Sunday, October 19, 2008
Meshes of the Afternoon
MESHES OF THE AFTERNOON
Dir. Maya Deren and Alexander Hamid, Unites States, 1943, appr. 14min
Source: Maya Deren Experimental Film, DVD 630
YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vdtpxGzq-Z0&feature=related *
A hand delicately places a flower in the middle of a road; a woman’s shadow walks down and picks up the flower. She continues, catches a glimpse of a man turning further down on the road. The woman walks up some steps, enters a house, a loaf of bread on a table with a knife inserted in it, an unhooked phone on the stairway to the second floor. She walks up the stairs into a room and then down to another where she sits down for nap. The same sequence repeats, but in the following sequences we see: first, the woman (Deren) again but this time we can see her face, second Deren after a black hooded figure, third and fourth a man. At the end the man stands in front of Deren sitting on the chair surrounded by pieces of a broken mirror.
Maya Deren made it clear that her film was not surrealist; she preferred to see her work as a classicist. Others see her work as trance films or poetry films, but regardless of the label her films received she is considered by many the mother of the American Avant Gard cinema. No one, however, will debate the experimental and incongruous nature of Meshes of the Afternoon (MoA). As any other experimental film, MoA has been interpreted in many ways, but many seem to agree that the short introduces us to a woman (Deren) who falls as sleep. What differences MoA from the surrealists is that we see the person having the dream, where in the surrealist films we “are” in the dream. The idea is that we enter the trance-like state with the character and though we don’t have the character’s background, we can recognize the place even as it becomes more and more inconsistent.
In MoA, such inconsistency meshes the viewer in poetic psychodrama in which the heroine goes through a personal quest, which as Deren said is not an event that could be witnessed by other persons. It is here where, arguably, she only uses the process of surrealism and Freudian theory as vehicles to demonstrate ambivalence between actuality and the subconscious. By the end of MoA, we realize that there is a sort of narrative underlying it, that we witnessed a fatal nightmare unravel before us. Arguably, what Deren was trying to convey was the same way that our minds build upon simple events and subconsciously blew them out of proportion.
Deren’s film relays on repetition more so than other experimental films, since its duplication filled with inconsistencies are used to unnerved the audience and achieve the same state as the film’s heroine. For example, after the black hooded figure enters the house and Deren follows her, Deren begins to climb up a wall from which she looks down at herself sleeping on the chair, to then hang down from a window, and back to overlooking her self. Everything leading up to the window sequence is repeated, but once Deren reaches the top, the previously established spatial relation of the room is literally thrown out the window. This also leads to another difference between Deren’s work and the surrealists, and is that the repetitions in the surrealism were meant as metaphors and for Deren it is just a build up. The knife, the key, and the rose just accumulate their venom in each repetition.
*Note: The version in YouTube has been dubbed to “Butterfly Trilogy”, I recommend you turn off the sound when watching it. The original MoA was silent, the score by Ito was added in 1959.