Thanks for visiting. This site will no longer be updated.

Please visit my new site.

You can find new writing, new photos at


Sunday, November 9, 2008

Fleeting Enchantments

“I make my pictures for what Hollywood spends on lipstick” ~ Maya Deren


I love tiny discoveries. People or places or things that I've never heard of before that make me pause and find yet another way to see the world as a fascinating place (granted, lots of people have made these discoveries before me and I'm just coming around to it late in the game).

But they're my tiny discoveries. And like a trickle of water that gradually flows to a larger body of water, I'll be able to follow this rivulet to people or other things that will enhance my appreciation of what I've just found and make my personal world more interesting.


On Friday night, I stopped into Amoeba Records on the way home. I love to walk the length of Haight Street when I'm not too tired, from the Lower to the Upper Haight instead of taking the train. Two possible treats await me at the end of my walk: plantains and black beans (and maybe a glass of sangria) at Cha Cha Cha, and/or a video or two from Amoeba. For some reason I never buy any music there, probably because the place is so cavernous and overwhelming in its selections, but I seem to navigate my way around the DVD room quite well and always find something I want. Finding restraint at the cash register is harder.

What excites me tremendously is when I discover a fascinating person. Perhaps you've already heard of her, but I found a collection of short films by Maya Deren. I was so entranced by her work. I couldn't stop watching.

From the bio in the Harold Gottleib Archival Research Center at Boston University:

Maya Deren (1917-1961) has been called "the mother of the American underground cinema" and remains perhaps the most noted female experimental filmmaker in the United States from the 1940s until her untimely death in 1961. In addition, she was a noted theorist whose innovative writings are shamefully not as familiar as those of her male contemporaries.

Eleanora Derenkowsky was born on April 29, 1917 in Kiev, Ukraine, the only child of linguist Marie Derenkowsky and her psychologist husband Solomon. In 1922, the family fled the Soviet Union to escape from anti-Semitism, settling in New York City and shortening the family name to Deren... Deren often self-distributed her films, going so far as to screen them on her living room walls. If she managed to land a booking, she often accompanied the screenings with a lecture...She received the Cannes Film Festival Grand Prix Internationale, became the first filmmaker to receive a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, which allowed her to begin research on the Voudoun ritual in Haitian culture.


Maya died at age 44. It amazes me the body of work: art, thought-- that some people can create in a such a short life. My birthday is on Tuesday. Some days I really feel like the clock is ticking...

What people or places or things have you discovered that made a lasting impression on you? Anything you'd care to share? I'm in the mood for discovery. Now that this election is over, I feel like I can breathe again.

Here is Deren's film Meshes of the Afternoon (1943). I wonder what you think of it.


julochka November 9, 2008 at 9:01 PM  

ahh, it's nice to be home and catch up on blogland...and also nice to read a totally not political posting. :-) isn't it a relief?

i need to go on a discovery walk too...i woke up this morning (way too early, dratted jetlag) with a hankering for a museum.

i have one discovery to share, tho' you might say i haven't yet really discovered it...it's a dead chilean writer named roberto bolano...in the IHT, i read a review of his novel 2666, which has recently been translated into english. i'm gonna head next to amazon to order it up, it sounds amazing.

namastenancy November 10, 2008 at 12:19 AM  

Maya Deren is an amazing artist - have you seen the videos that she made of dance in Haiti? Truly groundbreaking work. It's a shame that she isn't better known.

Anonymous November 10, 2008 at 3:11 AM  

This is the first time I've ever heard of Maya Deren. Can I just ask, the first photo of this post, is this one that you took? If so, it's amazing!


Kath November 10, 2008 at 6:36 AM  

You are amazing.


A Cuban In London November 10, 2008 at 6:51 AM  

Fascinating and amazing life story. I hope you have more journeys through that section of San Francisco. Thanks a bunch for this treat.

Greetings from London.

willow November 10, 2008 at 8:01 AM  

Mesmerizing!! Thanks for the introduction.

And I don't know if you do the award thing, but I have a "Superior Scribbler" waiting for you over at the Manor. If not, just bask in the honor! :^)

Christina November 10, 2008 at 8:12 AM  

Oh sweetie, this is amazing! I have never heard of her. Needless to say she was before her time. Ohh, the shadows are brilliant, her finger holding the key going into the lock as the shadow tips her breast. Beautiful, and bold for that era. The fluid movements like a dancer, it reminds me of Judith Jameson, almost like an african movement.

Thank you for this! I truly enjoyed learning of her. Can you tell I loved it?!

; )

paris parfait November 10, 2008 at 8:49 AM  

I've never heard of her - thanks for the discovery! Amazing woman and incredible talent.

Did you know about Miriam Makeba, who died today? I got to meet her (and talk politics) in 1994 in San Francisco. Her music was a gift and her human rights activism a bonus. I think it speaks volumes about her character that her last performance was on behalf of an Italian journalist who is currently in hiding because of threats by the Mafia.

On a brighter note, I hope you're at work tomorrow for a delivery. xoxox

Bill Stankus November 10, 2008 at 10:03 AM  

Perhaps you've seen Un chien andalou made in 1929 by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali? Or Fly (1970) by Yoko Ono and John Lennon?

Indie films offer so much - it's too bad the corp-studio have steamrolled as they have and the cool short films get seen by limited audiences.

Meshes of the Afternoon is terrific.

dutchbaby November 10, 2008 at 10:50 AM  

Powerful images and great use of music! I feel like I just spent thirteen minutes at a film festival. Thanks for introducing her to us.

Red Shoes November 10, 2008 at 12:43 PM  


tangobaby November 10, 2008 at 1:16 PM  

@julochka, welcome back to blogland! I hope your time on the beach was productive. And yes, it's time to NOT obsess about politics 24/7, isn't it? Although now I actually feel like I can concentrate on something else besides who's in the White House.

Dead Chilean Writers...must look into that. ;-) I got a bag full of Paul Auster, Jon Stewart and Richard Dawkins yesterday. No Chileans. Tell me how you like the book.

@namastenancy: There is an 8-minute clip of the Haitian movie on the DVD. Apparently her last husband finished the movie after her death and it's available on video. I read a comment about Maya from Joseph Campbell and apparently he was quite struck by her interest and knowledge of Haiti and Voudoun. After seeing her films, I ran out to find a book about her...and couldn't. I guess I'll have to search a little harder.

@carol: Me too. I just happened upon her in the documentary section of the DVDs. I wish I had taken that photo, but it's a photo of her, from that film in my post. It's such a gorgeous image, isn't it?

@kath: Nah, just once in a while I come up with something cool to share. I think Maya is the amazing one. ;-) but thank you!

@cuban: I'm in the Haight a lot, because it's the neighborhood adjacent to mine...I've been taking a lot of photos there so I'm sure I'll have more to share with you soon. I'm glad you enjoyed this little bit about Maya.

@willow: I'll be sure to stop by soon. You know how Mondays can be. And thank you for the honor, in advance!

@christina: I'm so thrilled you appreciated those images, too. The shadows are amazing. And the parts with the key, the figure with the mirrored face. And yes, you guess right, she was also a dancer and involved with choreography.

@paris parfait: I just wonder why I had never heard of her until now. Even in my film studies class in college, I don't remember hearing her name brought up. Apparently she was a great influence of David Lynch. All things are derivative, aren't they?

I do not know about Miriam Makeba but I will look for your post about her.

And yes, I'll be at work all week. Unless this stuffy head turns into a proper cold, or I get all better and the green light to see my new niece!


@bill: Funny thing is that way back when, I saw Un chien andalou and La belle et la bete on late night cable tv. I remember being horrified and fascinated by Un chien (as was the goal, I'm sure) and years later in college took a film studies course, where I watched it again, with all of the other "supposed to sees" like Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Battleship Potemkin, etc.

I want to get a copy of Un chien for myself, and also L'Age D'Or as I have never seen it. I did not see Fly but I will look for it.

And yes, now you know why I rarely go to the theatre anymore.

@dutchbaby: You hit on something else, the music. It really makes an important contribution to the film. There's so much going on in that mere thirteen minutes. I'm glad you watched the movie and enjoyed it.

@red shoes: Yes. I was so inspired by her. I don't know what I'll do with the inspiration, but I'm glad it's there inside me.

Anonymous November 11, 2008 at 2:31 PM  

"I love tiny discoveries. People or places or things that I've never heard of before that make me pause and find yet another way to see the world as a fascinating place."
i love that you love this :) the older i get (and you know i feel older than old these days) the more i revel in these discoveries. i need them. i look for them. and like Maya Deren (love her quote about hollywood:) and you i can follow the road of pictures to make those discoveries as often as i am willing to look.
The day before i left for chicago i went on a hike into what we call The Gorge here in oregon. it is the corridor of the great Columbia river and the river is buttressed on both sides by bluffs of great height and many, many waterfalls flow down from the mountains to feed the river. i went in search of waterfalls and images of their rushing down the bluff. and what i found was exactly that and i was completely blown away by the experience of climbing up and up and hearing the falls and looking out over the vast river. the leaves were orange and yellow and i could see for miles. the sky was darkening and rain began to fall in earnest. i lay down upon the rocks in order to take photos using the slowest shutter speed i could in order to capture that white flow of clean cold water. honest to god julie i thought i had died and this was heaven. i was healthy and able to walk, take pictures and glory in the beauty of the world. i have at least three pictures that i think capture the experience.
so yes i love that you love those little discoveries and that when you read my comment you will know exactly what i am talking about :)

Linda Sue November 13, 2008 at 10:47 AM  

WHOA! Poppies will do that...what a great find- LOVE this talent! Gorgeous! 1948- must have blown a few minds!!!Thank you so much for posting this- I now have a new love!

tangobaby November 13, 2008 at 4:14 PM  

@birdtweets: delicious robin bird, you know I can't wait to see the images you've captured. Your photography creates an entire and perfect other world, just like Maya Deren made a new one for us to see. You're so incredibly talented, my friend. I can't wait until more and more people discover your lovely images and even lovelier heart. I'm always so happy when you come to visit.

@Linda Sue, Welcome to my blog and thanks for leaving a comment. If you enjoyed this film, you might want to get the DVD that I linked to above. It has all of her films (there aren't many of them but you'll enjoy them). I found myself watching this film several times and still enjoying the otherworldliness of it. I'm sad she didn't live long enough to make more films.