CinePunked’s Robert JE Simpson is joined by Dr Paula Blair for a conversation around their responses to the experience of influential, Ukranian-born, avant garde filmmaker Maya Deren, with particular attention to her debut Meshes of the Afternoon, and At Land.
Sleeve notes are below.
With Robert JE Simpson and Dr Paula Blair.
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As I comment in the podcast itself, it is not lost to me that we’re focussing on the work of a Ukrainian-born filmmaker in the same week that Russia has invaded the country. Maya Deren apparently never lost sight of her own Russian background (born in 1917 just prior to the establishment of Ukraine as a state in its own right) – she was a Russian, a Ukrainian, and an American filmmaker.
As we recorded and released this episode, arts, sports and cultural events featuring Russian talents are being pulled from Western audiences. Does that mean we can no longer talk about Soviet cinema and its influence? That if we watch a Soviet-era film we are somehow displaying allegiances? Frankly it isn’t a conversation I thought I’d be having when we started planning for this year. And Maya Deren’s films had been circling my list for the last couple of years – on the back of the recent run of altered reality films, and the Jean Cocteau trilogy it made good editorial sense for us to dip into her work. Critics drew parallels between Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon and Cocteau’s Le sang d’un poète, Deren denied she’d ever seen the film – and when she finally did, she acknowledged the similarities in concerns.
Deren’s filmmaking is avant garde. Its occasionally difficult to get your head into, particularly when watched in their original silent forms. But her body of work is so brief, and so important, any avid film enthusiast will glean benefit from tracking them down.
I’m joined on this episode by former university lecturer, and cultural commentator Dr Paula Blair. I’ve known Paula on and off since about 2005, and yet its only recently we’ve had the courage to start looking at collaborating together on some projects. Paula runs the excellent Audio Visual Cultures podcast, and blogs about the arts, and her experiences of academia and freelancing.
As a lecturer, she has taught widely across the UK, including classes on Maya Deren. In our (unrecorded) planning meeting, Paula’s enthusiasm for Deren was evident and I hope that depth of knowledge comes through in the final episode.
Unlike every other film we’ve discussed so far on the podcast, Deren’s early films are actually silent, bereft of soundtrack. And so, as with the Cocteau conversations, I’ve let the episode play ‘as live’. Its a little meandering, but there are a few things which we circle back on – the problematic linking of Deren and the surrealists, Deren’s refusal to indulge the male gaze, and cinema as experience rather than something to be read.
What results is a fairly free conversation about our own responses to Deren.
The Maya Deren Collection, contains most of Deren’s films and is available to buy on Blu-ray from Kino Classics. Many of her films are also available on YouTube and other online sites.
The CinePunked theme music is ‘Riding the Synth‘ – © 2020, Ben Blademan Simpson. Used with permission.
Episode recorded via Zoom in Newtownards, Northern Ireland and Newcastle, England on 4 March 2022.
Engineered and edited by Robert JE Simpson. Audio podcast first published on 8 March 2022.