Monday, February 23, 2009

myth as empowerment

After reading Ruby Rich's pieces on Triumph of the Will and Divine Horseman in Chick Flicks, I noticed a contradiction in the two essays. Given the fact that Rich is a really good writer and that Chick Flicks is autobiographical, I can't help but think that she placed those essays right next to each other intentionally to spotlight the contradiction, maybe to show examples of early mistakes she made as a writer, although she doesn't say so.
The difference that the essays assign to the filmmakers, are of Riefenstahl as the token powerful woman amongst male power and whose entire career should be regarded as a feminist cautionary fable and Deren as the under-appreciated master of her craft and early example of a true avant garde filmmaker.(in the 60's sense of the term) The contradiction, more of and exclusion really, of Deren from the canon of the cinema of Romantic "Hypnotic manipulation" that she uses to condemn Riefenstahl is of course totally fine given the often denied or ignored historical importance she appropriately assigns to both filmmakers.
I feel like Rich discredits Riefenstahl while lauding Deren for work that uses very similar methods to convey the message of their films. Both use mysticism as well as a formalistic and technical bag of tricks to convey the cinema hypnosis that pulls you into the world of their movies. The difference of course being that Riefenstahl's work aided in mythologizing nazi idealogy and Deren's Voundoun. After watching "The Blue Light" again the other night and comparing it to Deren's "Meshes of the Afternoon" as I read Rich's essay, I thought of how similar rather than dissimilar Riefenstahl and Deren are as filmmakers and "The Blue Light" and "Meshes..." are as movies...
Although the moralizing is more blatant in "Blue Light" as the frame for the mystical sequences of the movie in which we are shown the singular desire of main character, Junta. Her obsession perils all that follow her to the mountain top until her source of magical joy is literally stolen from her and used as a natural resource for the betterment of her town...although the story reads like parable for the economic benefits of the age of reason, the substantial scenes in the movie are the dream-like sequences during the full moon mountain climbing expeditions to the crystal grotto...scenes that rival the most surreal and ritualistic of Maya Deren's films.
In "Meshes of the Afternoon" Deren, as the main character is out of the moralizing context of "The Blue Light" and free to go on her journey down the rabbit hole of her individual mysticism. On that journey, as she walks, crawls and climbs through a reality that transforms as she goes. Similar to the scenes of Junta's mountain climbs. With Deren, Doors, keys and windows no longer act as barriers or limitations but have a different kind of function in "Meshes..." and contain their own kind of dream logic. The logic with which she has escaped reality for the realm of art and mysticism.
The other major films that Rich discusses by these directors are "Triumph of the Will" and "Divine Horsemen", are also very similar in that they are documentaries that employ the Romantic, formalistic and technical prowess of the filmmakers to mythologize thier subjects, the third Riech and Voudoun. Though Deren is considered a modernist (Tobi says) in the context of art and film history she employs much of the individual mystical journey of Romanticism that Rich places Riefenstal in the context of.
I think if Rich has different feeling about one director or the other it has more to do with her preference for a personal style of Romanticism...she says that she consults a voudoun priestess, sees a psychic and throws the I-ching or we don't have to guess where her loyalties lie.
The fact remains that both Riefenstahl and Deren are powerful directors that transcend the status second class citizenship of being female filmmakers by employing their power to boldly mythologize their subjects and themselves. But if the aim of feminist film making is to find an alternative to as Rich Says "the hypnotic manipulation of the audience, encouraging identification with the distorted characters within the world of the film and manipulate that identification for ideologically potent ends...the cinema of latent fascism...that dominates our screens today" and to find "a new radical cinema of deconstruction, dedicated to demythologizing the film process and reintegrating intellectual respones, so the the audiences active participation and full-aware distanciation become requisite to the viewing/understanding of a film." (think "postmodernism") then we have to keep looking past both Deren and Riefenstahl to find it. maybe next chapter!

1 comment:

  1. meshes of the afternoon: