22 July 2012 | RomanJamesHoffman
Appealing only for die-hard Deren devotees and dancers?
One of the distinguishing features of the work of Ukrainian/American experimental film-maker Maya Deren is the attention she paid to exploring the depiction of movement on screen, a feature so distinctive it led one critic to coin the neologism "choreocinema" in an attempt to better describe her work. Such a feature is to be expected when you consider that as well as a director, actress, and (under-rated) film theorist, she was also a choreographer and dancer, and 'A Study
' is the first of her films to foreground dance so explicitly.
Having previously watched, and been blown away by her first two films 'Meshes in the Afternoon' and 'At Land', I watched 'A Study...' expecting much of the same but found myself somewhat at a loss as to how to appreciate it. As it's by far her shortest film (at only a few minutes length) I watched it a few more times, and endeavored to settle on an appreciation which would enable me to answer the question which came to mind: do you need to be a dancer or lover of dance to appreciate this film? Eventually I did come to an appreciation, and would answer by saying that while a dance background is not necessary...I get the feeling it would certainly help.
The eventual appreciation I came to have of the film consists in acknowledging the lack any other message or (dream-like Deren-esque) narrative and simply allowing Deren to direct my attention to oft overlooked worlds of movement enacted by the dancers body through the use of various camera techniques. However, the dream-like quality of her previous films is still evident in the use of movement matched editing of single actions over separate locations first introduced in 'At Land' (and indeed so masterfully are these shots executed that Gene Kelly sought out Deren for advice on how to do the same thing) which allow the dancer to traverse a living room, a museum and the outdoors in a few elegant steps.
All this being said, I can't help but feel that my lack of interest in dance means I am unable to engage with the film as fully as the dream-like narratives of 'Meshes...' or 'At Land', but as dance would go onto to figure so explicitly in all her subsequent films (especially 'A Meditation on Violence' and 'The Very Eye of Night) the effort put in to understand this short curio certainly offered a perspective I could employ again to try to appreciate these later films.