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Short of the Week: Maya Deren's seminal 1943 film 'Meshes of the Afternoon'

Meshes of the Afternoon

Directed by the wife-and-husband team of Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid, who star in the film as well, Meshes of the Afternoon is a brilliant cinematic exploration of the human psyche. Inspired by surreal masterpieces like Un Chien Andalou, this 1943 masterpiece uses recurring symbolism to depict the human condition.

According to Hammid himself, most of the innovating editing and filming techniques were invented by Deren who used these to build her own theory of cinema. Her main objective was to try and understand the individual experience, not from the perspective of a detached observer but from the unbearably intimate level of a subject’s subconscious.

Meshes of the Afternoon has been recognised as a vastly influential manifestation of artistic vision that has influenced several filmmakers with similar sensibilities, including the master of surrealism – David Lynch. It was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress in 1990 and is now counted among the best American films ever made.

Of the film, Deren once wrote: “Meshes of the Afternoon is my point of departure. I am not ashamed of it, for I think that, as a film, it stands up very well. From the point of view of my own development, I cannot help but be gently proud that that first film — that point of departure — had such relatively solid footing. This is due to two major facts: first, to the fact that I had been a poet up until then.”

She added, “And the reason that I had not been a very good poet was because actually my mind worked in images which I had been trying to translate or describe in words; therefore, when I undertook cinema, I was relieved of the false step of translating image into words, and could work directly so that it was not like discovering a new medium so much as finally coming home into a world whose vocabulary, syntax, grammar, was my mother tongue; which I understood and thought it, but, like a mute, had never spoken.”

Experience Meshes of the Afternoon, a work of unprecedented experimental surrealism, in its entirety below: