A Meshing of Minds: The Similarities Between Maya Deren & David Lynch

When one thinks of avant-garde film, two champions of the genre that come immediately to mind are Maya Deren and David Lynch.

Now, even though Lynch branched out and crossed over into more mainstream filmmaking (if you can really call it that) with films like Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive, it's easy to understand why many believe the director was heavily influenced by the work of one of the most well-known experimental filmmakers of her time, Maya Deren.

Check out the similarities between the work of both directors In this Fandor video essay, edited by Joel Bocko.

Video is no longer available: vimeo.com/159958124

It's clear that the two directors, Deren and Lynch, are tuned into a poetically macabre version of the world and human existence that they are able to reproduce up on screen. In fact, Fandor tried to define Lynch's signature style back in December, mentioning writer David Foster Wallace's assertion that this "Lynchian" aesthetic is "a particular kind of irony where the very macabre and the very mundane combine in such a way as to reveal the former's perpetual containment within the latter." And if you think about it, Deren's style can be described in a very similar way.

Both directors manage to put everyday life up on screen through the lens of a dream — or vice versa. Bocko writes:

Maya Deren and David Lynch are brilliant directors not merely because of their vivid images or ability to tell a story without precisely telling a story. They are attuned to something that runs much deeper than pure cinema or pure art, something that strikes a chord deep within. They have the ability to manifest our dream lives onscreen.

Even though Deren and Lynch may have unique styles all their own, they do deal in the business of capturing lurid dreams and packaging them inside something ordinary.

If you're new to the avant-garde work of Maya Deren and David Lynch — or if you're completely new to the genre altogether, definitely check out Deren's most famous work Meshes of the Afternoon (which you can watch right now on Fandor), as well as Lynch's experimental short films, such as The Grandmother, The Amputee, and my personal favorite, The Alphabet.     

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Your Comment


I find it a bit of a stretch to compare Maya Deren with David Lynch, I am sure you could find similar shots in typical experimental art films.

But I do find it interesting that Maya Deren was producing this work way back in 1943, which was probably a rare thing in the 1940's.

April 1, 2016 at 5:56AM

Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer

That's fair - at best the montage can only suggest more fundamental similarities between the visions of the two filmmakers, it can't fully demonstrate them (which may be a drawback of the short form). My hope for it, beyond serving as a sort of visceral rhythmic experience (which was one of my goals), is that it can serve as an invitation for viewers to dig deeper into the bonds between Deren and Lynch. Both subvert physical reality and blur dream states with waking life in order to reflect psychological trauma and suggest the instability of everyday reality. Specifically, they both employ unique motifs like otherworldly beings overlapping with the appearance of ordinary people, characters gazing at (and harming) their own doubles, and impossible representations of passage through both time and space. I gathered some quotes last summer to explore some of these similarities: http://thedancingimage.blogspot.com/2015/07/across-threshold-with-maya-d...

April 2, 2016 at 2:14AM