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Posts Tagged ‘Maya Deren’

Tina Hassannia – No DVDs of Many Films by Women Directors

Thursday, March 31st, 2016

Tina Hassannia has a superb article on the lack of DVDs of films directed by women in Movie Mezzanine.

As she notes, “one consistent request on Twitter from female film critics and cinephiles in particular is more female-directed films. Last month, film critic Sophie Mayer analyzed Criterion’s entire collection and found that only 21 of their titles were directed or co-directed by women (including films released under Criterion’s Eclipse banner). That’s 2.6% of the whole collection, which in Mayer’s estimation is a ‘pretty meagre number.’

As telling as that number might be about a potential gender bias, the statistic only scratches the surface of what is a much broader and more complicated picture when it comes to releasing female-directed films on home video. It’s worth pointing out other characteristics of Criterion’s collection in relation to that figure.

While Mayer notes a higher number of films are directed by women in mainstream film—a still-measly 7%—Criterion’s titles represent a diverse number of cinemas that do not fall necessarily in the mainstream category; it would likely be impossible to determine the percentage of women directors in every national cinema around the world since the birth of movies. That number is likely to be much lower than 7%.

The 2.6% number also doesn’t account for the decades when there were few working women directors around the world. While women directed movies in the early Hollywood era, the profession became mostly male territory by the 1930s, and for several subsequent decades, there were almost no female directors working at all in the studio system (with some notable exceptions, like Ida Lupino). Even by the 1960s, some of the world cinemas we cherish today were only starting to find their roots and hadn’t yet standardized the practice, or even implicitly decided to allow, encourage, or prohibit women to helm a picture.

There were also more notable films made by women in the 1930s-1960s in other types of cinema—like avant-garde, independent, and documentary films—than in Hollywood. This hasn’t changed that much in the last half-century, as the gender bias in Hollywood continues to be a systemic problem. Even so, think of your favorite female-directed films: no matter which genre or country they hail from, the largest percentage were likely made in the 1970s or later.

Despite the continuing gender bias, more women have been making movies of note in the last 30 to 40 years than in the decades preceding. This is an important factor to consider, as more than half of Criterion’s collection are films that were made in the 1930s-’70s. Much of their library derives from a period when there were generally fewer working female filmmakers.

Instead of relying on statistics to examine Criterion’s collection, then, it may be more helpful to think of women-directed titles that deserve a deluxe treatment. No matter what the numbers, statistics, or decades show, given their power, Criterion would go a long way in challenging the canon by releasing more titles made by women. But the reality is that releasing films from a smaller demographic is much more difficult than one might imagine.

Last week, I queried Twitter for female-directed titles that should get the Criterion treatment. Great responses poured in, among them the films of Dorothy Arzner and Maya Deren, Claire Denis’s Beau Travail, Barbara Loden’s Wanda, and Jennie Livingston’s Paris is Burning. Some of these films, however, are already available from other distributors, some with restorations and supplements that are on par with or close to the quality associated with Criterion.”

All I can do is second this heartily, but also note that in addition to the directors mentioned, I would love to see a complete box set of the films of Alice Guy – some of her films are out on a Gaumont two disc set – Lois Weber (pictured at the top of this post), Ida May Park, and especially Ida Lupino, who is mentioned in this article, but whose pioneering work deserves a complete box set of all her work in the 1950s, when she was the only female director working in Hollywood. In any event, this is a real issue, one that won’t go away, and one that needs to be rectified, not only by Criterion, but by all the archival DVD labels – and no EST downloads, either. DVDs – restored, remastered, pristine, living – are the only way to go here.

This is a sharp, impassioned article – you can read the entire essay by clicking here.

The Very Eye of Night

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

Maya Deren, one of the first and most innovative of American experimental filmmakers, made this, her last complete film, in 1958 — one of her best. Still hopeful of making new films, Deren left unfinished Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti, which was shot between 1947 and 1954, and only completed by Teiji and Cherel Ito in 1985, many years after her death in 1961, at the age of 44.

The Very Eye of Night has gotten a bad rap over the years, when compared to her landmark Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), but it doesn’t deserve it. In The Very Eye of Night, Deren finally figures out how to effortlessly make bodies float through space, to mesh the camera with the bodies of the dancers she records, and to create an ethereal, otherworldly series of images that lead the receptive viewer into her own personal dream world.

As Wendy Haslem notes of the film, “The Very Eye of Night was a collaboration with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet School. The film was beset by problems in its production and carried with it a heavy weight of expectation. A shimmering constellation of stars established the background for negative images of figures resembling Greek Gods superimposed on and magically transported along the milky way. Deren called it her ‘ballet of night’, an ethereal dance within a nocturnal space that focused on the spectacle rather than the narrative. Ito collaborated on the soundtrack using tone blocks and bells, recalling the trance rhythm of Meshes of the Afternoon. Prioritizing enchantment over interpretation, The Very Eye of Night proved to be Deren’s most controversial and misunderstood film.”

And as Deren herself noted, shortly before her death, “A creative artist must have, to begin with, substantial reserves in his bank. He must have endured the experiences of life; he must have first earned and deposited his money. Those who have spared themselves the pain and effort of living do not have much in the vault…..

At this point my useful bank metaphor has to be modified….Let us instead imagine that this money is really like books or diaries or records of all we have ever seen, felt, thought, heard, thought, and experienced. The problem of the artist, then, is to rob the vaults only of those riches that are relevant to his need.

The trouble is that these vaults — these archives of the spirit — are not catalogued and cross-indexed. So one begins with the idea; and the intensity of one’s concentration makes, of that idea or concept, a sort of selective magnet which, passed over the mind again and again, draws out the images, sounds. movements, people, reflections, ideas, etc. related to it in kind.

If the magnet is too selective, it will bring up only synonyms and no new, illuminating relationships will be revealed. It is better that it be a little loose, eclectic and liberal so that one starts out with a big choice of possibilities. It is wonderful, of course, to watch a Master at work — and this is what a Zen Master is — when the magnet is of such extraordinary precision that it brings forth the most precisely best and no more and no less. One might even say that Zen is the art of tooling the magnet to its most refined precision and of charging it with the greatest pulling power.”

You can view the entire film by clicking on the image above.

About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. All comments by Dixon on this blog are his own opinions.

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Wheeler Winston Dixon has been quoted by Fast Company, The New Yorker, The New York Times, the BBC, CNN, The Christian Science Monitor, US News and World Report, The Boston Globe, Entertainment Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, NPR, The PBS Newshour, USA Today and other national media outlets on digital cinema, film and related topics - see the UNL newsroom at for more details.

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