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Ritual in Transfigured Time is like a dream, meaning that the various
sequences don't seem to have any connection to each other unless you try
approach this film in a different way and not as a conventional hollywood
The main character in the film is Rita Christiani who after a strange scene with Maya Deren herself who disappears startling Rita, appears in this ball with ladies and gentlemen dancing. This film has one of the most beautiful scenes in a Maya Deren's film when Rita Christiani while she's dancing she appears to float in the air.
Unlike most films that were made 50 or more years ago Ritual in Transfigured Time appears to be timeless and a lot of directors who try to do something innovative should get a lesson or 2 from Maya Deren.
I was very surprised to find out that the famous writer Anais Nin is in this movie as well (I was also very pleasantly surprised when I found out that avant garde composer John Cage was in another film by Maya Deren, "At Dark").
Ritual in Transfigured Time may be the piece in which Maya Deren puts all her interests and achievements: a surrealistic narrative and dance choreographies. It is beautiful and powerful, but may have too many elements to be coherent and to possess her earlier works' strength.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Maya Deren has sometimes been called a proto-feminist due to the topics
she explores in many of her films, including her famous "Meshes of the
Afternoon" and the lesser known but still stunning "At Land". This film
would be the one that comes closest to feminist concepts. Women in this
short are trapped in "rituals" of subservience, marriage, and
victimization, often being passed around, chased, or ogled by the men
in their various aspects.
If Deren's work is about dreams, this is probably the one that comes closest to an anxiety dream. The party scene (which I feel is slightly clichéd, but then again Deren may very well have been the one to have created these clichés) is claustrophobic, the chase is paranoiac, and many of the clothes the women wear are iconoclastic (nun-suit, any one?).
My favorite scene involves the man who dance-leaps after the woman as she moves through Greek architecture. Deren captures the motion of the dancer in freeze-frame always in moments where he is balanced so as to look exactly like a Helenistic sculpture. It's another one of those Derenist moments that has an uncanny relevance even to those who aren't familiar with Deren's own personality.
The first five minutes of Ritual in Transfigured Time (1946 )are probably the finest she did up until then. That first third still partakes of that atmosphere dreamline and supine characteristic of her earlier work, but stripped from that which the mind is quick to associate meaning to, that symbolic quality is often an end in itself rather than a means. The beauty of the surreal, and perhaps the most difficult thing to achieve, is to create the situation the viewer will project upon his own feelings rather than try and decipher the filmmaker's. The film still guides you in that it chooses X visual instead of Y but there's no right or wrong interpretation to be deciphered. Kind of like walking around London with a map of Berlin without knowing you're in London or the map is of Berlin. The scene in the crowded room wasn't quite as good, it's still a drone, but not a visually interesting one I thought. The dancing segment that closes the film recalls A Study in Choreography for Camera but how it all ties in remains a mystery.
Maya Deren was a pioneer: at a time when the Hollywood studio system
was at its peak pumping out crowd-pleasing genre movies with huge
budgets, Ukrainian born Deren was carving out a position for herself as
a self-financed avant-garde female director and (under-rated) film
theorist whose films explored the role of women in society through
non-narrative cinema which also explored the potential of dance on
film. And as such, "Ritual in Transfigured Time" seems to balance both
of these strands of her work (compared to the crushing feminist
existentialism of her debut "Meshes of the Afternoon" (1943) and her
totally abstract dance-dominated later films like "The Very Eye of
Night" (1958)) and stand as possibly the greatest encapsulation of the
themes that motivated her.
The film is essentially in three parts in the classic set-up / conflict / resolution style but the transitions between each "act" is characterized by a dream-like spatial shift: at first from a room where a young dancer (Rita Christiani) helps Maya manically roll a ball of wool, before being led by another woman (played by prolific diarist and Henry Miller's squeeze, Anaïs Nin) to a crowded cocktail party. Whilst here, the young woman navigates through the gathered party-goers whose movements in and out of conversations become increasingly stylized and choreographed until they are essentially dancing. Finally, the young dancer meets a young man and the scene switches to outside where the young man pursues the woman in a manner both elegant and threatening.
As with earlier Deren's films "Meshes of the Afternoon" and "At Land" (1946), the film seems to have something to say (in this case about the various social rituals, sometimes so choreographed as to be a "dance", which we are forced to perform) and does actually convey this through a plot albeit a dream-logic one. However, like a poet, Deren also articulates her message through the choices she makes in regard to the form of the film in this case the unusual spatial cuts and use of effects like freeze-framing and negative prints which, rather than distract us from the story (as in a "traditional" film), makes us question the relation between the events happening on screen as well as our relationship to it, with the effect that we are pulled further and further into Deren's unique vision.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Maya Deren was an Avant-garde filmmaker who made experimental,
dream-like narrative films during World War 2. Her films were meant to
use symbolism to convey a story or an idea. In her previous shorts,
"Meshes of the Afternoon" and "At Land" we are told of a woman's
struggles through symbolic objects and surrealism. This gives all her
shorts a mysterious and dreamlike atmosphere. Watching them as a film
with a story, you'll be left wondering "Huh? What just happened here?"
So to analyze a film like this, you must watch it, then look at the
symbolism, think about it, and piece together the narrative entwined
into the imagery.
In "Meshes of the Afternoon" a woman is struggling with her marriage, wondering if she made a good decision. This film (the director's first film) may have come from Deren's own life, as she had 3 different husbands. And in "At Land" the woman portrayed is struggling with her place in life. Maybe at one point, Deren too struggled with this same problem. Here, in this film, the woman shown is struggling with men.
In the beginning, the woman is innocent. She knows no men and is free. After helping another woman ball up some yarn (symbolic of something, but I can't think what) a mysterious woman lures her into a new world: a world of men, which she knows nothing about.
The woman is taken into a ballroom with people exchanging hands and talking. At first they are oblivious to her, communicating to us that men no nothing of her, either. But soon she has become part of their world too, a decision which she later regrets.
Later, out in a garden a man is talking with other women. The woman we have been following looks on and watches. She sees the man freeze the other woman in time. The woman is shocked and tries to escape the world she has entered. She runs away while the man chases in choreographed movement. And, in a final pose, we see the woman shining as an angel, telling us she has finally freed herself of the world she had entered and is clean once more.
Rita Christiani played the woman, while Maya Deren herself takes on a more minor part. The film is beautiful, with the movement graceful. A film that makes us think. Who knows? Deren married 3 times, maybe that fact shows us that she too, like the woman in the film, struggled with marriage?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Ritual in Transfigured Time" is a film by experimental movie maker Maya Deren. She made this one shortly after World War II when she was still in her 20s. Basically everything that applies to her other works describes this film as well. It's very experimental, has no real storyline, is in black-and-white and looks much older than from 70 years ago. Deren appears in this film herself, but there are also other cast members. The film runs for 15 minutes and is thus among her longest movies. The story does not really have anything to do with war or the political climate. The first half we see a party for example with really a lot of guest. Must have been a big occasion. The second half has some ancient references with statues etc. All in all, I am not a great fan of Deren's works and this movie here does not change my perception. Not recommended.
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