Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren/Alexander Hammid, 1943, USA)

Meshes of the Afternoon is Maya Deren's most well-known film. The film was in truth co-directed by Deren and her then-husband Alexandr Hackenschmied. The film is 14 minutes long and focuses on a woman - played by Deren - falling into dreams that may or not be taking place in reality. Deren's film bears resemblances to Jean Cocteau's 1930 film Blood of a Poet although Deren claims she never saw the film. More likely influences include the surrealist Bunuel film Un Chien Andalou, as well as the work of Sigmund Freud. Certainly, the film is one of the earliest and strongest examples of the use of the subconscious on film. As J. Hoberman has noted, the film bears more in common with the film noir movies that would come to dominate at the time, and less with European surrealism. One can see the influence of Meshes on David Lynch's Lost Highway, a surreal film noir also set in Los Angeles that revolves around a sense of dread, paranoia, and surveillance. 

The film has many iconic images, most notably the image of a cloaked Grim Reaper figure that has a face made up of a mirror. This is an image that has been replicated many times. Among Deren's other influences included Haitian Vodou, symbolist poetry, and gestalt psychology. The film has a pioneering sense of style where the objective reality of Deren's character is often mixed with subjective experience. The recurring presence of the knife suggests the threat of violence or sexual danger, while the man in the film (played by Hackenschmied) also bears a threatening experience. The film is one of the most successful early examples of a dream translated to film, and even today it holds an eerie power over the audience. It is a tragedy that Maya Deren died so young.



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