Hands in the machine: Maya Deren and Marie Menken’s manual gestures
Film and Screen Media, University College Cork
In this article, I examine how Maya Deren and Marie Menken’s mid-1940s filmmaking enacts a gestural aesthetic. Drawing on Vilém Flusser’s thinking on gesture (his discussion of “moving tools” and the thoughtfulness of hands), I draw attention to the importance of hands in Deren and Menken’s work. In Visual Variations on Noguchi (1945), Menken employs a handheld Bolex camera to explore the different material properties of art objects. Through her sweeping camerawork, film editing and sound, she transforms Noguchi’s art into new, cinematically stuttering, borderline abstract compositions. In At Land (1944), Deren’s unnamed protagonist (played by Deren herself) is filmed reaching, touching, clasping and grasping her way through a highly mutable world. In Deren’s re-working of the mythic quest narrative, hands function as a gestural, thoughtful means of adaptation. Hands also provide Deren with a manual means of manipulating “film form”, of manually piecing together different surfaces, shots and scenes. In Visual Variations on Noguchi and in At Land, both artist-filmmakers use their “moving tools” to transform human gesture. Through their foregrounding of the hands (onscreen and offscreen), Deren and Menken enact a desubjectified, gestural cinema.
Marie Menken , Maya Deren , Vilém Flusser , Gesture , Experimental film aesthetics
Walton, S. (2022) 'Hands in the machine: Maya Deren and Marie Menken’s manual gestures', Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media, 23, pp. 32-51. doi: 10.33178/alpha.23.02