Maya Deren: Incomplete Control (Film and Culture Series)

Maya Deren: Incomplete Control (Film and Culture Series)

Sarah Keller

Language: English

Pages: 296

ISBN: 0231162219

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

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.











work, but it also expands the territory under consideration to include—indeed, to privilege—the work Deren never completed as the foundation for understanding the undercurrents of all of her work. In the context of Deren’s entire cinematic output, the notion of incompletion emerges as indispensible, producing energies that paradoxically serve both to motivate her finished projects and thwart or redirect her progress in them. This paradox develops in multiple ways across Deren’s work, so that

day; in 2005, Max Beauvoir founded the National Confederation of Haitian Vodou, in part to counteract recurring acts of discrimination and violence against practitioners of Voudoun by Christian evangelicals. 32. Deren, notes on Haiti, MDC. 33. DH, 14. 34. Her first (unsuccessful) Guggenheim application was made in November 1944, when she was just finishing Study in Choreography for Camera. 35. LMD I.2, 373. In any event, including this information did not hurt her application. She writes to

ritual forms in her work—an impulse that led her more centrally to investigate collective energies. That film’s multiple options and outtakes serve too as an object lesson in Deren’s process—one that juggled possibility for as long as possible before fixing on an ending and a degree of conditional closure to her plans. In fact, 1946 was a year of transitions for Deren, who determined to use her Guggenheim foundation grant first to finish Ritual in Transfigured Time and after that directed those

Here structuration is crucial, as form dissociates embodiment from the natural.41 Turim further argues that the mission to combine ritual form with an individual protagonist’s quest points to the nature of several of the energies harnessed in Meshes of the Afternoon (violence and death, for example). It might also suggest an alternative to ways we have traditionally processed the role of women’s bodies and subjectivities. Indeed, the way the film is structured according to a poetic form,

motion—itself predicated on the constraints of the human body in limiting or expanding space—and cinematic motion, together. In these ways, Study conveys the maintenance of tensions that underscores Deren’s film practice, with special emphasis on the incompletion/ completion binary effected through a gestural aesthetic. The final sequence taps into the longing to be freed from gravity, to master the vertical axis: depth and height. It addresses a movement impossible even for the dancer whose

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