Storm de Hirsch: Peyote Queen 1965

Storm de Hirsch: Peyote Queen 1965

Storm de Hirsch was a mature artist when she made her first feature – Goodbye in the Mirror, shot on 16mm – in 1963. Born in 1912, she was five years older than the doyenne of the American avant garde, Maya Deren. And de Hirsch, like Deren, was an experimentalist, with a background as a painter and a poet. Many of her short films she made are abstract, some are made without a camera – with de Hirsch scratching, painting and etching directly onto film, sometimes using multi-screen prints, some with in-camera masking or matting.
The best biography of this under-appreciated film-maker is at

What makes artists and film-makers like Storm de Hirsch important in the back-story of 21st century media? Because the avant garde were the first to seize the opportunity of new media to explore new ways of communicating and expressing their ideas. There is a techno-aesthetic exploring the areas of synaesthesia, immersion, interactivity, and multi-sensory communication that permeates the recent history of our culture, from the Phantasmagoria of the early 19th century to the immersive, multi-sensory, multi-media forms of the Happening and Dance Rave culture of the 1990s, but this desire of artists to enrapture their audience must be traced back to the neolithic – to the primordial dance-ritual, storytelling, oral culture of pre-history.

Peyote Queen was made when abstract expressionism was just giving way to pop art as the dominant fine-art form. De Hirsch nods towards both styles, but is suffused throughout by a celebration of the primitive – of percussion, abstraction, symbolism (the ankh, the cross, the crescent, the yin-yang) as well as simple punched holes, scratched graffito of lips, tits, hearts, eyes, flowers, and the evocative kaleidoscopic effects of distorting mirrors, dimpled glass, prisms, and the organic distorted close-ups of faces, hands, drumming. The sound track is jazzy, percussive, Caribbean, burlesque, and the movie is cut on the beat (or having that effect).

Maya Deren: Meshes of the Afternoon 1943

Maya Deren: Meshes of the Afternoon

Daughter of an emigre Ukrainian psychiatrist, Maya Deren was a talented dancer, choreographer, poet and photographer who became a leading proponent of an avant garde genre of film-making (dubbed Trance films by some) that used the camera as a tool for psycho-sexual self-investigation. Christened Eleanora Derenkowski, she adopted the name Maya Deren in 1943, the same year she made her first and best-known film Meshes of the Afternoon with her second husband, the photographer Alexander Hammid.
With this, and the other films she made in the 1940s, in which she often acted, scripted, and choreographed (as well as conceiving and directing) Maya Deren established herself as a pioneer of the American Avant-Garde, with her Trance films sub-genre influencing a string of counter-culture film-makers including Kenneth Anger (Scorpio Rising 1964), Curtis Harrington (Fragment of Seeking 1946), and Stan Brakhage (Dog Star Man 1961).