think, this piece of information should be made clear at this site.(*1) The video and audio quality also leaves a lot to be desired.

Maya Deren is arguably one of the most important and innovative avant-garde filmmakers in the history of (American) cinema. These films are (generally regarded) masterpieces and important pioneering works of American experimental films. Meshes of the Afternoon, made in 1943 with Alexander Hammid, in particular stands as a seminal avant-garde film and reaches a status comparable to Un Chien Andalou in some quarters. Indeed, the influence of Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí is there. An excellent reference is John Rhode's book Meshes of the Afternoon (Bfi Film Classics).

Certainly I do not expect the "Criterion treatment" of a Deren DVD, which is probably not financially feasible anyway. However, I do wish there are some commentaries from noted Deren experts, which usually doesn't cost a great deal and the added value is likely the best way to fight off the online free videos at youtube. Also, some minimal cleanup of the video and audio would have been nice. The video and audio quality leaves plenty room for improvement. There is also one minor slip-up: the running time for the third film "A Study in Choreography for Camera" is only 2:13, but is labeled "4 min" on the back cover. All these indicates that Mystic Fire Video probably did not take this release seriously enough.
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I first encountered references to Maya Deren in a book about women Surrealist artists, and she certainly fits that category, among others. Her three short Surrealist films, "Meshes of the Afternoon," "At Land," and "Ritual in Transfigured Time," are my favorites in this collection of her work. Wonderfully dreamlike meditations on divisions in personal identity and transformation, they star the exotically beautiful Deren herself, often in multiple copies, as well as (especially in "Ritual") other women styled to resemble her, one of whom (I learned from the notes accompanying the films) was the famous writer Anais Nin. The films are full of haunting images, such as a black-cloaked figure with a mirror where its face should be ("Meshes") and a woman laboriously pulling herself up the length of an immense dinner table while the chattering diners completely ignore her ("At Land").

Most of the remaining films show dances, augmented by filmic techniques such as slow motion, which makes the dancer seem to float through the air. This emphasis on dance is not surprising, since Deren herself danced for a while with Katherine Dunham's troupe and remained interested in dance and its potential interaction with film all her life. For me these films were less moving than the Surrealist ones, but I imagine that students of modern dance, and of the filming of dance, will find them very rewarding.

The collection also includes a ten-minute segment from a one-hour film made (by Deren's third husband and his second wife) out of the extensive footage that Deren took during her visits to Haiti to study voudun ("voodoo"). The full film is available on a separate disc (
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