The surrealist film shows repetitive imagery involving a string fashioned in a bizarre, almost spiderweb-like pattern over the hands of several individuals, most notably an unnamed young woman and an elderly gentleman.
A woman returning home falls asleep and has vivid dreams that may or may not be happening in reality. Through repetitive images and complete mismatching of the objective view of time and space, her dark inner desires play out on-screen.
Dancers, shown in photographic negative, perform a series of ballet moves, solos, pas de deux, larger groupings. The dancers glide and rotate untroubled by gravity against a slowly changing... See full summary »
A truly dream-like odyssey from the High Priestess of experimental cinema
After the claustrophobic feminist nightmare of her first film 'Meshes of the Afternoon' Ukrainian/American experimental film-maker Maya Deren made this mesmerising, bewildering, and strangely reassuring short which continues to expand upon her interest in the rhythmic potentialities of the camera as well as the representation of dream-like states that challenge traditional narrative conventions. Indeed, despite being largely stripped of the Freudian symbology which figured so prominently (some may say conspicuously) in 'Meshes ', 'At Land' is arguably more dream-like than its illustrious predecessor through its use of clever editing which matches physical movements of the lead character (Deren) from shot to shot but against different physical backdrops to create a vivid, authentic representation of a subjective inner realm.
In addition to this technique, which she would also use beautifully in her next film 'A study in Choreography for Camera', the theme of the multiple-Mayas used in 'Meshes ' reoccurs. However, while in 'Meshes ' it was created using multiple exposures of the camera film to allow the different aspects of Maya to share the same space around the kitchen table, in 'At Land' the effect is achieved through a series of eye-line matches from each of the freshly manifested Mayas as she runs along the beach triumphantly.
The film also differs from 'Meshes ' in that it is almost completely set outside and begins with Deren washing up / being born on a beach, the waves of which then roll backwards into the sea. It is a characteristic feature of Deren's films to use simple camera effects to reveal hidden worlds of motion and latent artistic possibilities in things which our everyday eye often misses. Indeed, the composition of shots in 'At Land' is incredibly aesthetic and, even though she was avowedly not a surrealist, as she wanders the dunes and stony caverns the film certainly recalls a Dali painting to the point that the inclusion of a melting clock would not feel out of place.
Deren herself stated that the film is meant to represent a form of spiritual odyssey and an individuals struggle to maintain personal identity, however I must confess my shortcomings and admit that I didn't get that from the film if anything, for me the film was the very opposite: a reappraisal of splintered selfhood as curiously liberating. This difference of interpretation doesn't bother me though as I've always agreed with Oscar Wilde's opinion that "diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital", and certainly, while being made in 1944 disqualifies it from being labelled "new", Deren's work in general, and 'At Land' in particular, is definitely complex, and undeniably vital.
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