Colleen Claes

Colleen Claes
Chicago, Illinois, USA
January 08
Freelance Writer
I'm a freelance writer and blogger when I'm not working 9 to 5. I graduated in 2009 with a B.A. in film and screenwriting. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of media (usually film) and culture. I've contributed to as the Chicago Cult Classics Examiner and have been interviewed by USA Today for my film expertise. I write at a few other places (both for myself and other people), which you find below My Links.

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Editor’s Pick
APRIL 4, 2010 8:26PM

Janelle Monae: Avant-Garde Film Geek ("Tightrope" Video)

Rate: 4 Flag

Janelle Monae was already promising to be a distinguishable kind of talent with her 2007 EP and her 60s soul sound with a touch of outer space. And the music video for her new song "Tightrope" (to be released on her upcoming album in May) has given us even more to look forward to.

There's one thing extra special about this video though. Aside from the smooth dancing, awesome energy, and undeniably catchy song, the video features a Maya Deren reference. (Puttin' my film history cap on...) See those hooded people with the mirrors for faces? That's from the mind of the renowned avant-garde filmmaker herself. And unmistakably so. The faceless, cloaked people appear in Deren's experimental short, Meshes of the Afternoon (1943). See the original image at about 3:18 in this video:


Though made in the early 40s with very simple filmmaking techniques, this image alone effectively disturbs me every time I see it, and haunts me after.

As a fan of Maya Deren and her works, the reference came as a gleeful, nerdy surprise. Did someone really just pay homage to what some consider the "grandmother of avant-garde" in their music video?! I decided to do a Google search to see if my finding was novel. (It wasn't, most unfortunately.) But I was pleased to find that a few other people took note of this.

Janelle and/or this music video director have earned extra points in my book for this. (Not that anyone's reading my book, but still). For anyone who's a fan of - or at least familiar with - Maya Deren, this little homage blows all the rest of them out of the water in its total unexpectedness. I hate to use the word "obscure," but Deren is too often neglected outside of a film history class (assuming the curriculum covers avant-garde). As this guy says on MuuMuse, "Lady Gaga, eat your obscure cultural reference loving heart out."

He's right. I'll take a nod to Deren over heavy-handed Tarantino references any day.


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As one of the (probably few) people who own a Stan Brakhage DVD, I'm trying to calculate the odds of encountering a Maya Deren film in a blog about an R & B song. Now I have to see the rest of "Meshes," and I found Netflix actually offers it.
Ah yes! Stan Brakhage! We also watched him in my experimental film class...He was QUITE interesting...
The Meshes film is intense. I was not familiar with Maya Deren. Haunting and somehow beautiful although I don't think I understand. Maybe that's the point.
Thanks for writing this. The Janelle Monae video is fun, but Maya Deren is amazing. I'm going to have to go through my back issues of Cineaste for info about her and check Amazon for other films. The Wikipedia article about her shows she had an interesting, if short, life.
@PattyJane - I feel the same way when I watch all of her films! I really do recommend checking out her shorts...Another favorite of mine is "A Study in Choreography for Camera." Absolutely breathtaking, and ahead-of-its-time editing/imagination-wise.
@RetroDaddy - Yes, she was a very fascinating woman as well as filmmaker. I wrote an essay on her for my Cinema & Art class, and enjoyed every bit of it!

She has some great quotes too. My favorite: "I make my pictures for what Hollywood spends on lipstick." SUCH a bad ass.
Yeah, I spotted that right away too, but then again I'm a film professor. Still, many young adults are getting hip to Deren and Brakhage through 'music video' versions floating around on the Internet: their stuff goes surprisingly well with certain songs.