"Maya was always on fire...she was a burning person," recalls respected actress Judith Malina in Martina Kudlacek's informative documentary about the life and work of pioneering avant-garde filmmaker Maya Deren. Starting in the early 1940s, Deren's elegant, enigmatic films explored dream logic and poetic connections, incorporating dance, mythic symbols and obsessive images of water, mirrors and panes of glass that set up a series of internal reflections and distortions. Born in Kiev, Ukraine, in 1917, the daughter of a Russian Jewish psychiatrist and his highly-educated wife, Deren (born Eleanora Derenkowsky) was raised in Syracuse, N.Y., studied dance and aspired to be a poet. Then she discovered film, realized what she really wanted was to compose in poetic images and never looked back, though there was little precedent for her determination to make independent, experimental films and she struggled financially all her life. Strikingly beautiful, independent and famous for towering rages, passionate curiosity and a larger-than-life personality that belied her diminutive size, Deren refused to be confined by social or artistic conventions. Her lifelong interest in dance and trance states led Deren to study voodoo rituals. When she applied for a Guggenheim Award in the late '40s, her supporters included noted anthropologists Joseph Campbell, Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, even though Deren lacked formal anthropological or ethnographic training. Deren received the award, the first for film-related work, and used it to visit Haiti, where she filmed voodoo rituals, recorded traditional music and conducted extensive interviews. Her 1952 book, Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti, remains a pioneering examination of voodoo as a vital spiritual tradition rather than the stuff of cheap horror movies. Deren was married three times — her second and third husbands were fellow filmmaker Alexander Hammid (who, when Deren wanted to change her name, helped her choose "Maya") and composer Teiji Ito, 18 years her junior — and died at age 44 of a cerebral hemorrhage, impoverished and defiant. Kudlacek's film includes interviews with a fascinating cross-section of Deren's contemporaries, as well as generous excerpts from her films, including Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), 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 (1954).
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- Released: 2003
- Rating: NR
- Review: "Maya was always on fire...she was a burning person," recalls respected actress Judith Malina in Martina Kudlacek's informative documentary about the life and work of pioneering avant-garde filmmaker Maya Deren. Starting in the early 1940s, Deren's elegant… (more)