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Ukrainian-American avant-garde filmmaker Maya Deren died 50 years ago today. This seems a good opportunity to examine what to my mind is a bafflingly unexplored moment in her early career, one which unites Deren – a hugely influential film poet – with the most revolutionary artist of the 20th century as well as its most important patron.

The common thread is Witch’s Cradle, a silent, unfinished film of around 12 minutes’ duration dating from 1943, co-directed by Deren. When exactly in 1943 it was made is uncertain, but it would appear that it pre-dates even Meshes of the Afternoon, the film she made with Alexander Hammid in the same year which established Deren, previously known only as a dancer, as a vital force of non-linear filmmaking. That alone would prevent the footage from being a mere cutting-room curio, but it is her collaborator who also ensures this…

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