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Avant-Garde Filmmaker
Born 1917. Russia
Died: 1961. United States


Complete Filmography
  • Meshes of the Afternoon (1943, 18 minutes, made with Alexander Hammid)

  • At Land (1944, 15 minutes)

  • A Study in Choreography For Camera (1945, 4 minutes)

  • Ritual in Transfigured Time (1946, 15 minutes)

  • Meditation on Violence (1948, 12 minutes)

  • The Very Eye of Night (1959, 15 minutes)

Selected Bibliography
  • Deren, Maya. "Cinematography: The Creative Use of Reality." in Daedalus. 1960.

  • Deren, Maya. "Poetry and the Film: A Symposium" in Film Culture No. 29. 1963. (Deren is one of several panelists which include Dylan Thomas, Arthur Miller, Parker Tyler, Willard Maas.

  • Deren, Maya. "Notes, Essays, Letters" in Film Culture No. 39. 1965

  • Deren, Maya. Divine Horsemen: Voodoo God of Haiti. Chelsea House Publishers, N.Y. 1970.

  • Cornwell, Regina. "Maya Deren and Germaine Dulac: Activists of the Avant-Garde" in Film Library Quarterly Vol 5, No. 1. 1971.

  • Filmwise 2, New Haven Connecticut. 1961? or 1962?. (Entire issue on Maya Deren)

  • Sitney, P. Adams. "The Idea of Morphology" in Film Culture Nos. 53-54-55, 1972.

    Maya Deren's papers are located at Boston University in Boston, Massachusetts.

Maya Deren-Official Cosmic Record

Maya Deren
1983	Virgins		3.18	252	89	95	152	15	13
1984	Virgins		2.82	67	21	23	43	2	3
1985	Virgins		3.14	126	44	43	75	10	4
1986	Virgins		2.57	217	62	52	148	17	5
1987	Virgins		3.99	237	105	74	96	12	9
1988	Virgins		4.48	193	96	39	104	10	7
1997	Poetics		3.86	189	81	65	113	8	12
1998	Poetics		3.06	61	21	22	40	4	1

Total 8 Seasons		3.48	1342	519	413	771	78	54

Related External Links

Curtis Arnheim Sitney Essential Cinema Top Menu

If cinema is to take its place beside the others as a full-fledged art form, it must cease merely to record realities that owe nothing of their actual existence to the film instrument.

That which the sur-realists labor and sweat to achieve, and end by only simulating, can be accomplished in full reality, by the atom bomb.

Deren was born in Russia in 1917. Her family moved to the United States when she was five. Her father, a psychiatrist, worked in Syracuse, New York. Her high school education took place in Switzerland and she attended Syracuse University as a journalism student. She got married, and moved to New York City where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree from New York University. At this time she also became active in left-wing radical politics. Her early creative interests were focused around poetry and dance. After her first marriage ended in divorce Deren became more involved in her creative life, especially with dance.

In 1941 while on tour as an assistant with Katherine Dunham's dance company she met Alexander Hammid in Los Angeles. Hammid, born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, was a film-maker. Deren and Hammid fell in love and got married in 1942. Together they collaborated on the film Meshes of the Afternoon in 1943. The film was shot in and around their Los Angeles home in two and a half weeks. Deren completed five other films before her death in 1961.

David Curtis

from Experimental Cinema- A Fifty Year Evolution. Dell Publishing, New York. 1971

The first American to reach a wide audience with "personal" films was Maya Deren. She pioneered a dynamic approach to the screening of films by the film-makers themselves that led to a complete restructuring of non-theatrical distribution in the United States...Unable to place her films with a commercial distributor, she hired them out herself from her home in New York. Early in 1946 she rented the Provincetown Playhouse on MacDougal Street, New York, for a one-night show of her first three films. They generated such an interest that repeat screenings were arranged at once. This sudden success led to a whole series of performances all over the [United] States, a highpoint being their showing at the Film in Art series in San Francisco. (pages 65-67)


Rudolf Arnheim

from "To Maya Deren" in Film Culture No. 24. Spring, 1962
There is another, quieter but more magical [miracle of photography], one, which is that of the transformation of reality accomplished by the medium itself. While photographs earn gratitude by preserving corporeal appearance, we admire the new technique even more for its being able to dematerialize the familiar face of the girl into a precise shape of transparent whiteness...This transformation is the true miracle of the photographic image; and Maya Deren was one of its most delicate magicians....

She was one of the artists and thinkers who speak of the great paradox of our time; who say that, although our civilization has come closest to penetrating the secrets of inorganic and organic matter, we are less familiar with the world of tangible things than any human tribe has ever been. And thus, in Maya Deren's films, the familiar world captures us by its pervasive strangeness...

Maya Deren was always interested in ritual. She went to Haiti in search of the remnants of a culture in which symbolism of the human gesture and of the space in which the body moves was still standardized by what psychologists call "consensual validation." We, in the New York of the twentieth century, no longer profit from that sort of consensus. Our common standards are reduced to the practical. But we are still accessible to a picture language that, half-shrouded in personal meanings, half-revealed by common sensation, can call upon us, distant thought the caller may be.


P. Adams Sitney

from Visionary Film. 2nd Edition. Oxford University Press. New York. 1978
  • [Deren's] first four films rehearse in general outline the subsequent evolution of forms within the American avant-garde cinema over the following two decades... (page 30)

  • The basic tenets of her theories can be simply stated. She takes for granted the indexical relationship between reality and the photographic image...She analyzed the two functions of the film camera as "discovery" and "invention," the former referring to visions of space and time beyond the capabilities of the human eye, including telescopic or microscopic cinematography on the one hand and slow motion, freeze frame, or time lapse photography on the other. Among these methods she would continually admit her predilection for slow motion. As an instrument of "invention," the camera records imaginative constructs in reality and reconstructs them through the illusions of editing. She insists on the principle of recognition rather than graphic composition within the photographic image...(page 41)

  • [Deren] sees the artist's role as reconciling the need for an integral world view, strongest in the primitive societies, with the fragmentation of the contemporary scientific outlook. (page 46)

  • Maya Deren seems to have perceived that the American art of her time in painting, poetry, and potentially in film was deeply committed to an elaboration of its Romantic origins. By calling herself a classicist she was trying to disassociate her work from the excesses of that tendency. The disassociation was never complete, nor did she want it to be. What she could not know was that in its future evolution the American avant-garde film would plunge into a dialogue with the major issues of Romantic thought and art and that the mythic inwardness of her early films would be used as springboards for that plunge. (page 46)


Essential Cinema

When Anthology Film Archives first opened on December 1, 1970 it was described by its founders as the "first film museum exclusively devoted to the film as an art. "The art of cinema surfaces primarily when it divests itself of commercial norms." A group of five individuals who "[did] not represent a single school of taste or thought" selected those films which best represent film as an art form. The Film Selection Committee included: James Broughton, Ken Kelman, Peter Kubelka, Jonas Mekas and P. Adams Sitney.

The following three works by Deren were selected as "essential works of the art of cinema" by the Film Selection Committee:


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Maya Deren- 1999 Cosmic Player Plate
Published: December 7, 1998
Copyright © 1998-1999 by the Cosmic Baseball Association