After seeing two Deren movies in HD on the Masterworks of Avant-Garde blu-ray, I thought it was time to rewatch the others on the ol’ DVD.
At Land (1944)
Just as cool as Meshes, in a way, but with less sci-fi/thriller genre imagery. Maya washes up on shore, creeps around, climbs into a meeting room, then seeks a missing chess piece, finally stealing a replacement from a couple by the beach. Continuous action across different locations, so Maya will creep forward across the board room and through tree branches, cutting between. It’s already a cool effect, but then the ending recontextualizes everything, as the chess thief Maya runs past each of the other Mayas performing different actions – more of the Meshes-style doubling. Silent, so I played “The Ship” by Brian Eno, a good musical match once I made myself stop focusing on the lyrics.
One aspect in which the film is completely successful, it seems to me, is that the techniques, though complicated, are executed with such quiet subtlety that one is unaware of the strangeness of the film while one looks at it. It is only afterwards, as after a dream, that one realizes how strange were the events and is surprised by the seeming normalcy of them while they are occurring.
It presents a relativistic universe … in which the problen of the individual, as the sole continuous element, is to relate herself to a fluid, apparently incoherent, universe. It is in a sense a mythological voyage of the twentieth century.
Much harder than Meshes to get across the greatness of this one through stills, since it’s all about editing and motion:
A Study in Choreography for Camera (1945)
Dancer(s?) in the woods, moving indoors then to an art gallery and back through discontinuous editing, cool and silent and very short. Oh yeah, it was the same dancer appearing four times during a single camera pan in the opening shot, impressive.
[The dancer] moved in a world of imagination in which, as in our day or night-dreams, a person is first in one place and then another without traveling between.
Ritual in Transfigured Time (1946)
Rita wanders through different activities, flees each one: Maya knitting, a party featuring Anais Nin, and dancing with some shirtless guy. As she runs from the last one, Rita becomes Maya, wading into the ocean.
Deren was trying “to create a dance film, not only out of filmic time and space relations, but also out of nondance elements … save for a final sequence the actual movements are not dance movements.”
Deren on her films up to now:
Meshes is, one might say, almost expressionist; it externalizes an inner world to the point where it is confounded with the external one. At Land has little to do with the inner world of the protagonist, it externalizes the hidden dynamics of the external world, and here the drama results from the activity of the external world. It is as if I had moved from a concern with the life of a fish to a concern with the sea which accounts for the character of the fish and its life. And Ritual pulls back even further, to a point of view from which the external world itself is but an element in the entire structure and scheme of metamorphosis: the sea itself changes because of the larger changes of the earth. Ritual is about the nature and process of change. And just as Choreography was an effort to isolate and celebrate the principle of the power of movement, which was contained in At Land, so I made, after Ritual, the film Meditation on Violence, which tried to abstract the principle of ongoing metamorphosis and change which was in Ritual.
Anais Nin is unimpressed by the dancers:
The Very Eye of Night (1958)
Dancers superimposed twirling against a cheap black starscape. Woodwind music by Teiji Ito (later Maya’s husband) with some tinkling, chattering sections that got my birds riled up. “Her concern was with plastic development, conflict of scale, and dimensional illusion rather than with total structure,” per P. Adams Sitney.