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At Land1944

  • 4.2
AT LAND begins at sea. In the film's stunning opening sequence, a woman (played by filmmaker Maya Deren) emerges on shore, climbs up a pile of driftwood... and finds herself in the middle of a formal banquet. She then moves from lush, verdant jungles to seaweed-strewn beaches, stealing chess pieces from other characters. Deren's second film is a masterpiece of editing and production design, detail and texture, conjuring a world where up is down and black is white. Photographed by the female cinematographer Hella Heyman, who worked with Deren on three of her films (and who later married Deren's ex-husband, Alexander Hammid, after he and Deren divorced), AT LAND proved that the creativity and originality of vision behind MESHES OF THE AFTERNOON was no accident: Deren was an artist to be reckoned with. Like the films of one of her favorite filmmakers, the 19th-century cinematic magician Georges Méliès, At Land showcased its director's technical skill and boundless imagination. "How we worked for those passages through brush," Deren said. "I wanted it to look like an underwater garden--the leaves to be the swaying leaves of underwater...How we worked for the reflection of water on my face! And the falling down the rocks is the tempo of underwater falling!" - Livia Bloom

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Member Reviews (17)

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top reviewer

I liked the continuity in the film when the moved from one texture and scene to another. Well done, thanks for posting.

1 member likes this review
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top reviewer

Nature and the Body At Land: At Land is an exercise used to approximate relative relationships, blending nature with urban landscape, using a physical chess game. There is a feminine order of logic to the game. The protagonist is in search of one of the coveted pieces, a pawn, acquired by crawling the entire length of a formal dinner party table, following its circuitous route through water, to a beach side chess game in progress with two women, oblivious to the rules.

The original shooting script focuses on numerous examples of relative relationships such as natural and urban environments, space and constraint, absence and presence, and regulation and anarchy. In the relativistic universe of At Land, the protagonist scales sand dunes, rocks and dinner tables, allowing for motion in three-dimensional landscapes against her own frame of reference. Deren attributed the success of the film to the subtlety of the techniques in which the individual is forced to cope with a changing universe. The symbols, as in Meshes of the Afternoon are simple, and in this film instead of undergoing dislocation, they are juxtaposed with one another to give a sense of measured motion, a poetic core. The cinematic terrain inhabited by an individual who does not understand the dimensions of the new universes - a dinner party, several men on a pathway, a man lying under a sheet in a cabin and the beachside chess players - traverses space through motion. Her diminution and enlargement is designed, as in Meshes, to create emotion.

1 member likes this review

Has there ever been a film that truly captured the feeling and texture of a dream more fully than "At Land"? Many a great film maker has tried but Maya Deren, a true artist who happened to work in the medium of film, is the one who caught it. Perhaps she managed this since she was not out to expand this short into a feature film or imbue it was great philosophical meaning. There does seem to be a meaning but it looks to relate to Deren's own life and what was going on in her head, the starting place for any real art. "Meshes of the Afternoon" is more famous and rightly so for it's place in the canon of American surrealistic films but the lesser known "At Land" is, if anything, more striking and original.

1 member likes this review
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top reviewer

A very compelling work of cinema. In a sense, it is pure cinema: images. The juxtaposition of disparate scenes united by motion creates a very dreamy and mysterious mood. Maya Deren moved very gracefully and possessed an expressive face.

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top reviewer

One's first response is to think "I've seen this before." Playing chess on a beach in silence. "The Seventh Seal (sp?) pops into the mind, with the immediate caveat that this predates Bergman's masterpiece by decades. I swiftly reverse the image's influences, and consider what Bergman must have seen at film school, or wherever.

This is a realistic surreal dreamscape. Maya Deren crawls unnoticed down a banquet table, where she watches a chess game where an already taken white pawn falls off the table and escapes down a brook. Chasing the pawn seems to be an important task. It isn't rewarded until she watches that game on the beach, where she steals a taken pawn from the side of the board. I think the plot, with its seemingly random and animated chase for the moving object as it trickles down cliff and then the beach provides a necessary structure despite the fact that the director's/actor's actions themselves make sense given the presence of plot elements we never see. Random action for unknown reasons. Good stuff for a surreal movie!

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top reviewer

A tactile feast... Love this without score. Deren gravitates between and juxtaposes the cultivated and uncultivated, and by the last quarter of the film, evokes a bizarre and provocative sense of time and place with the concept of doubling and multiplication.

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top reviewer

I love this! And no audio what a beautiful decision.

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top reviewer

The final scene is genius and completely swallows the beauty. Have fun scoring this film yourself. It provides a lovely backdrop for creation and contemplation.

You want avant-garde? You car awaits...

Superb dream-logic short.

Still a masterpiece. I actually think I like this one more than "Meshes..".

Awesome B+W 16mm footage and images

She was ahead of her time.

very stark and original, I think some unusual sound track might add to the dream quality even water lapping with some sparse percussion ?

great visual accompaniment to music, since it has no sound of its own

personally ? I was lost in her dream !!

This is a typical Maya Deren film. It's experimental, short, strange, and artistic. As usual, she plays around with a bunch of film tricks. I didn't grasp the deeper meaning that Shailen grasped, but he's probably right.