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MESHES OF THE AFTERNOON
1943 - Maya Deren / Alexander Hammid
United States
54
Opening Shot

Meshes of the Afternoon opens to a shot in which a hands emerges from the top of the screen holding a flower which it places on the sidewalk. The shot jump cuts to the flower on the sidewalk (now with the hand removed from the image. We then follow the image of a shadow approaching the flower and reaching toward it...

The Film

One of the greatest and most influential experimentalist filmmakers in the history of cinema, Maya Deren's masterpiece came in her first film, Meshes of the Afternoon, a collaboration with husband Alexander Hammid. The film is a poetic and psychological expressionist silent film. There is no dialogue or sound of any kind (though a musical score was later added by Deren's third husband Teiji Ito in 1957). Through the use of silence the film represents that of a cinematic dream / nightmare or an inner reality. Heightening this is the rhythmic flow of the editing, which inspired by the montage style of early European techniques (be it Georges Melies or Sergei Eisenstein). The camera and character movements perfectly flow with the rhythm of the editing. Deren uses objects and repeated imagery throughout the film (image of a shadow walking, a flower, a key, a knife, a telephone). Few films have ever captured the rhythm and feeling of a dream or nightmare world and Meshes of the Afternoon remains one of the most influential landmarks of experimental and independent cinema.

The Filmmaker

Born Eleanora Derenkowsky in Russia, Maya Deren's parents fled to the United States in 1922. After studying at school in New York, Deren went on to become one of the most important pioneers of American independent and avant-garde cinema. An experimental dancer-performer-filmmaker-theorist Maya Deren, is perhaps the first major figure in the American avant-garde cinema and her influence continues to grow with each passing decade and generation of filmmakers (including Kenneth Anger, Stan Brakhage, Ken Jacobs, Michael Snow, and David Lynch to name a couple of the more notable filmmakers). In 1943 Deren made her most celebrated experimental film Meshes of the Afternoon with then husband Alexander Hammid. At this time she also began working on The Witches' Cradle, a film that never completed. From 1944-1948 Deren completed four short experimental films, including At Land which a film in which she also starred and worked well as a follow-up to Meshes of the Afternoon. She made A Study in Choreography for the Camera in 1945. Ritual in Transfigured Time was made in 1946, which explored the fear of rejection and the freedom of expression in abandoning ritual. In 1947, Maya Deren became the first filmmaker to receive a Guggenheim grant for creative work in motion pictures. Deren traveled to Haiti for the first time where she grew interest in Haitian Voodoo. In 1957 she completed the book Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti, which remains today a definitive source on the subject. She shot hours of footage but the film was not completed until 1983 by Teiji and Cherel Ito. Deren established the Creative Film Foundation in the late 1950s to reward the achievements of independent filmmakers. Deren died in 1961, at the age of 44, from a brain hemorrhage brought on by extreme malnutrition. In 1986, the American Film Institute created the Maya Deren Award to honor independent filmmakers.

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