[Deep Focus]
Films by
Maya Deren

Mystic Fire Video


Some of the most startling images in Maya Deren's film-poem, "Meshes of the Afternoon," were coopted in 1994 by model-turned-actress-turned-songstress Milla Jovovich for a music video, which says even more about Deren's durable work than the dearth of new ideas on MTV.

Working in the 1940s and 50s, Deren was the first giant of American experimental filmmaking. Her short films anticipated the work of Stan Brakhage, Jonas Mekas, and other pioneers even as her life, tinged with mystery, sadness, and Voudoun ritual, became the stuff of legend among the artists she influenced. The movies themselves (some made in collaboration with husband Alexander "Sasha" Hammid) are haunting, lyrical, and breathtaking fusions of human and cinematic movement, where the actors dance with the camera. Lillian Gish and Leni Riefenstahl are perhaps the only women who stand as tall as Deren in the development of the cinema.

If you're an interested stranger to non-narrative filmmaking, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better introduction than Mystic Fire's compilation of her best-known work. The collection includes "Meshes of the Afternoon" (1943, music 1959), "At Land" (1944), "A Study in Choreography for Camera" (1945), "Ritual in Transfigured Time" (1946), "Meditation on Violence" (1948), and "The Very Eye of Night" (1952, music 1959), and was recently reissued on DVD -- with extra features unavailable on the VHS and laserdisc versions, including the film "Private Life of a Cat."

A completely subjective archive
DEEP FOCUS: Movie Reviews by Bryant Frazer