A silent, textural, and hypnotic composition in movement and expression, the opening sequence of Ritual in Transfigured Time posits the innate duality of human nature as an animated, approachable female figure (Maya Deren) alternately framed in high contrast against a pair of interchangeable doorways, beckons a seemingly naïve young dancer (Rita Christiani) into a large adjoining room to assist in an implied Sisyphean domestic ritual before being summoned by a striking, cosmopolitan figure (Anaïs Nin) awaiting in an opposite doorway. Transported into the entrance of a lively cocktail party, the timid young woman, now symbolically dressed in mourning attire (that is further intimated by the bearing of lilies, perhaps a representation of her estrangement from her past existence), gracefully navigates through a polyphonic crowd in an exquisitely intricate choreography that reflects the complex trajectory and random movement of bodies in closed space – attraction, collision, deflection, and finally, repulsion – as she encounters a persistent suitor (Frank Westbrook) among the guests and, evoking a visual inverse of a mythical Pygmalion and Galatea, the dashing suitor relentlessly pursues the innocent maiden through a series of exterior spaces that culminates in a transcendent flight through turbulent, engulfing waves.
As in Maya Deren’s earlier, seminal film, Meshes of the Afternoon, Ritual in Transfigured Time is a formalized, aesthetic composition of regimentation and studies of dynamic human forms that prefigure the films of such diverse filmmakers as Yvonne Rainer and Claire Denis. Deren incorporates representational performance art into abstract, non-nararrative filmmaking through intersecting currents of subconscious, parallel realities, revealing the film’s tone and intrinsic logic through the choreography of organic bodies in performance of ritual, and in the process, creates a haunting and sublime exposition on the spatial (rather than linear) dimensionality of time, synchronicity, and the potentiality of fate.
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