Meshes of the Afternoon (1942)

At Land (1943)

Ritual in Transfigured Time (1945)

Maya Deren

 

Maya Deren sent shock waves through the art world of the 1940s with her trilogy of films: Meshes of the Afternoon (1942), At Land (1943) and Ritual in Transfigured Time (1945). These beautiful, poetic films reflect an inner world of trance, dream and magickal archetypes, and marked the beginning of the American avant-garde cinema movement. Deren had been involved in witchcraft prior to making these films and went on to become a Voudoun High Priestess.

Deren was born in Kiev, Ukraine. In 1922 the family fled to Syracuse, New York, where her father became the staff psychiatrist at the State Institute for the Feeble-minded in Syracuse. Much of the symbolism in her films is due, in part, to his influence. In 1943, she adopted the name Maya Deren. Maya is the name of the mother of the historical Buddha as well as the dharmic concept of reality being but an illusion.
Deren also travelled to Haiti, and not only filmed many hours of voodoo ritual, but also participated in them and adopted the religion. Her book on the subject, Divine Horsemen: the Living Gods of Haiti, is often considered a definitive source.

 

Meshes of the Afternoon is an 18 minute silent film, with music that was added later. It has a dreamlike (or nightmarish) quality, establishing an atmosphere saturated in paranoia and distrust with lovers turning into killers and with the presence of a mysterious but fascinating hooded figure. It is expresses uncanny estrangement in the elusive doubling, trebling and even quadrupling of its central characters, and in the incorporation of the “psychogenic fugue”: The evacuation and replacement of identities (which is central to the voodoo ritual). The film heavily incorporates psychological symbolism.

 

At Land is a 15 minute silent film, reinforcing her interest in the juxtaposition of anachronistic spaces and introduces a critique of social rituals. The changes of scale and locations run together with a dream-like quality, combining into a journey reflecting the journey of life.

 

Ritual in Transfigured Time is a rite of passage where "a widow becomes a bride". Ritual archetypes are juxtaposed with images of modernity and frozen matter - freeze frames, statues, bodies – are ‘spiritualized’ through movement, similarly how symbolist poetry (one of Deren’s poetic influences) ‘spiritualized language’.

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