Meshes of the Afternoon

views updated


USA, 1943

Director: Maya Deren

Production: Black and white, 16mm; running time: 18 minutes, some sources list 14 minutes. Released 1943.

Screenplay: Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid; editor: Maya Deren; photography: Alexander Hammid.

Cast: Maya Deren (Woman); Alexander Hammid (Man).



Deren, Maya, An Anagram of Ideas on Art, Form, and the Film, New York, 1946.

Jacobs, Lewis, editor, Introduction to the Art of the Movies: AnAnthology of Ideas on the Nature of Movie Art, New York, 1960.

Tyler, Parker, Underground Film, New York, 1969.

A History of the American Avant-Garde Cinema, New York, 1976.

Sitney, P. Adams, Visionary Film, New York, 1974; revised edition, 1979.

Clark, VeVe A., and Millicent Hodson, and Catrina Neiman, and Francine B. Price, The Legend of Maya Deren: A Documentaryand Collected Works, Vol. 1, Pt. 1, New York, 1984.

Brakhage, Stan, Film at Wit's End: Eight Avant-garde Filmmakers, Kingston, 1989.

Rabinovitz, Lauren, Points of Resistance: Women, Power & Politicsin the New York Avant-garde Cinema, 1943–71, Urbana, 1991.

Sudre, Alain-Alcide, Dialogues théoriques avec Maya Deren: ducinéma expérimental au film ethnographique, Paris, 1996.

Sullivan, Moira, Anagram of the Ideas of Filmmaker Maya Deren:Creative Work in Motion Pictures, Stockholm, 1997.

Rice, Shelley, Inverted Odysseys: Claude Cahun, Maya Deren, CindySherman, Cambridge, 1999.

Deren, Maya, Essential Deren: Complete Film Writings, Kingston, 2000.


Farber, Manny, "Maya Deren's Films," in New Republic (New York), 28 October 1946.

Tyler, Parker, "Experimental Film: A New Growth," in KenyonReview (Gambier, Ohio), no. 1, 1949.

"Writings of Maya Deren and Ron Rice," in Film Culture (New York), Winter 1965.

Cornwell, Regina, "Maya Deren and Germaine Dulac: Activists of the Avant-Garde," in Film Library Quarterly (New York), vol. 5, no. 1, 1971.

Sitney, P. Adams, "The Idea of Morphology," in Film Culture (New York), nos. 53–55, 1972.

Mayer, T., "The Legend of Maya Deren: Champion of the American Independent Film," in Film News (New York), September-October 1979.

Bruno, Giuliana, and I. Cahn, "Afterimage," in Segnocinema (Vicenza), vol. 4, no. 12, March 1984.

Kuhn, Annette, "Meshes of the Afternoon," in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), vol. 55, no. 653, June 1988.

Carty, Brad, "Maya Deren: Experimental Films 1943–1959," in Wilson Library Bulletin, vol. 63, no. 4, December 1988.

Ouellette, Laurie, "Maya Deren Experimental Films," in UTNEReader, no. 48, November-December 1991.

Fabe, Marilyn, "Maya Deren's Fatal Attraction: A Psychoanalytic Reading of Meshes of the Afternoon with a Psycho-biographical Afterword," in Women's Studies, vol. 25, no. 2, January 1996.

Nekola, Charlotte, "On Not Being Maya Deren," in Wide Angle (Baltimore), vol. 18, no. 4, October 1996.

Pramaggiore, M., "Performance and Persona in the U.S. Avantgarde: The Case of Maya Deren," in Cinema Journal (Austin), vol. 36, no. 2, 1997.

Dilas, Vikica, "Meshing with Lynch," in Sight & Sound (London), vol. 7, no. 10, October 1997.

* * *

Meshes of the Afternoon launched the American avant-garde film movement after World War II. Made in collaboration by Maya Deren and her husband Alexander Hammid, the film depicts a woman's imaginative dream and the way it eventually destroys the woman herself. The film established dream imagery and visual poetic devices as the chief type of cinematic language for a new generation of postwar filmmakers and their audiences.

The story of Meshes is this: a woman (played by Deren) enters her home and falls asleep in a chair. As she sleeps and dreams, she repeatedly encounters a mysterious hooded figure whom she chases but cannot catch. With each failure, she re-enters her house, where the household objects she employs in her waking state—a key, a knife, a flower, a phonograph, and a telephone—assume intensifying potency in an environment that becomes increasingly disoriented. Through such filmic means as creative editing, extreme camera angles, and slow motion, the movie creates a world in which it is more and more difficult for the woman to master the space and rooms around her. Finally, multiplied into three versions of herself, the woman attempts to kill her sleeping body. But she is awakened by a man (played by Hammid) only to find that physical reality, too, gives away to the dream logic of her imagination, ultimately causing her death.

Made privately in Deren's and Hammid's home over a few weeks and for a few hundred dollars, Meshes of the Afternoon revived a European cinematic tradition established in the 1920s a tradition in which Hammid participated in his native Czechoslovakia. Meshes of the Afternoon sustained and developed the cinematic style of such leading European avant-garde filmmakers of the 1920s as Germaine Dulac, Luis Buñuel, and Jean Cocteau.

Meshes is a landmark film that has provided an important model, setting the tone and style for other individual efforts over the next decade. It launched Deren's career as one of the leading avant-garde filmmakers of the 1940s and 1950s. She showed the film at colleges, museums, and film societies across Canada and the United States. Her numerous bookings encouraged many younger artists interested in a personal cinema controlled by the individual artists. The film consequently inspired poetic self-exploratory films by such other filmmakers as Kenneth Anger, Stan Brakhage, and Willard Maas.

Meshes of the Afternoon is still one of the most popular of all American experimental films. It is revered as a classic mood poem which investigates a person's psychological reality.

—Lauren Rabinovitz