Beyond the Canon: 3 by Maya Deren + Mulholland Drive

the idea is actually no secret in which the cinema canon has historically skewed toward lionizing the white, male auteur. Beyond the Canon is actually a monthly series in which seeks to question in which history as well as broaden horizons by pairing one much-loved, highly regarded, canonized classic which has a thematically or stylistically-related—as well as equally brilliant—work by a filmmaker traditionally excluded by in which discussion. This specific month’s double feature pairs three films by Maya Deren with David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001).

By Shelley Farmer

Without Maya Deren, the filmmaker widely recognized as the mother of American avant-garde cinema, there is actually no David Lynch. Their works overlap both thematically—in their interest in doubles, dance, as well as the darkness underlying the mundane—as well as in visual as well as formal aspects: their use of mirror imagery, negative photography, as well as superimposition, to their dreamlike narrative logic as well as pacing.

In shorts such as the iconic “Meshes of the Afternoon,” (1943) “At Land,” (1944) “as well as Ritual in Transfigured Time,” (1946) the Ukrainian-born Deren synthesizes cinema, dance, design, as well as mid-century avant-garde traditions, as well as both American as well as European sensibilities. Meanwhile, the American Lynch explores a sort of specifically American grotesquerie, unearthing the surreal in genres by soaps to crime films. In Mulholland Drive (2001), Lynch borrows by as well as blasts open the film noir tradition, using markers of the genre to create an off-kilter portrait of the despair underlying Hollywood’s sheen.

Maya Deren’s “Meshes of the Afternoon” (1943)

Deren as well as Lynch are both most closely identified with the more overtly surrealistic aspects of their work, with hooded figures with mirrors for faces in “Meshes of the Afternoon” as well as a spot-lit man with oversized limbs in Mulholland Drive. however perhaps what unites their work most is actually their ability to conjure a sense of reality slightly off its axis. Russian literary theorist Viktor Shklovsky coined the term ostranenie, frequently translated to English as “defamiliarization.”

Much of what occurs in Mulholland Drive doesn’t stretch the bounds of logic or reality, as well as might fit comfortably in a more traditional genre film. In Lynch’s film, heroine Betty, a bright-eyed Hollywood hopeful brand new to Los Angeles, becomes entangled with raven-haired amnesiac Rita. inside movie’s striking “Llorando” sequence, in which Naomi Watts’ Betty as well as Laura Harring’s Rita watch a lip-synced performance in a nearly-empty theater. With the use of extreme close-ups, echoing sound, as well as the dissonant image of a woman emoting deeply to a voice in which isn’t her own, the scene gains a dreamlike edge of unreality. Even the performance styles of the actors throughout the film, with their acting styles pitched somewhere north of natural, imbue genre plot beats with an uncanny feeling.

Laura Harring in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001)

Similarly, in Deren’s “Ritual in Transfigured Time,” an unnatural breeze, slightly slowed motion, as well as an ominously judgmental figure inside background of a shot all make the quotidian domestic task of spinning twine feel unnatural. Later, slowed footage as well as lightly stylized movement transform the simple task of winding one’s way through a crowded party into a dream ballet.

Beyond their stylistic echoes, both Mulholland Drive as well as Deren’s shorts in This specific program center women protagonists. Lynch’s film exists within a tradition of male auteurs’ cinematic dreams starring women who mirror as well as meld as well as cannibalize each various other, by Robert Altman’s Three Women to Ingmar Bergman’s Persona to Jacques Rivette’s Celine as well as Julie Go Boating.

however where many of those women feel like symbols or inscrutable ciphers, Lynch—who frequently toes the line between empathizing with women’s suffering as well as exploiting the idea—here does more than create a puzzle with his mirrored women, however uses in which mirroring to dig into the subjectivity of his lead character. As the phantom love of Betty as well as Rita gives way to the crumbling romance of Diane Selwyn as well as Camilla Rhodes, Lynch’s doubling of the women as well as details between the two stories creates a wrenching portrait of a woman driven by passion as well as jealousy to destroy both her lover as well as herself.

Naomi Watts as well as Laura Herring in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001)

Deren takes This specific excavation of a woman’s inner life even further by frequently casting herself, wading through her own dreamscapes, as well as—in “Meshes of the Afternoon”—even pursuing her own doppelgangers. In her silent shorts, the central women—whether Deren herself or “Ritual in Transfigured Time”’s Rita Christiani—wordlessly move through disorienting landscapes in which shift as well as transform around them, pursuing as well as interacting with figures unknown or not quite human, discovering objects in which appear seemingly without reason. These singular works, rife with symbolism as well as operating by their own rules of time as well as space, drop the viewer deep into the realm of a woman’s subconscious.

The works of Deren as well as Lynch aren’t simple to describe. Their movies are defined by a language in which is actually purely cinematic. Manipulating time as well as movement, they illustrate the ineffable in films as uneasy, slippery, as well as wondrous as dreams.

Join us for Beyond the Canon on Sun, Jul 28 at 2pm.

Shelley Farmer is actually the publicity manager for film at BAM. She is actually also a performer as well as writer with bylines at Slate, Roger Ebert, Paper Magazine, Reverse Shot, as well as Indiewire. You can find her work at

Upcoming Beyond the Canon screening:

Sat, Aug 31 at 2pm
Haifaa Al-Mansour
2012, 98min
Alice inside Cities
Wim Wenders
1974, 113min

All images courtesy of Photofest
© 2019 Brooklyn Academy of Music, Inc. All rights reserved.

Beyond the Canon: 3 by Maya Deren + Mulholland Drive

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