Maya Deren and the Surrealist Movement

Maya Deren's work explores the dream time subconscious imagery promoted by Surrealist traditions. In her film "Meshes in the Afternoon," Deren experiments with repeated sequences of time from multiple viewpoints. As a ghostly figure is pursued and pursues, symbolic images involving keys, knives, and mirrors, are repeated in various contexts. Surrealist paintings to be compared to Deren's work are Giorgio de Chirico's "The Mystery and Melancholy of a Street," where a small girl playing with a hoop runs down the street toward the shadow of a figure disappearing around a corner. Max Ernst's "Two Children Are Threatened by a Nightingale" shows a woman brandishing a knife. The use of windows and broken glass reflect the paintings of Magritte.

Maya Deren is considered a pioneer in the exploration of film language and expanded the medium into an art form. Duchanp's, "Nude descending a Staircase" can only imply movement. As a time-based medium, film uses movement through space and distortions of time as a part of its symbol making properties. Maya Deren did not consider herself a Surrealist, she felt her art form was more controlled than allowed by the movement's original objectives. Though her images are embedded in film language they still pursue a study of the unconscious which has Surrealism at its roots. However, instead of involving the irrational unconscious of Freud, she preferred Carl Jung's examinations of subconscious archetypal symbolism and Joseph Campbell's studies of primordial myth-making.

South Eastern College Art Conference - Oct. 24 - 27 2001
Session: Influence of Art Movements on Filmmakers and Their Films
Eloise Philpot, Radford University