One of the most important films in the history of American avant-garde cinema, Maya Deren’s MESHES OF THE AFTERNOON is captivating and dream-like, filled with tinges of psychodrama, murder mystery, and film noir. In a seemingly ordinary Los Angeles home, the film’s protagonist, played by the filmmaker herself, gets caught in a eerie loop of symbols (a knife, a rose, a mirror, a key), repeated movements, and alter egos. Deren made this, her first film, in collaboration with Alexander Hammid, her second husband. An accomplished cinematographer and filmmaker in his own right, Hammid appears alongside Deren in the film as a second spectral presence. In MESHES, everyday objects from the domestic sphere take on ritualistic, magical significance. The elegant special effects, technical prowess and meticulous planning that took place behind the camera serve to beautifully realize a realm with a gravity, logic and temporality all its own. - Livia Bloom
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For anyone who happens to be in Texas, I'll be projecting this classic in 16mm, along with Ron Rice's CHUMLUM, at a musical performance in Houston this Sunday:
Not my cup of tea but not boring either.
Meshes of the Afternoon, according to Deren, is a film about “a dream that becomes reality”. It is shot partially in slow motion to allow a sense of temporal duration. Repetitive elements are woven in the editorial process creating a spiral-formed mystery that bears a resemblance to dramatic logic. Yet, she stressed that the emphasis in Meshes is not in the progression of events. The appearance, dislocation, distortion, disappearance or reappearance of the central repetitive elements -- the key, bread, knife, phonograph, telephone, ‘dream girls’, ‘man’ and ‘mirror figure’ -- serve as book marks in several dream ‘sequences’.
Different readings of the film, according to Deren, come from feelings awoken by the manipulation of objects in Meshes of the Afternoon. Yet, she disliked labels and when the film was called “surrealist” and “Freudian”, she added music composed by husband Teiji Ito (1957). Deren visualized Meshes in fact as the personal dream space of a chess game conceived by Paul Valéry, with checkmate at 22 moves.
The film structurally produces cadence for the movement of interior experiences through the dislocation, distortion and alignment of these repetitive elements. Meshes can be seen as the embodiment of a state of perpetual illusion. Each time repetitive objects are dislocated; such as when the telephone is off its cradle, or the record starts playing on the phonograph, the film shifts its contents, producing a new order.
The camera also distorts perceptions of surface reality, as in the rocking staircase sequence and the arm stretching towards the phonograph. There is also the glorious "four stride sequence" where the feet of the somnambulist or ‘dream girl’, as Deren calls her in the shooting script, take strides on "beach...grass...pavement...rug", covering several landscapes, edited as a continuous flow of movement.
This ‘dream girl’ is both pursued by and pursues a dream/force that she perceives as intriguing and dangerous. The dream/seduction of the ‘mirror figure’ and ‘man’ suggests entrapment. (Alexander Hammid, co-maker of the film, is both the mirror figure and the man). The man’s fondling of the dream girl arouses desire, and in another reshuffling of content, becomes a dangerous presence to be repelled. When he approaches her in another reshuffling, the dream girl sees a sharp, shiny knife. Later she appropriates it, and defends herself by shattering the illusion of this eminent danger in order to awaken from her dream. She flees to the sea (the theme is repeated in Ritual and Transfigured Time), however, seaweed wrapped around her body suggests another entrapment. Deren later claimed she had wanted to move beyond the story space to another dimension behind the filmic milieu but could not.
This was an amazing and lyrically suggestive film.
This is an early film that epitomizes "Experimental / Avant-Garde". It moves from strange, to creepy, and then to extremely disturbing.
"Meshes Of The Afternoon" is a trippy experimental short from independent filmmaker Maya Deren, in which reality and madness are deftly explored. In it, a woman comes home to an empty apartment, haunted by a fleeting image of a robed figure who has left a flower on the pathway to her doorstep. The woman settles into an armchair for a nap, and then begins to dream about the same scenario, over and over again: coming back to the apartment, never able to catch the mysterious robed figure, but becoming aware of multiple dream versions of herself, all converging on the same spot, and empty apartment filled with symbols of disruption, disconnection and completion. The odd logic and rhythm of dreams is aptly conjured in this 14-minute, near-silent film (there is a music soundtrack, but no dialogue) and Deren deftly brings the viewers into her world, making us as unable to tell "reality" from dreams as the character she portrays. Quite nice. (JS)