Movie Review: In the Mirror of Maya Deren

By Moira Sullivan
Movie Magazine International
I recently had the honor of appearing together with Austrian filmmaker Martina Kudlacek at the Cologne International Womenís Film Festival in October for a special program on filmmaker Maya Deren. Here Kudlacek debuted her new film, a documentary entitled In the Mirror of Maya Deren on the American avant-garde filmmaker and film theorist of the 1940's and 1950's who kicked off the second wave of the American Avantgarde in cinema.
As many scholars of Deren's work, Kudlacek traveled to Boston University Mugar Library Special Collections and studied the papers of the filmmaker donated by her mother Marie Deren. Then she visited Anthology Film Archives in New York to look at the films and to speak with curator Jonas Mekas, a rival to Deren during her career but who paid her a posthumous tribute with the creation of the Maya Deren Theater at Anthology. To Kudlacek's credit she discovered a film in an unmarked can in the archives precursor to The Very Eye of Night made in (1952) - Deren's last completed film, called Ensemble for Somnambulists, a student project made in Canada in 24 hours. The filmmaker also wet-spliced a film on the making of The Very Eye of Night with Deren on a crane shooting the Antony Tudor Ballet dancers, painted in black with a white backdrop which appears in the documentary.
A rare interview with choreographer Katherine Dunham is a highlight of Kudlacek's film. Deren served as her West Coast manager for the theatrical production 'Cabin in the Sky' during the 1940's and had access to her research in Haiti from the 1930ís. Also noteworthy is an interview with Rita Christiani, the widow who becomes a bride in Ritual in Transfigured Time made in (1946). The late Stan Brakhage is also on hand, a younger colleague of Deren. Stan shows one of his last films, Water for Maya (2000).
One other documentary out on the market on Deren, Invocation Maya Deren, falls prey to the numerous urban legends that Derenís study of Haitian Voudoun destroyed her work as a filmmaker, in part forwarded by Brakhage. On the contrary, one might add that her study of Voudoun was interrupted by her filmmaking career. Kudlacek traveled to Haiti to interview devotees of this spirit religion who remembered Maya. But upon return to New York footage of the annual Halloween parade is used to explain the principles of the religion because of a Halloween party Deren threw in the 1950ís to celebrate the Voudoun god of death, Ghede. So despite some progress, Derenís work with Voudoun remains an enigma.
In the Mirror of Maya Deren provides a provocative biography of the person who used to say that her films cost what Hollywood spends on lipstick.

For Movie Magazine, this is Moira Sullivan, Cologne Germany

More Information:
In the Mirror of Maya Deren
Austria, Switzerland, Germany - 2002