Jo Ann Kaplan is an acclaimed prize-winning filmmaker whose work has been exhibited in galleries, cinemas, festivals and on television worldwide for the past 40 years. Her work is marked by an extraordinary diversity of forms which includes animation, dance film, fiction, and experimental film, as well as documentaries and arts programmes. Inspiration for her work comes from equally diverse sources: the imagery of Georges Bataille, Robert Burton’s classic text on Melancholy, and the seminal films of Maya Deren. She has collaborated on film projects with writer Angela Carter, dancer Dana Caspersen of the Bill Forsythe Company, and with musicians including Alexander Balanescu, Keith Tippett, Kate and Mike Westbrook, Annabelle Pangborn, Thom Willems and Graham Hadfield. Jo Ann Kaplan’s Body of Work is characterised by a sensual approach to filmmaking and an exploration of the human and female form as the embodiment of meaning and emotion.
Body of Work is a selection of Jo Ann Kaplan’s most personal films, including her authoritative biography of the charismatic filmmaker Maya Deren, released for the first time on DVD, and two recently completed films, one in the form of a dance and the other as an on-going painting. This collection is accompanied by a newly commissioned essay from Lucy Reynolds.
Films on the DVD
- Invocation: Maya Deren (1986, 53 mins, 4:3)
Documentary about American avant-garde filmmaker of 1940s/50s.
Narrated by Helen Mirren, with original recordings of Maya Deren, and interviews with Hella Hammid, Sasha Hammid, Amos and Marcia Vogel, Stan Brakhage, Jonas Mekas, and Joseph Campbell. Directed by Jo Ann Kaplan. Produced by Fiz Oliver.
Cinematography by Adam Rodgers. Edited by Susan Manning. Arbor International for The Arts Council of Great Britain and Channel Four.
The story of a brief but remarkable life, and of a seminal body of cinematic work which has influenced and formed the beginning and subsequent direction of American independent and artists’ film-making practice. Maya Deren, nee Eleonora Derenkowsky, was the original filmmaker-as-artist and proselytiser for film-as-art. She was also a devotee of modern dance, and a follower of Haitian Voudoun. Divine Horsemen, her study of Voudoun, is still a definitive text about its meaning and practice. Invocation: Maya Deren is an homage composed of interviews with those who knew and worked with her; reconstructions of her personal spaces using authentic objects and decoration; and archive material including newly-discovered photographs by Alexander Hammid, her second husband and co-author of her first film Meshes of the Afternoon; original recordings of Deren’s voice taken from public lectures, events and broadcasts including the infamous Symposium on Poetry and Film with Dylan Thomas, and a radio interview with Mike Wallace, as well as private conversations with collaborators and performances of her singing. There are also extracts from each of her six completed films, including the whole of Choreography for the Camera, and clips from the film and sound recordings which she made in Haiti of Voudoun rituals.
‘A beguiling, informative portrait of a fascinating woman’ Time Out on Invocation: Maya Deren
’Unusual and pleasurable for its sensual approach’ Monthly Film Bulletin on Invocation: Maya Deren
Story of I (1997, 23 mins, 4:3)
An original film improvised around Story of the Eye by Georges Bataille. Produced, directed and edited by Jo Ann Kaplan. Woman in the bath: Kristina Page/Jo Ann Kaplan. Cinematography by Margaret Jailler. Art direction by Jim Clancey. Music by Annabelle Pangborn. The Arts Council of England and The London Production Fund.
A woman sits alone in a bare, white-tiled bath, reading Georges Bataille’s Story of the Eye. The bizarre events described by the text provoke a series of fantasies in which the room becomes a stage and the woman the main player. As her dreams unfold, she becomes the ‘eye’ of the story, and her own body the object of its gaze. With a feminine hand, Story of I plucks Bataille’s central metaphor from its original context and re-invents its erotic vision from the inside-out. The eye in the vagina, seen through blood, urine and tears, looks at itself in a mirror.
’..a brave attempt at coming to terms with that huge area of the sexual imagination that still remains off-llimits’ JG Ballard on Story of I
- An Anatomy of Melancholy (2000, 13 mins, 4:3)
An animated film using original anatomical drawings by Jo Ann Kaplan, and classic texts by Robert Burton and John Keats. Directed and animated by Jo Ann Kaplan. Produced by Dick Arnall. Director of Photography Hugh Gordon. Music by Thom Willems. Typography by Phil Baines. Ode on Melancholy read by Fayida Jailler. An Animate! Project for The Arts Council of England and Channel Four.
A cinematic meditation on mortality which takes the form of an anatomy book in the process of being made. A large portfolio opens, arranged as part of a still-life in an artist’s studio. In the open folio, we see a printed Table of Contents from Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy, and opposite this Table, we see a succession of blank pages on which illustrations appear, drawn before our very eyes by an invisible hand, showing us parts of a dissected human body: the hands, the organs of generation, the heart, and the head. The drawings made in time are both act of immediate creation and testament to our ultimate passing. Accompanying the simple but powerful images, we hear the words of Keats’ Ode on Melancholy recited at first haltingly, but with increasing confidence by a young girl:
Ay, in the very temple of delight Veiled Melancholy has her Sovran shrine…
OneTwoThree (2010, 12 mins, 4:3)
A dance film choreographed and performed by Dana Caspersen and Thomas McManus of Ballet Frankfurt/Bill Forsythe Company. Produced and directed by Jo Ann Kaplan and Dana Caspersen. Cinematography by Daniel Kohl. Edited by Jo Ann Kaplan. Music by Graham Hadfield.
An intense and compelling performance of a cinematic dance composed of modules of movement finally choreographed through camera work and editing, in which the tension between two dancers evokes the qualities of both duet and duel, posed ambiguously at the binaries between embrace and battle, intimacy and violence. The shifting frame of the camera and the uneasy rhythm of the editing takes the viewer from the close up tensile of stretched muscle and blurred movement to an austere framing of the dancers isolated within a shadowy and empty space. With all extraneous detail stripped away, the fundamentally co-dependent nature of the duet is laid bare, revealing the mixture of vulnerability and mutual trust intrinsic to all dance partnerships.
- Watching Paint Dry (2010, 18 mins, 16:9 FHA)
A work in on-going progress. Painted, filmed and edited by Jo Ann Kaplan, documenting and reflecting on the artist’s own ageing, to be up-dated and developed at points in the future. The actual face, glimpsed occasionally, is getting older and more lined over time, but the record of its ageing is not yet long enough to bear full witness. A self-portrait of the artist as an ageing woman, and a work in progress to be continued for as long as there is time.