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28 DECEMBER 2012

Influential American experimental cinema: Meshes of the Afternoon

"Meshes of the Afternoon is one of the most influential works in American experimental cinema. A non–narrative work, it has been identified as a key example of the 'trance film,' in which a protagonist appears in a dreamlike state, and where the camera conveys his or her subjective focus. The central figure in Meshes of the Afternoon, played by Deren, is attuned to her unconscious mind and caught in a web of dream events that spill over into reality. Symbolic objects, such as a key and a knife, recur throughout the film; events are open–ended and interrupted. Deren explained that she wanted 'to put on film the feeling which a human being experiences about an incident, rather than to record the incident accurately.'

Made by Deren with her husband, cinematographer Alexander Hammid, Meshes of the Afternoon established the independent avant–garde movement in film in the United States, which is known as the New American Cinema. It directly inspired early works by Kenneth Anger, Stan Brakhage, and other major experimental filmmakers. Beautifully shot by Hammid, a leading documentary filmmaker and cameraman in Europe (where he used the surname Hackenschmied) before he moved to New York, the film makes new and startling use of such standard cinematic devices as montage editing and matte shots. Through her extensive writings, lectures, and films, Deren became the preeminent voice of avant–garde cinema in the 1940s and the early 1950s."

(MoMA, 2004)

The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999.

Maya Deren (1943). "Meshes of the Afternoon", 16mm film, black and white, silent, 14 min. Acquired from the Artist.

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TAGS

16mm1943 • Alexander Hackenschmied • Alexander Hammid • American cinemaavant-garde cinemablack and whiteBolexcinemacinematic devicescloakdeathdream • dream world • dreamlike qualityeditingexperimental cinemaexperimental film • experimental filmmaker • filmfilm pioneerfilmmakerflowerFreudianindependent cinemainfluential directorinfluential worksKenneth Angerkeyknife • matte • Maya Deren • Meshes of the Afternoon • mirrorMoMA • New American Cinema • non-narrativeopen-endedpersonal filmrecurring ideasrepetitionrhythmscreen-mediated virtual spaceseminalsilent filmstaircaseStan Brakhagesurrealist cinemasymbolic meaningsymbolism • Teiji Ito • tranceunconscious desires • unconscious meaning • women in filmwomen in historywordless

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
12 MARCH 2012

Wild Strawberries: expressionistic and Freudian dream sequences

"There are other Expressionist and certainly Freudian dream sequences in the picture, almost always with the old man appearing in them as his present self. And some of these, largely because so many have badly copied, now look a little self–conscious– arty even. But the film's ability to engage the emotions makes it notable for more than just technique.

One of the prime reasons is what can only be described as the transcendent performance of Victor Sjostrom as Professor Borg. Sjostrom was the great Swedish silent–era director, who died aged 80, not long after the film was completed and whose The Phantom Carriage had so influenced Bergman. It was he who made the final scene one of the most serene of all Bergman's endings. 'Sjostrom's face shone', said the director. 'It emanated light – a reflection of a different reality, hitherto absent. His whole appearance was soft and gentle, his glance joyful and tender. It was like a miracle'.

Later, Bergman admitted that the character of Borg was an attempt to justify himself to his own parents, but that Sjostrom had taken his text, made it his own and invested it with Sjostrom's often painful experiences. It is still, however, chiefly concerned with forgiveness between parents and children and the lost possibilities of youth."

(Derek Malcolm, 10 June 1999)

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TAGS

1957 • carriage • clockcoffincorpsedeathdreamdream sequenceexpressionism • expressionist • expressionisticfilmfilm-maker • forgiveness • Freudian • hearse • in the mindIngmar Bergman • lamppost • lucid dreaming • Lund • medical scientist • mysteriousnightmareold manpainful experiencesphantompsychology • redemption • silent-era • somnambulistStockholmSwedishSwedish filmmaker • Victor Sjostrom • visual metaphorvisual spectaclewheelWild Strawberries (1957)

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
02 OCTOBER 2011

Un Chien Andalou: a masterpiece of surrealist cinema

"Acclaimed as a surrealist masterpiece, Un Chien andalou aggressively disconnects itself from narrative flow. The creators of this short film. Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí, fully intended there to be no links between successive scenes. Fortunately this didn't inhibit their dreaming up of some of the most striking moments ever to be projected upon the silver screen. The opening focuses on a man (Luis Buñuel) stropping his cut–throat razor, honing it to a perfect edge. Stepping onto the balcony, he gazes at the moon. This celestial orb is instantly replaced with a woman and, enlarging rapidly, her left eye. The bare blade then descends on her unprotected pupil, a graphic incident.

Designed to shock, which it still does almost 70 years later, quick editing removes the image before it has time to fully sink in. Suddenly the viewer is faced with a nun–like figure weaving uncertainly down the road on a bicycle. There is no bridge to the previous horror, although this mysterious person does provide a number of objects which resurface at odd intervals. Later there is the unusual sight of a man (Robert Hommet) hauling two grand pianos, each stuffed with the putrefying remains of a donkey, as he trudges towards a cowering woman (Simone Mareuil). He is also unfortunate enough to have a hole in his hand, where the ants live. None of this is significant.

A marvellous aspect of something as wilfully bizarre as Un Chien andalou is that almost any interpretation can be drawn from the images shown. Perhaps every single scene is random and unconcerned with any other, although Buñuel certainly seems to have included items which are present throughout the film. In some ways the repeated glimpses of these things in situations where they shouldn't be adds to the confused feel, enhanced by the off–putting and nonsensical time–markers deployed.

The eternal themes of life, death, lust and love are thrown up at various points, although there is no framework on which to attach these emotions. This is of no consequence though as Buñuel has already hurried onto the next sequence, violently cutting so that the desired woman becomes naked in a flash – a picture of what are ardent suitor really sees. Un Chien andalou does not require such deep analysis though, being much more a film which should be purely experienced. It achieves that which Buñuel and Dalí aimed for and, with a live music accompaniment, is unstoppable."

(Damian Cannon, 1997)

Fig.1 Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí (1929). 'Un Chien andalou'

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TAGS

1929aggressionAn Andalusian Dog (1929)art film • cut-throat razor • deathdogdreamfilmFreudiangraphic representationinfluential works • interrupted narrative flow • lifeloveLuis BunuellustmasterpiecenakednunRobert HommetSalvador Dalishockingsilent filmSimone Mareuil • slice • slicedSpanish filmspectaclesurrealismsurrealist cinemasurrealist filmssymbolismUn Chien Andalou (1929)violencevisual metaphor

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
21 MARCH 2011

Returning to Michael Powell's Peeping Tom after 15 years

"Peeping Tom has been widely celebrated as one of the great films about looking, about consumption, about cinema, about art, about the artist, about the relation between the artist, the artwork and the audience, about the relation between looking and pleasure, looking and desire, looking and death, and so on. All very familiar stuff from Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis and film studies (the film's tailor–made for film studies – bring in some Freud here, some Bataille and de Sade there, add a little Lacan and Virillio, etc). The aggressive and violating camera, as Scorsese put it. And this is partly the problem with Peeping Tom. Like the films of Peter Greenaway or David Cronenberg, Peeping Tom is more like an academic essay about voyeurism and scopophilia, a join–the–dots lecture on the pleasures, risks and dangers of art. Plus, Peeping Tom employs the most stereotypical, cliched thriller/ murder mystery plot you can imagine: a young man, a loner, a misfit, introspective, morbid, an outsider figure, abused as a child, etc etc etc, who murders sexualized women (prostitutes and actresses), and is befriended by an innocent he cannot bring himself to corrupt or kill.

Powell attacks the subject of voyeurism and murder aggressively in the opening scenes: the close–ups on cameras, projectors and eyes, the mirrors and reflections, exaggerated sounds (the rattle of a projector, a dripping tap, a heartbeat, whispered voiceover), and his love of visual rhymes and puns (eyes, drinks, sticks and tripods). You can see Powell having a ball in orchestrating his elaborate camera moves, his erotic, sleazy mise–en–abyme, his film–within–a–film tropes (Powell playing the murderer's father and torturer in home movies which he shot himself), the multiple reflections, mirrors, lenses, cameras, projections and screens (every shot in Peeping Tom seems to have been lit by a raking, unfiltered, unflattering horizontal light). It's not that Powell isn't at the top of his game in Peeping Tom – in its way, Peeping Tom is every bit as inventive as Powell's best work – it's that the plot, the characters, the situations are so cheesy, predictable, and shallow.

Despite all this, though, Peeping Tom does have bite and a nastiness which age hasn't dimmed. Peeping Tom also still feels 'contemporary' in its psychoanalytic treatment of a serial killer plot which draws on prostitution, cinema, acting, and pornography. And the conceit of having a murder in the opening shots which's replayed a moment later over the credits is a tour–de–force (one of the film's best cinematic ideas, this says everything necessary, and economically, in the first five minutes)."

(Jeremy Robinson)

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TAGS

1960abuseaggressionartartistartworkaudienceBritish directorBritish film directorcameracinemaclicheclose-upconsumptionDavid Cronenbergdeathdesire • Emeric Pressburger • erotic • essayfilmfilm studies • film-within-a-film • Freudian • Georges Bataille • innocenceintrospectionJacques Lacan • join-the-dots • Leo Marks • loner • looking • Marquis de Sade • Martin ScorseseMichael Powellmirrormise-en-abymemisfitmorbidmurdermurder mysteryoutsider • Paul Virilio • Peeping Tom (film) • Peter Greenawaypleasurepornographyprojectorprostitutionpsychoanalysis • pun • reflectionscopophilia • scoptophilia • serial killer • sexualised • sleazy • stereotypethrillerUKviolation • visual rhyme • voyeurism

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
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