Invocation. Maya Deren

DirectorJoAnn Kaplan
One line synopsisThe life and work of Russian-born, American avant garde film-maker, Maya Deren (1917-1961).

Photograph of Maya Deren. Hella Hammid describing Deren as "the first avant-garde film-maker after Buñuel and Cocteau". Stan Brakhage saying that no-one took seriously the idea of contributors to cinema as artists, but Deren lived an artist’s life. Jonas Mekas says she took a stand for the art of cinema. Views of New York City. Maya Deren’s VO saying that she was a poor poet because her ideas were essentially visual in nature. Credits from Meshes of the Afternoon (1943). Deren’s VO continues, explaining that, with a camera, she no longer had to made "this peculiar transcription". Extract from the film. Hella Hammid, Photographer, talking about Alexander Hammid’s importance to the making of Meshes of the Afternoon as Deren was still learning about film-making at that time. Skyline. Deren’s VO on Hammid’s role. Sasha Hammid, Film-maker, talks about his early cinematic work in America, always having a liking for avant-garde cinema. Photographs of Maya Deren. Commentary describes her early career in Hollywood as publicity assistant to the Katherine Dunham company. Sasha Hammid talks about Deren getting a camera and starting to make films. Extract from Meshes of the Afternoon. Footage of New York. Deren’s VO on her childhood cinema-going and film-making. Hella Hammid on working on At Land (1944). Excerpts. Sasha Hammid on suggesting Deren’s first name. Photographs of Deren and Sasha Hammid; Deren’s VO singing The Man I Love.New York. Sasha Hammid on he and Deren both being of European origin. Narration describes her background and early life. Family photographs. Letter from Deren to her mother from her time at school in Switzerland. Hella Hammid on Deren’s need for outside stimulants to achieve her goals. New York where Deren moved after marrying a Union organiser. Photograph of her when she was National Secretary of the Young People’s Socialist League. Photographs. Commentary talks of Deren presenting her first three films in 1946. Amos & Marcia Vogel, Film Distributors, on seeing this presentation by "a very major new talent". Stan Brakhage, Film-maker, talks about Deren being the first to present and discuss her films with audiences. Jonas Mekas, Film-maker and Director of Anthology Film Archives, says that Anthology Film Archives’ second cinema will be called the Maya Deren Theater, devoted to independent avant-garde and classic film. He points out that Deren not only worked on every aspect of her films but also helped enlarge the audience for these and similar films. The Vogels were inspired by Deren’s New York screenings to start Cinema 16, a film society devoted to independent films. Amos Vogel; Mekas describing Cinema 16 as being hugely influential on a generation of independent film-makes. Caption: "23 October 1953. Symposium on ‘Poetry & Film’ at Cinema 16. The panel included Maya Deren and Dylan Thomas." Shots of New York. Deren and Thomas VO from this symposium. Photographs of the event; Vogel’s VO. Photographs of Deren in line-up as National Secretary, Creative Film Foundation. Vogel talks about the Foundation which was intended to help avant-garde film-makers but never succeeded in raising sufficient funds.Photographs and other artefacts relating to Katherine Dunham. Deren’s VO reading letter to Dunham about her idea for a book. Hella Hammid on Deren’s film A Study in Choreography for Camera (1945) and its perception of space. Stills. Deren’s VO. Excerpts, with Talley Beatty. The Vogels discuss Deren’s appearance, particularly her hair. Photographs. Hella Hammid on Deren always wanting to be the centre of attention, Hella Hammid on Ritual in Transfigured Time (1946). Excerpts. Deren’s VO. Newspaper items about Deren. Commentary talks about her winning the first Guggenheim grant for film art, and spending the $3000 on visiting Haiti to make a film on ritual but finding it impossible to edit her footage. Deren’s VO. Footage from assemblage by Teiji and Cherel Ito. Footage from Bali taken by Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead in the 1930s (used in Trance and Dance in Bali). Deren’s VO. Commentary on Deren’s visits to Haiti, and on her lecturing, writing, film workshops, etc. Joseph Campbell, Professor of Comparative Mythology, on Deren’s discovery and study of voudun (voodoo). Haitian footage. Brakhage on Deren and voudun rituals. Caption: "Nightbeat 1958. Mike Wallace interviewed Maya Deren." Newspaper articles on Deren and voudun, photographs, Haitian footage. Interview VO. Deren’s book, Divine Horsemen (1953). Voudun artefacts; Haitian footage. Campbell talking about the book and Deren’s experiences, including her possession by the goddess Erzulie.The Man I Love sung over photographs of Teiji Ito. Voudun artefacts. Ito’s VO talking about the decor of Deren’s New York apartment. Marcia Vogel on Deren’s relationship with Ito. Brakhage on the problems of the relationship. Hella Hammid on Deren’s competitiveness with the men in her life, and how this influenced her career in various fields. Man playing guitar. Ito identifying rhythms to Deren VO. Excerpts from Meditation on Violence (1948) "based on …movements of the wutang & shaolin schools of Chinese boxing" with Chi Chao-li; Deren’s VO. Diagrammatic representation of the film. Amos Vogel talking about Meditation on Violence and The Very Eye of Night (1953-1955); Mekas feels that Deren’s interests turned away from cinema after 1950. Balinese footage; Ito and Deren VO on music.Excerpts from The Very Eye of Night. Brakhage describes it as a very religious film. Photographs of Deren; water, etc. Deren’s VO on improvisation in cinema, and on art and nature, her seashell collection. Mekas describing how Deren disapproved of "casual" film-making. Amos Vogel on Deren’s ideas about Mekas and his work. Brakhage on Deren in later life, heavily in debt; he thinks of her as an artist, "ignored, mistreated, hounded nearly to death…". Photograph of Ito in army uniform; letters from Deren. Ito’s VO on their marriage in 1960; photographs and related artefacts. Photograph of Deren; obituaries. Ito VO. Film of funeral. Haitian footage. Credits.

Production companyArbor International
Running time53 minutes
Full credits

Narrated by Helen Mirren;
Texts of Maya Deren read by Jana Shelden;
With original recordings of Maya Deren,
Teiji Ito.
With thanks to Hella Hammid,
Sasha Hammid,
Amos & Marcia Vogel,
Stan & Jane Brakhage,
Jonas Mekas & Hollis Melton,
Joseph Campbell & Jean Erdman,
Cherel Ito, Consultant & Executrix of the Maya Deren Estate,
Anthology Film Archives,
Mary Catherine Bateson & the Institute for Intercultural Studies Inc.,
Department of Special Collections, Mugar Library, Boston University,Tamiment Library, New York University Special Collections,
Morris Library, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale,
Dance Collection, N.Y Public Library at Lincoln Center, Astor, Lenox & Tilden Foundations,
Charles I. Levine,
The Legend of Maya Deren Project,
Gary Schneider, Schneider Erdman Inc.,
Fred McDarrah,
Mrs Rogot,
The New York Post
The Village Post,
Charles Niles,
Irene Oliver,
Ariel Heitler,
Pauline Penn,
Mike Wallace,
Jerry Tallmer,
Thames & Hudson,
Charlotte Klose,
Benjamin Hayeem,
The Green Studio.
The Man I Love sung by Maya Deren;
Jazz & Guitar Improvisations & Score for The Very Eye of Night by
Teiji Ito;
Haitian Recordings by Maya Deren;
Mozart Sonata for Piano & Violin;
Lighting Camera Adam Rodgers;
Focus Puller Chris Middleton;
Sound Mandy Rose;
Research Assistant & Production Rachel Krish;
Set Decoration New York Debbie Devilla;
Editor Susan Manning;
Assistant Editor Simon Cowper;
Rostrum, Titles & Opticals Frameline (London),
Frame Shop (Boston),
Les Latimer (London);
Dubbing Mixer Rupert Scrivner;
Processing by Filmatic Laboratories;
Executive Producer for the Arts Council of Great Britain
Rodney Wilson;
Written & Directed by JoAnn Kaplan;
Produced by Fiz Oliver;
An Arbor International Production for the Arts Council of Great Britain in association with Channel Four.
© The Arts Council of Great Britain 1987.

Film segmentInvocation. Maya Deren - ACE167.2
Invocation. Maya Deren - ACE167.3
Invocation. Maya Deren - ACE167.4
Invocation. Maya Deren - ACE167.5
Invocation. Maya Deren - ACE167.6
Invocation. Maya Deren - ACE167.7
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