For the first week of the One Short A Day challenge, upon the suggestion of many friends, I decided to watch shorts of Ukrainian-American experimental filmmaker Maya Deren. I find it quite hard to talk about them, but what I know is that after every film I watched, I wanted to watch it again. And at the end of the week, I wanted to watch them one after another at one go. There is so much written about Deren, her films, her influences, and I wanted to read as much as I could but decided against it since it’s against the purpose of this challenge, which is to write about these films right after I’ve seen them, on how I felt watching them and their immediate effect on me. It was hard, but that’s why it’s a challenge. Hope you enjoy!
List of films:
- At Land, 1944
- Meshes of the Afternoon, 1943, co-directed with Alexander Hammid
- A Study in Choreography for Camera, 1945
- The Private Life of a Cat, 1944, co-directed with Alexander Hammid
- Ritual in Transfigured Time, 1946
One of the first things that put me off balance was silence. Except for Meshes of the Afternoon, which has a chilling score by Teiji Ito, all the films were completely silent and I didn’t realised how hard it’d be to watch a completely silent film. No sound, no score, no soundtrack, no dialogue. I usually watch three to five films a week, mostly on my laptop, and I’m ashamed to say that I find it hard to not occasionally check my phone or get distracted by something. But in my moments of distraction, there is always dialogue keeping me informed on what’s happening; score or sound that tells me that the film needs my attention back now. Watching so many silent films forced me, in an educating way, to give all my attention to the films. In addition to being silent, these films are, obviously, short and I felt that unlike feature films -which before this week I thought I could miss a second or two- I can’t afford to blink and miss. Deren saw film as an experience, and to experience her films, I couldn’t afford distraction. So on top of being introduced to some of the works of this great filmmaker, I also got to think about the way I consume film.
With the exception of The Private Life of a Cat, which felt like being cuddled under a warm soft blanket on the world’s best bed, Daren’s films took me on an emotional rollercoaster. I found them unnerving, they made me nervous and scared, but of what? I couldn’t figure it out. But at the end of each, I felt peaceful in a way that reminded me of transcendentalist movement (then didn’t). It was the sort of peace one feels after waking up from a nightmare and realising it wasn’t real, but the horrifying experience of it still stuck with you, as if your mind and body hadn’t caught up with reality yet. It’s understandable why I came across so many Freudian and Jungian analysis of her work.
I think my immediate desire to rewatch her films came from the endless interpretations and analysis one can deduce from them. The self, the body, the sphere, subjectivity, all elements in her films have such awareness and say so much yet they are not told in an inhibitive way. We like to say every film, or art in general, is subjective and open to any interpretation, but it’s rare that I feel invited to interpret the director. Daren’s films invited me to become a part of them, to experience them in any way I desire without fearing the judgment of doing it wrong.
Summer Challenge: One Short A Day will continue next Tuesday with part two. In the meantime, tell me your favourite shorts for me to include in the challenge in the comments or at twitter. Follow the challenge on Letterbox here.