Maya Deren is a postmortem biographer’s dream topic. Not solely did the bohemian dancer, poet, photographer, and filmmaker cross paths with a global who’s-who of avant-garde pre- and post-WWII artists, musicians, and filmmakers, she was additionally an inveterate letter author, self-documenter, and pack rat, whose archive presents profuse and private supplies. A brand new biography by Mark Alice Durant, Maya Deren: Choreographed for Digital camera (Saint Lucy Books, 2022) not solely captures the particulars of Deren’s tragically temporary and deeply influential life, however does so with a sort of first-person familiarity and element that brings a determine captured in a black-and-white movie period into vivid focus.
Born in Kiev, Ukraine, in 1917, Deren emigrated to the USA together with her household, escaping the encroaching politics that took subject with each her Jewish ancestry and her household’s tutorial pedigree. Although solely 44 in 1961, when she was abruptly taken by a cerebral hemorrhage, Deren packed extra into the stream of her life than most individuals with twice her variety of years — three marriages, a spate of salon hostessing on the heart of mid-century artwork and tradition, and a legacy as a lynchpin determine within the promotion of avant-garde American cinema.
She was additionally, as Durant’s biography makes clear, a really human topic, liable to emotionality, monetary struggles, and the challenges that everybody with a creative and bold temperament faces — however particularly a lady making her means inside a scene dominated by nice males. Her relationships and collaborations with the likes of Katherine Dunham, John Cage, Anaïs Nin, Marcel Duchamp, and influential Czech filmmaker Alexandr “Sasha” Hackenschmied (her second husband), earned her a seat on the desk of burgeoning American artwork tradition — however her expertise, unflinching photographic eye, and reward of unfettered urge for food for all times and concepts cemented her place as a champion and influencer of tradition.
Written in brief entries that circulate chronologically, but additionally seem as a sort of index for the net of influential figures in Deren’s circles, Durant resists getting mired in evaluation of Deren’s work, preferring to current an image of her life and human struggles.
“There’s a lot scholarship on Deren’s movies and imagery,” Durant instructed Hyperallergic. “However there was no biography of Maya Deren [for a general audience.]” It took Durant twenty years of non-contiguous analysis and an abiding love of Deren’s work and character to deliver his concepts for such a biography to fruition. Between direct quotes from interviews, journals, and letters, and textured scenes of just about unbelievable encounters with a number of the most well-known creatives of the day, Durant embroiders scenes from Deren’s life with an inside voice that feels no much less actual for taking small leaps of creativeness.
“[I had] this type of technique of the vertical versus the horizontal, which is an idea or strategy that [Deren] had about narrative — exposition versus the poetic, and the way she wrote about that somewhat bit in her graduate thesis, but additionally utilized it to her strategy to filmmaking,” stated Durant. “And so I made a decision to make use of that strategy to the storytelling.”
Maya Deren: Choreographed for Digital camera by Mark Alice Durant (2022) is printed by Saint Lucy Books and is accessible via the writer and on-line retailers.