Sunday, August 5, 2012


Film: Meshes of the Afternoon
Format: Internet video on laptop.

I don’t typically watch films on YouTube if I can help it. If that’s the only way to see something, I’ll do it, but it’s generally a last choice. However, wanting to keep moving forward on the list and having a day filled with painting my daughter’s room a hot, Hello Kitty pink meant that my time for such niceties as movie viewing was severely limited. And, well, I don’t happen to have a vast number of film shorts on hand. So, in lieu of something longer I sat down with Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon, one of the few films I have left that runs under an hour.

It’s fair to call this film a collaboration since Alexander Hammid is listed on the credits as a director as well, but most people consider this to be Deren’s vision. So what is Deren’s vision, you ask? I have to be straight with you here—I’m not 100% sure I know.

But let’s forge ahead. Meshes of the Afternoon is not so much about plot as it is about something that happens, a sort of dream fugue that loops around itself a few times. Our main character, played by Deren herself, enters into a house and falls asleep in a chair. In her dream, the same thing happens, only this time, she is following a figure dressed like the classic version of death, only with a mirror in place of a face under the hood. Eventually, the hooded figure makes its way into the house and places a flower on the bed; and the flower turns into a knife.

Eventually, there is the sleeping woman and three other versions of her in the house as well. Each takes a key from the center of the table, but the third has it turn into the same knife, which she uses to attempt to kill the sleeping version of herself. A man (Hammid) wakes her up, and proceeds to do the exact same thing that the mirror-faced death figure did.

Up to this point, I was finding all of these proceedings pretty interesting, if opaque. I got that this was turning into a dream Moebius strip, and endlessly recursive loop. While I didn’t completely understand the point of it, I got that it was an art film and experimental, and that Deren was attempting something here that might not be obvious on a first viewing. I’m okay with that, particularly with such a short film.

Then…yeah, I’m lost. The man looks into a mirror. The woman lies down on the bed and the knife appears next to her. She strikes at the man and it’s as if she has shattered a mirror—where the man’s face was is now the ocean. Pieces of the broken mirror fall onto a beach. We cut back to the outside of the house and the man walks in, finding the woman still on the chair, but now obviously dead, her throat evidently slashed.

I don’t get it, but I feel like I’m right on the edge of getting it, like if I think about it for a couple of days it might actually pop into my head. It’s frustrating, but it’s also how I often feel when it comes to experimental films.

Originally this film was made as a silent, but a soundtrack was added years later. This soundtrack is a disturbing blend of what sounds like a baritone sax combined with someone tapping the top of an empty oatmeal container with a pencil. It’s mildly disquieting, and I admit that I felt like someone was coming up behind me half of the time.

Deren once claimed that she made films for what studios spent on lipstick, and this film is evidence of that. There aren’t really any special effects. It’s actually more accurate (but far less kind) to say that the effects here aren’t really special. There’s a nice moment when it appears that she is flying, her hand reaching out to turn off an old record player, but most of it is simply camera manipulation. It’s still surprisingly effective and timed very well—as she climbs a set of stairs, she falls from side to side, and the camera mimics her movements pretty well. Still, it’s evident that this film was made for the price of the film and the development.

When all is said and done, I’m not sure what to make of this film. It’s “high art” without question, but I have to wonder at the value of that art when it’s so difficult to understand that its meaning gets so quickly lost.

Why to watch Meshes of the Afternoon: It’s 15 minutes out of your life for an influential art film.
Why not to watch: It’s obtuse and pretty opaque.


  1. This is the same Deren, is it not, who wrote Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti, an ethnological study on Haiti and voodoo/vodoun...? She led an eclectic life.

  2. (I own that book, which is why I'm commenting.)

  3. I didn't like this one. It is very arty-feminist. I was glad it was short.

  4. @Kevin--I believe it is. She also led a very short life. We've both outlived her.

    @Kim--I expected to like it a lot less than I did, and since I didn't really like it a whole lot (I hate being confused), I'm not sure what that says about my expectations.

  5. I like it when you write that you are right on the edge of getting it. I think that is the whole point. It is obscure so that when you get it it is your explanation alone and probably much stronger for that.
    I did not get the Moebius element, but you are probably right. It helps explain her frustruations.

    1. I liked this one far more than I thought I would. That's not saying a lot, really--I expected to hate it.

  6. Thank goodness for these short movies from the List!

    I'm trying to watch at least 8 films from the List every month, which would have me done with the expanded List (including every film added since the first edition) some time in 2020.

    But I've been pretty busy this month, not to mention all the non-circulating films I can't get from my library system (Wadjda, Whiplash, Son of Saul, Leviathan), and with only a few days to go in February, I've only seen three movies from the List.

    But Meshes of the Afternoon is on YouTube, so that's four. And Shaft I DVRed from TCM and watched it later in the day, so that's five. I'll see what else I can watch on YouTube before Wednesday.

    As to the film itself, I really liked Meshes of the Afternoon. I don't think I got it, but I didn't really try. I watched it at 6 am this morning and it was over before I realized I had seen a whole movie and I didn't think much about it at all. It was so early in the morning and I don't think I had really emerged from the state of sleep, so Meshes seemed like a very vivid dream.

    1. I think that the wiki for hard-to-find films is still available--the link is at the top right on this page. I can't guarantee how good some of those links are, but it's worth checking. YouTube is also surprisingly good for some films, and you can download files off YouTube with

      I liked this one, too, and I'm not sure why. For what it's worth, you and I seem to be in a very small minority among 1001 List watchers. Most people seem to hate Meshes of the Afternoon.

    2. I'm a little leary of the wiki for hard-to-find films (or any other unknown site, but I got lucky with La chienne) because I never know what's going to be incompatible with my computer and - even worse - what might have some evil virus.

      So I want to see as many of the not-so-hard-to-find films as possible before I start experimenting with the wiki. And the San Bernardino County library system - thought helpful most of the time - has a lot of non-circulating items that I wish I could get. Like Whiplash. It's a relatively popular film, and not really that recent, and the system has 15 copies. And none of the participating libraries will send it to my branch. (But I did get Osama very easily, as well as some of the later Woody Allen films, like Cassandra's Dream and Blue Jasmine, very easily.)

      Fortunately, Whiplash has now been around long enough that it popped up on Sundance and I watched it last night. Great movie!

      And I got my quota of eight movies from the List for February! TCM showed Shaft, I watched three short ones on YouTube - Cairo Station, Meshes of the Afternoon and Flaming Creatures - as well as Whiplash, in five or six days.

      March should be easier as TCM is showing Woman in the Dunes, Young Girls of Rochefort, Babes in Arms (which I can hardly believe I've never seen) and A Day in the Country. That's a good start.

    3. The wiki is worth looking at--a lot of the links there are for YouTube and should still be available. I understand not wanting to go to some of the potentially dodgier links there, but I never had any issues with any of the links there.

      A NetFlix account helps for some of this. It won't cover everything and there's a ton that NetFlix doesn't have, but there are movies where you're having trouble that I found on NetFlix with no issues at all. A one-disc-at-a-time account is less than $10/month, I think.

    4. I love it when I find something on the List on Netflix streaming! In the last few months, I've used it for Tangerine, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Big Short, Clerks, Gomorrah, Monsters and a few others.

    5. I like the streaming feature, but I maintain a one-disc-at-a-time account to keep things that aren't streaming coming in.

  7. I live in a household with five people and my brother is in charge of the Netflix account. We get four at a time ... and they just sit there for two or three months and everybody forgets what movie they requested or they never get around to watching it.

    My brother knows that I will watch any movie that I request and send it back within a few days. But sometimes I have to remind him several times because he forgets to put it on the account. And he gest a bit peevish.

    It's easier to just wait and see if I can get the movies I want to see some other way. TCM, YouTube, the library, I can always find something from the List. Man of the West was on THIS TV last month. Whiplash was on Sundance. I've requested The Constant Gardener and Run Lola Run from the library. I still have a little over 300 movies to go!

    I caught my brother this morning while he was asking around if anyone wants to see the movies we've had since December before he sends them back. And I asked if he could request Son of Saul. He said "sure" and put it at the top of the queue because he knows I'll watch it right away and send it back.

    And I'll be done with the 2015 additions! Hoo-ray!

    1. I'm not always good about turning around the movies I get in, but I never have them for more than a week. It seems like a waste of money if I don't get at least one NetFlix disc watched each week, after all.