Experiments In Film: Meshes In The Afternoon (1943)

I knew that for this month of women in film that I wanted to include at least one female experimental filmmaker, and while I certainly considered using Su Friedrich, amongst others, I decided it was perhaps best to show some more adoration for Maya Deren, whose experimental films proved quite important in my ultimate understanding of the power and possibility of cinema.  While I am still slightly more in favor of Stan Brakhage's work, with each revisitation of Deren's catalogue I begin to realize that she may well be the superior filmmaker, especially, if one is to consider her most well known piece Meshes in the Afternoon.  Created with her then husband Alex Hammind, the film is very much concerned with the image and spatial movement of woman, perhaps heavily influenced by Deren's own hand in the making, although much contention has arisen regarding who of the couple should receive credit.  Meshes of the Afternoon manages to exist within multiple styles of experimental filmmaking, whether it be they heavy influences of Dadaism and surrealism that allow for the film to create doppelgängers and a non-linear narrative clearly influenced by the unconscious, yet, it is also a film with evasive visual imagery relying of refractions of light and shadow that are reminiscent of Chris Marker's La Jetée.  It is quite fun to watch people attempt to break down the symbolism within something like Meshes of the Afternoon, because it is a film where every scene and image, does indeed appear to be heavily contemplative and a clear decision on the part of the directors.  Whether it be a key that turns into a knife or a shattered mirror, the film seems to layer its meaning within itself, suggesting an engagement with its textual commentary that is entirely contingent upon each viewers emotional and mental attitude upon initially engaging with the material.  It is really difficult not to leap at over explaining and, subsequently, over selling something like Meshes in the Afternoon, because it is both a constantly baffling film, as well as something that a viewer will find themselves completely engrossed with for the thirteen odd minutes of run time.

After claiming that deconstructing the film is overly exhausted and to some degree counterintuitive, I will, nonetheless, attempt to add some context to my interpretation of the the multilayered and expansive narrative that is Meshes of the Afternoon.  Yet, I will attempt to only pull what would be pertinent to a feminist analysis, considering the theme of this month on my blog, and even in doing so I am not claiming it to be a certainty in any reading, but merely one of a wide set of possibilities.  Firstly, the manner with which the unnamed main character, played, of course, by Deren herself, moves through the space of the film, often extending arms, from the top of the screen downward, or being half shot in a reflection of a window, could speak to issues of disembodiment that many women face, specifically after being victim to sexual violence, something the film indirectly suggests has occurred.  Secondly, the key, perhaps the films most recurring image, could mean a variety of things relating to femininity, whether it be her own identity, or more abstractly her "way of being female" a key that, not accidentally, can turn to a knife without a moments notice.  Of course, these previous mentioned images and stylistic choices are key, but the films most jarring and enigmatic image has to be the mirror-faced grim reaper who moves through the space of the film, much to the awareness of the the main woman in the film, but at the same time completely detached.  If it were not for the presence, of the mirror, I would simply call it a rather normal relation to sex and death that often emerges in surrealist filmmaking, think of the moth from Un Chien Andalou for a classic example.  Yet the mirror for a face on the figure of death, is perhaps in a Lacanian kind of way, a suggestion to the woman's own othering and lack, there for visualizing her silence and inevitable death as a result.  Of course, I have no clue what to make of the phone that the grim reaper carries, but it only drives me to visit this film many more times in the future.

To view Meshes in the Afternoon online, or to get more information about Maya Deren, click on either of the images below:

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