How can a little girl born in Russia and reared in Syracuse, New York, find happiness as a Voodoun priestess in Greenwich Village? That question sort of sums up the story of Maya Deren, who was one of the most complex and legendary personalities among independent filmmakers of the 1940s and 50s.

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The source of inspiration is nothing but the object of the quest.

Jean Laplanche, The Temptation of Biology: Freud’s Theories of Sexuality

Maya Deren, At Land, 1944, 16 mm, black-and-white, silent, 15 minutes. Maya Deren.

IF BRAKHAGE’S REDUCTION of Maya Deren’s life to the tagline of a 1940s radio serial seems unduly harsh, there is some justice to his remark that the symbolism in her films could “bring down the house with laughter.”1 Such reactions to the “plot” and imagery of Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), her first and most famous film, were and are not uncommon. The film critic and painter

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