Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)


Here’s another case where I happened to watch this movie a few months ago without even realizing it was on my list. Because it’s only 14 minutes long, I decided to give the film another watch this week and chronicle my thoughts. I think Meshes of the Afternoon falls in the tradition of a lot of recent experimental cinema in its mood and its composition, and its legacy really comes down to its release date, just a few years after Citizen Kane. I can’t say I was blown away by what would today be laughed away as a pretentious film school assignment, but Meshes offers some neat tricks that nobody had really done before that have nestled themselves comfortably into the experimental genre, so I’ll try and discuss those innovations.

Perhaps the most modern thing about the film is its dreamlike quality, a label that you could tack onto just about any experimental film today. The music disorients you into a strange sense of consciousness where you’re willing to suspend your disbelief and enjoy the abstract quality of the narrative. You could make a case that there isn’t a narrative here, but there are enough story details and clues that I would most likely disagree. Meshes is playing with the uncertainty of which of its pieces are part of a dream and which are actually happening. Among these pieces are a woman walking around chasing after a hooded Grim Reaper figure with a mirror for a face, and various important symbols such as a key, a flower, and a knife which repeat throughout the film.

The film is technically impressive for its time not due to its effects but because it dares to be cerebral with its editing. I thought the match cuts between the film’s motifs were clever: knifes turning into flowers turning into keys and so forth. It seems to create some spectral force behind the film that explains its experimental presentation. (Maybe this is the hooded mirror-faced figure?) Regardless, I really appreciate that Meshes isn’t simply experimental for its own sake. Directors Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid are going for a fresh narrative presentation that make the film visually and thematically engaging, though I’m not sure the film would be as tolerable if it were of feature length.

As already stated, I think Meshes of the Afternoon tapped into a mood that filmmakers hadn’t given much thought to before, and I think its effectiveness really gave a lot of credit to the experimental movement, a movement we still enjoy today. I wouldn’t be surprised if it had influenced other major filmmakers down the line (the editing makes me think of Godard at times). It’s not a technically astounding piece, but it’s technically creative enough to keep your attention, even when its derivatives have probably improved on its ideas.

This film is streaming on YouTube here if you’re interested.

Films Left to Watch: 886

About Travis

I'm a software engineer reviewing a bunch of movies.
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1 Response to Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)

  1. Film art let’s the viewer decide for himself what he think he is watching. This is sufficiently obscure that you can take anything away from it and sufficiently concise that you are actually getting something out of it. That is a balance which is often missed and some of Deren’s work loose the second part, but here she strikes the balance.

    Liked by 1 person

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