MESHES OF THE AFTERNOON is the first and best film in the canon of Maya Deren, the pioneering director and star of the New American Cinema movement. This experimental short from 1943 still achieves a striking effect years after countless imitations.
MESHES OF THE AFTERNOON contains a dream-like narrative structure, where time and space are represented in unconventional and sometimes oblique ways. Deren plays a young woman who follows a strange, cloaked male figure along a sunny path before veering away toward a nearby house. Inside the house,
she goes to sleep and dreams about herself repeating her previous actions. As house keys turn into knives, and the mystery figure--with a mirror for a face--enters the house, too, the dream turns into a nightmare.
In what may or may not still be a dream state, the woman sees a third version of herself repeating her earlier actions, then stalking her sleeping self with a knife. As the woman plunges the knife into her double, she turns into a man (Alexander Hamid), who wakes the sleeping woman with a kiss.
Later, in the bedroom, the woman knocks the man's face with the knife, and his face turns into a beach scene where pieces of a shattered mirror fall into the ocean. In the final sequence, the man walks into the house and finds the woman dead in the chair where she had been sleeping.
It's a testament to MESHES OF THE AFTERNOON that today the 15-minute film lives up to its formidable reputation. Maya Deren shot the one reel while she and her husband and collaborator, Alexander Hamid, lived in Hollywood in 1943. To those who saw the film at the time, MESHES seemed groundbreaking
because of the way Deren defied narrative and stylistic conventions of storytelling. Her work perhaps most closely resembled the efforts of the French surrealist filmmakers of the 1920s, but her short, complex piece also established its own unique patterns of style and meaning.
Using many of the tropes of 1940s Hollywood melodramas about neurotic heroines in turmoil (e.g. SUSPICION; NOW, VOYAGER), Deren turns the generic elements on their head, raising questions about gender relations and self-identity and the attempt to represent these themes artistically. The moment
where Deren stalks herself wearing odd goggles may have been a parody of the Freudian-laced thrillers of the era (it's the only real laugh in the film), but, thankfully, the rest of MESHES creates a work that is much more polysemic and open-ended in meaning.
Whatever Deren's social message, MESHES leaves an indelible impression on the senses. Deren, who was a dancer, uses the camera in ways that resemble choreography, such as in the gliding point-of-view shots down the stairs. She also edits with tremendous virtuosity, using montage, jump cuts and
false match cuts years ahead of the French New Wave. Best of all, the score by Teiji Ito, which Deren added in the early 1950s, makes the haunting images all that more memorable and causes her other films, mostly silent works (e.g. AT LAND, RITUAL IN TRANSFIGURED TIME), to seem fainter by
Today, MESHES OF THE AFTERNOON's impact is lessened slightly by the fact that so many later experimental and mainstream films and videos--from THE SEVENTH SEAL (1956) to MTV to Calvin Klein perfume commercials today--have appropriated both its techniques and imagery. Yet, even jaded, informed
contemporary viewers will probably get something out of this resonant work. (Violence.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Review: MESHES OF THE AFTERNOON is the first and best film in the canon of Maya Deren, the pioneering director and star of the New American Cinema movement. This experimental short from 1943 still achieves a striking effect years after countless imitations. MESHE… (more)