Mid-week Maya: The Very Eye of Night (1958) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Mid-week Maya: The Very Eye of Night (1958)

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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 The Very Eye of Night.

The Very Eye of Night (1958)I like when creators do companion pieces, rather than sequels, to their work.  It's part of the reason Ridley Scott's Prometheus worked so beautifully as Scott was able to comment on the place in science fiction his work occupies while still providing new questions in a familiar yet different atmosphere.  This is, perhaps, the best approach to take with Maya Deren's The Very Eye of Night.  On the surface, it just seems to be a restaging of the same dreamy dance which made Ensemble for Somnambulists so intoxicating.

But there are several details, some minor and some crucial, which make The Very Eye of Night similarly attractive.  Instead of Ensemble for Somnambulists approach to taking place within the scope of an entire dream, The Very Eye of Night is at that hour in the dead of night when your dreams reach their apex and whatever rules you adhere to in the waking world fade by the wayside.  It helps illuminate why the general aesthetic of The Very Eye of Night is similar to Ensemble for Somnambulists, but the effect is so very different.

There's a certain menace to The Very Eye of Night which has crept up in Deren's previous films, but never has if been so inviting and threatening at the same time.  The threat is in the periphery, like the way certain performers are never allowed to fall and are kept in perpetual state of descent with no destination, or how some of the initially lovely figures of light have claws which aren't visible from a distance but threateningly real when close.  It all ties back to the opening image of a man framed through a yin / yang symbol, only to have the darkness slowly overtake the rest of his body.  This is opening shot as thesis statement, showing how the celestial bodies we watch are fighting against the darkness as much as they are dancing within it.

In this sense, The Very Eye of Night becomes a companion piece not only to Ensemble for Somnambulists, but Meditation on Violence as well.  The gentle-to-violent dichotomy present in Meditation on Violence isn't as pronounced in The Very Eye of Night, but with the concealed claws and bodies pushing against one another it is most definitely present.  At least in Ensemble for Somnambulists there was a sense the dream would end.  With the way the figures of The Very Eye of Night bounce around it seems they could go for an eternity.  Then the question becomes how long before we join them, and the dance becomes more frightening with the face paint on the dancers polarized into frightening masks or how the darkened legs of some performers make their corresponding dancers seem forever unable to acquire balance.

The cumulative effect is startling, because these flashes of danger keep erupting from what initially seems like a safe space.  But isn't that what dreams are, especially when they're at their deepest point?  I've had nights where a beautiful flight over my old house in South Carolina suddenly devolves into a creep of darkness collecting and reaching out to me from the ground just as my powers of flight begin to fade.  This feeling is captured perfectly by The Very Eye of Night, and enhanced by the erratic soundtrack by Teiji Ito, who went back to score more of her earlier films after her death.  His music is an eerie fit, and just when it seems the visuals fall into a certain pattern his music starts playing against it, and when the music threatens to become pleasant the visuals gradually reveal their darkness.

The Very Eye of Night, while gorgeous on its own, attains a different level of success when taken as a companion piece.  After all, what are our dreams but shreds of our waking life's fears and desires glimpsed in frustratingly brief view?  Sometimes in our sleep we feel neither dream nor nightmare, but the overwhelming emotions both are capable of.  Deren captures this magnificently and shows that while our dreams may reveal themselves as threats, they may still be playfully balanced and set against our hopes off into the darkness.

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Posted by Andrew

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