(director/writer: Maya Deren; Runtime: 76; MPAA Rating: NR; Mystic Fire Video; 1943)

“Maya Deren from 1943 until her death in 1961 led the avant-garde movement in cinema.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Maya Deren from 1943 until her death in 1961 led the avant-garde movement in cinema. She disregards traditional linear narrative structure, instead employs powerful dreamlike images that manipulate time and space to achieve a twilight zone between fiction and reality. This Mystic Fire video features six of her noted short experimental films. They include Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), At Land (1944), A Study in Choreography for Camera (1945), Ritual in Transfigured Time (1945), Meditation on Violence (1948), and The Very Eye of Night (1959).

Maya’s masterpieceis the 14 minute “Meshes of The Afternoon,” made in collaboration with Czech filmmaker Alexander Hammid (her second husband) and the score is by Teiji Ito (her third husband). It’s a alternatively complex, psychological study of a distraught housewife and how she looks at things when returning to her home and goes into a nervous breakdown; the woman is played by Maya. The director has said “The mind begins with the matter at hand–the incidental curve of a road or the accidental movement of a passing figure. As it perceives these it possesses them as images, as the stuff of which it composes its night and day dreams in the forms of its desires and despairs.”

Meditation on Violence used her interest in mysticism and dance, and left a deep impression on me. It’s 12 minutes and the music is arranged by Maya. “The Wu-tang school of boxing derives from philosophical concepts in the Book of Changes. The emphasis is upon life as an on-going metamorphosis, a continuous alternation between negative and positive.”

Maya was born in 1917 in Kiev, Russia; as a child she immigrated with her Jewish family to America and settled in Syracuse. After her B.A. degree in journalism from NYU and an M.A. degree in literature from Smith, her interest in dance led her to film. Her groundbreaking lyrical experimental movies all had the similar striking theme of dream versus reality. These six short films give you an idea of the rich legacy she left behind. Her work influenced such great filmmakers as Luis Bu├▒uel and Jean Cocteau, and many others today.

Meshes of the Afternoon Poster