Mid-week Maya: Ritual in Transfigured Time (1946) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Mid-week Maya: Ritual in Transfigured Time (1946)

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The films of Maya Deren are widely available online and I will post links when possible.  Here is a link for Ritual in Transfigured Time.

Ritual in Transfigured Time (1946)I suppose it had to happen with one of these films.  Maya Deren's Ritual in Transfigured Time kept me interested and smiling at times, but not enthralled in the same way her previous four films have been capable of.  Ritual in Transfigured Time helps put some of the other experimental cinema I've been watching into context.  Variations on a similar theme, be it through direct visuals or editing rhythm, can continue to please if not altogether satisfy when watched week after week.

For starters, Deren is working against the typical male gaze of the camera (long before Laura Mulvey's seminal "Visual Pleasure in Narrative Cinema" was published).  Much like in A Study in Choreography for Camera, she strips a man nearly naked so her camera can follow the curves of his muscles and form as he performs a dance.  What was disappointing in Ritual in Transfigured Time was how the figures did not seem to accentuate the environment in the same was as A Study in Choreography for Camera.  But as a trade, the dance is prefaced by the innate rhythmic swaying of various participants as they move in and out of conversation with one another.

I described this as conventional in my notes, and indeed the gender reversed gaze of the camera and wandering women are conventional for Deren, but it's this rhythmic sway where Ritual in Transfigured Time began to cast a spell.  You could easily put music to the images, as a band accompaniment did in the link above, and the many figures are dancing to their rituals.  They're all mundane acts, engaging in conversation, creating a ball of yarn, admiring statues in the garden, but the repetition combined with the subtle and explicit dancing brings pleasure to each time an act is repeated.

Deren's experimentation with movement within the frame, as opposed to figures moving with the frame, didn't surprise me.  It's a logical step forward from A Study in Choreography for Camera, and the otherworldly feel of her editing lost something with most of the visual information right there on the screen instead of within those mysterious transitions.  I enjoyed how Deren continues to end her films with a figure disappearing or settling into the horizon in some way, as though she is aware what she captures on film will go on to live its own life long after she is gone.  Even if I wasn't as enchanted here as in the past, Ritual in Transfigured Time served as another worthy building block in a career without a stumble.

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Posted by Andrew

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