This season, EYE will take a tour through some of the highlights of experimental and artists’ film. This time we will feature excerpts from the never released Witch’s Cradle and Divine Horsemen- Living Gods of Haiti by ‘grand dame’ Maya Deren. This presentation will include a voodoo act and live music.
Maya Deren made Witch’s Cradle in 1943 but never released it. It was photographed in an environment based on Marcel Duchamp’s string work for the New York Surrealistic exhibition of 1942.. Since no copy of Witch’s Cradle as yet turned up, this assemblage of Deren’s outtakes, including a very brief image of Duchamp himself, constitutes what little we presently know of this complex film which seems to have assimilated Duchamp’s string gesture to Deren’s interest in witchcraft – Anthology Film Archives.
My films might be called poetic referring to the attitude towards these meanings. If philosophy is concerned with understanding the meaning of reality, then poetry – and art in general – is a celebration, a singing of values and meanings. I refer also to the structure of the films – a logic of ideas and qualities, rather than of causes and events.
My films might be called choreographic, referring to the design and stylisation of movement which confers ritual dimension upon functional motion – just as simple speech is made into song when affirmation of intensification on a higher level is intended. My films might be called experimental, referring to the use of the medium itself. In these films, the camera is not an observant, recording eye in the customary fashion. The full dynamics and expressive potentials of the total medium are ardently dedicated to creating the most accurate metaphor for the meaning.
In setting out to communicate principles, rather than to relay particulars,and in creating a metaphor which is true to the idea rather than the history of experience of any one of several individuals, I am addressing myself not to any particular group but to a special area and definite faculty in every or any man – to that part of him which creates myths, invents divinities and ponders, for no particular purpose whatsoever, on the nature of things.
[…] I am content if, on those rare occasions whose truth can be stated only in poetry, you will perhaps recall an image, even only the aura of my films. And what more could I possibly ask, as an artist, than that your most precious visions, however rare, assume, sometimes, the forms of my images. – MAYA DEREN, from A Statement of Principles.
The experimental filmmaker Maya Deren spent significant periods of time in Haiti between 1947 and 1951. The footage she made of Voodoo rituals and rites was left unedited on her death and only assembled later as the film Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti 1947–51. The commentary, composed of extracts from the book of the same title Deren published in 1953, was also added posthumously.
Conceived of as a ‘film-poem’, Deren’s film reveals the ongoing merging of art and ethnography which was one of the legacies of Surrealism. Nevertheless, it also stands as an important cultural record of Haitian Voodoo – a religion based upon West African beliefs and practices, combined with aspects of Roman Catholicism.
Deren’s intention was to use montage editing techniques in order to contrast Haitian dance with ‘non- Haitian elements’ in a series of dream-like sequences – an approach which testifies to her Surrealist interest in alternative realities. As the project progressed the focus of her interest shifted from dance to the complex nature of Haitian ceremonies. Thus the film celebrates Haiti for its hybrid culture as well as for its symbolic importance as the site a successful slave revolution in 1791–1804, which resulted in Haiti becoming the first modern black republic.
Performance by Samira Elagoz and Jeanette Groenendaal
Live music by Mola Sylla – voice, kalimba. Vincent Pino – electric guitar.
More information about Maya Deren can be found here: