Who are you, Maya?
Maya Deren: I have seen all her movies. Impossible to catch her in a formula. Meshes of the Afternoon is undoubtedly a masterpiece - among the best ever - only is atypical for her. Besides, some serious folks think the real creator of the movie was actually Alexander Hammid, her husband by that time. So the story goes that he was so in love for her that he decided to let Maya be known as the main director of the film. As an ironical twist, Maya's third husband (composer Teiji Ito) would much later score the movie. And the score is crazily great, like all his music. He was also crazily in love for her. Anyway, one couldn't fall in love for her but crazily. She was so beautiful! And so distinguished!
Despite all these speculations, it seems that the universe of ideas for this movie was imagined by her. Hammid filmed her ideas.
But it's atypical in her creation. This movie has a plot of sorts, whichever fantastic, but a plot: something happens there. The same for At Land: besides all spatial confusions (made on purpose, of course), something happens there, too.
But take Meditation on Violence: a Chinese dance - its movements have philosophical correspondences (whichever weird that seems) - only we watch a dance of 12 minutes. That's all. And believe me, it's superb: if a movie speaks through image and rhythm (camera and edition), then this movie has a rhythm which is phenomenal! The images flow one another, they follow a filmic logic that you can feel; and it is a circular movie: the second part runs back toward the beginning and it seems so natural! Think at Bach: Die Kunst der Fuge, Contrapunctus XV - Canon per Augmentationem in Contrario Motu.
I think I should start from her cultural interests. It seems to me that she was interested in myth, as fundamental expression of ourselves, ritual, as support for myth, dance, as sublimation of ritual.
She was not too far from the realm of Eliade and Culianu. Only she followed her own path in that realm, naturally. Her path led her to Haiti. She shot for a good couple of years in Haiti, she immersed in the Voodoo culture, eventually she became a Voodoo priestess.
Maya Deren first went to Haiti as an artist . . . but the manifestations of rapture that seized her, and transported her beyond the bounds of any art she had ever known (Joseph Campbell).
She wrote a book about her findings, Divine Horsemen. The Living Gods of Haiti. As for the movie, it remained unfinished. Years after her death, Teiji Ito took the footage and edited it, along with his new wife, Cherel Ito. The result can be seen on the UbuWeb page (Divine Horsemen).
What does myth mean for Maya Deren? Here should be my point of departure. If myths express our fundamentals, then they talk about life and death, subconscious, eros. Myths express a reality that is much larger than the one that's obvious.
Labels: Maya Deren