Maya Deren is known as one of those in Hollywood who represented everything that was not Hollywood. A film theorist and film maker, among other things, Maya Deren was born as Eleanora Derenkowsky in Kiev, Ukraine. She was born into the film making industry, named after an Italian actress. After moving to Syracuse, New York, it was here where she began her interest in the socialist movement. It was also this move which influenced much of her life and her direction in movies. Maya Deren began her formal education at Syracuse University where she was an active member of the Trotskyist Young People’s Socialist League.
She eventually went on to work with Katherine Dunham where she got her chance to work in Hollywood. Using the inheritance she got from her father, Maya Deren purchased a second hand 16mm Bolex camera with which she made what is perhaps considered as one of best films, Meshes of the Afternoon. This was recognized as one of the first seminal American avant-garde films during the time. It was originally a silent film that featured no dialogue, however, in 1957 a soundtrack was added by Teiji Ito. By 1943, she changed her name to Maya Deren. This was because of her beliefs at that time and reflected her political ideologies as well.
By this time, she had already expanded her social circle within Hollywood to include such others like Andre Breton, Marcel Duchamp, John Cage and Anais Nin. A year later, she started her second film, At Land, and other films such as A Study in Choreography for the Camera in 1945 and Ritual in Transfigured Time, which was made in 1946, which explored the fear of rejection and the freedom of expression in abandoning ritual. Her efforts did not go unrecognized as in 1946 she was awarded with the Guggenheim Fellowship for “Creative Work in the Field of Motion Pictures.
” While not the greatest of her awards, she was also given the Grand Prix Internationale for her experimental film Meshes of the Afternoon at the Cannes Film Festival. Her other great works include Meditation on Violence, which was made in 1948. This film portrayed the distinction between violence and beauty and is performed in by Chao Li Chi. Aside from her career in the film industry, Deren also distributed her films and gave promotional tours all over the world. During her career, she not only featured screenings in the United States, Canada and Cuba but she also lectured extensively on film theory and vodoun.
This, however, did not stop her from building up her film career and she went on to write, direct and even star in most of her films. This was manifested during her time creating “New American Cinema” which paid homage to the experimental underground film of the United States. The legacy that Maya Deren left was more than just through the works that she made for the silver screen. In 1986, the American Film Institute honored her achievements by creating the Maya Deren Award for independent film making.
There have also been numerous accounts of homage being paid to her achievements such as the tour by the Horse and Bamboo Theatre of the United Kingdom which created the Dance of White Darkness which is the story of Deren’s visits to Haiti. The most recent movies created in her honor include the film by Martina Kudlacek entitled In the Mirror of Maya Deren which featured the music of John Zorn. There was also a memorial that was written by Robert Stone to celebrate the achievements that Maya Deren had on not only the music industry but also to the arts.
While the influence of Maya Deren will surely be remembered in her works, there is no other clear testament to her influence on the industry as is shown by the homage that she is continually given to this day.
Deren, M(Orig. published 1963) Cinema: The Creative Use of Actuality in Mast, G and Cohen. M eds. (1985) Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings Oxford University Press, Oxford. Pray, M(2007) Avant-Garde Film: Forms, Themes and Passions Wallflower, London. Sitney, A(1979) Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde 1943-78 2nd Edition, Oxford University Press, Oxford