Ritual in Transfigured Time, Maya Deren, 1946-Critical Analysis

Laura Pellegrino
Ritual in Transfigured Time by Maya Deren takes viewers on a very interesting journey. The 1946, black and white film, introduces an abstracted personal story.
From the opening shot, there is a vagueness that creates a definite mood. Deren chose for the piece to be in silence, which creates this lingering feeling with no assurance. For there are conversations happening between the people, but dialuge is not to be known. Body language rubs off as lackadaisical, but contrastingly seems purposeful. It seems as if space itself holds much more matter, and the bodies have no upper hand while moving through it. Throughout the film, stillness plays a clear role in altering time. The action of using pauses, allows viewers to witness particular situations that hold purpose. We see what the individuals mind sees, all that she takes in and what it is that she takes the time to notice.
The locations become unfeasible and very surreal. Where one moment the camera shows the bodies in a specific location, the next shot they are individualized outside of their scenery. Also, locations go from empty rooms, to a party that fully occupies the space, to an open field, a statue garden, and a coliseum, then into water. The act of traveling from one location to another is not determined, as an audience you are taken from location to location through jump cuts.
Body positioning is slightly altered from shot to shot, which signifies to me that the context is focused on merely the fact of their representation in the film and not the act of what they are specifically doing. Also, Deren changes the attire of performers just as effortlessly as she changes location. From this I derived a sense of remembrance of the time, rather than time unfolding itself.
All of those factors led me to steer away from following the main female by each action. What I started to notice was the pathways that were created. This is extremely apparent in the party scene. The way the camera shots are focused it becomes very difficult to keep track of each individual and their positioning in the room. What is very apparent though is the pedestrian like patterning of social exchanges. As a viewer I witnessed the interactions between participants on a very minuscule level, where all engagements were brief and passed through. The opportunity of choice was a factor that I became aware of. Also, in that scene all the individuals become a sea of bodies that move as one; What and whom the camera focuses on divides the intention of their movement. Transitions become very momentum based and direction seems to happen from the falling out of the previous movement.
Patterning plays a very key role in comprehension of this piece. In the beginning the repetition of winding the yarn provides an anchor point to hold onto. Also in the open field, the male repeatedly swings around with different woman and after their departure he jumps. This phrasing occurs numerous times, emphasizing importance of the particular situation. As that continues the main character grows more and more in distress, then further leading to an imagined scenario of the male as a statue.
This work plays with the idea of common occurrences in life, or landmarks of significance to the individual. In the piece, as she moves forward she takes us to various concerns and moments of awareness. Though the viewers may not know the exact significance of each point, the relevance of personal investment is plausible. Deren offers a story that I chose not to follow by action but by outcome. For the outcome is what would carry to the next portion of the piece. The supposed conditions were an elaboration of ones mind. Perception is challenged, as it should always be. Figures and moments appear to be one way, and Deren’s piece exemplifies how slight changes can make or break a memory.
Overall, the work steered a clear pathway through transfigured time. The filming challenged viewer’s opportunity to see the entire situation, and played upon following an individual’s story of involvement. Where the intent of the film was a personal journey, I was left not to create my own personal relevance to the work but follow her through her steps. This dreamlike work did an excellent job at developing into unpredictable occurrences and creating a foreign yet familiar environment.

back to Analysis

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License