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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
17 FEBRUARY 2011

Martin Scorsese: ItalianAmerican

"After having made four well–received feature films, among them Mean Streets (1973), an uncompromising story of petty criminals in New York City's Little Italy, and Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974), the tale of a single mother's journey to self–sufficiency, Martin Scorsese stepped back briefly from his commercial film career to make a small, deeply personal documentary. Shot on 16mm film in the Manhattan apartment where he grew up, ItalianAmerican is the record of a conversation between Scorsese and his parents, Charles and Catherine. In three–quarters of an hour, the three manage to cover a great deal of ground, most notably the parents' experiences growing up in the rough–and–tumble New York tenements during the early years of the twentieth century. Scorsese's presentation of his parents is highly particularized and subtly nuanced, yet he also manages to make their words speak for the larger immigrant experience. When the setting shifts from the living room to the dining room and everyone sits down to dinner, the mood becomes looser and more animated, with Scorsese and his mother moving into the kitchen for a quick lesson on how to make tomato sauce–or 'gravy,' as Catherine (and an entire generation of Italian Americans) would call it. Throughout, the affection that the three Scorseses have for each other is palpable, as is the respect with which the son presents his parents' story. At the end, Catherine's recipe for her tomato sauce scrolls by on–screen, making ItalianAmerican not only a historical record, but also a family legacy."

(The Museum of Modern Art)

1974. USA. 35mm print, colour, sound, 49 min. Original 16mm materials on indefinite loan from the artist. Preserved in 35mm with funding from the Celeste Bartos Film Preservation Fund.

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TAGS

16mm1974authorship • Catherine Scorsese • Charles Scorsese • direct cinemadocumentary filmfilmimmigrantimmigrant experienceinterviewItalian • Italian American • Italianamerican (1974) • ManhattanMartin ScorseseNew Yorkpersonalpersonal filmrealismsocial historysocial realismsocial realitytruth

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
15 APRIL 2005

The Gleaners and I: making art from rubbish

"'The Gleaners and I' is a decidedly personal video documentary by Varda, a film ostensibly preoccupied with 'rubbish'. Varda takes us on a journey where we encounter those who live from other peoples' – from people who eat out of dumpsters and 'glean' provincial fields after harvest, to those who make art from tossed away furniture and beyond. It's a brilliant and playful film and one which Julie Rigg decared she was 'in love with' when she interviewed Agnes Varda.

JULIE RIGG: Agnes Varda, I'm curious about this film. Did it begin as a film about yourself or a film about gleaners?

AGNES VARDA: It's clearly about gleaners, it's clearly not only the intention because who cares about an intention, what is important is the film you see. And not only that, it's a very important subject, a social issue, which is, 'who are those people who eat the leftovers, the leftovers of others?' Who is eating my leftovers, you know? And that was really concerning me, like it does to other people, and I thought instead of having a subject, a subject line and say could we find people to illustrate it? I totally had another attitude and thought how can I meet people who are the subject? So I don't have to explain and make any narration about that, find the right people who will be able to show themselves by their life. [With this film] I was saying 'why will those people live and eat what we throw away, and can I meet them, can I speak to them?' And they are able to say when and what and how."
(Julie Rigg, ABC Australia)

Fig.1 Agnès Varda, 2000. Les Glaneurs et La Glaneuse
Fig.2 Jean François Millet, 1857. Musée d'Orsay

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TAGS

18572000 • Agnes Varda • agricultural producebio-ethicscollectionconsumptioncultural constructiondocumentary filmfilmfoodfoundfound objectFrenchgleanergleaninggrain production • Jean Francois Millet • land usepeasantpersonal filmrubbishsustainabilitytraditionvegetableswastewomen in film
24 FEBRUARY 2004

A disturbing little film called A Little Death

"It's a long time since I've seen a film as genuinely disturbing as A Little Death. The title refers to the phrase 'un petite mort'. French slang for orgasm. This surreal film explores all the ambiguity of that phrase to devastating effect. A couple are making love. Or rather having sex – the hostility between them is palpable. The moment of climax flings them both into another dimension where the emotional savagery of their relationship is played out for real. Luscious colour photography gives way to crisp black and white, as Davison crashes through their bed into an identical room where everything, including her lover, is literally two–dimensional, bleached of life but tilled with an almost impersonal hatred. The tension that previously simmered beneath the surface is unleashed in images of extraordinary violence. Brophy, trapped in the 'wallpaper' of this unnatural room, can only scream as she takes her revenge. This ambitious script is well supported by its technically immaculate execution. It is tightly constructed, beautifully edited and the superb soundtrack is unusually effective, an integral part of the film rattler than (as too often happens) an afterthought. Much of the power of the film has to do with its purely visual logic, it didn't start to make sense to me until I stopped trying to figure out what was going on and just let the images wash over me. This is one of those rare films that can stand repeated viewings (providing you can) and serious philosophical debate, despite the fact its violent take on gender relations is more than a little disturbing. A Little Death is an uncommonly brave and passionate piece of filmmaking that stays in the mind long after it's been seen."

(Pavement magazine, 1995)

Fig.1 Simon Perkins and Paul Swadel (1994). "A Little Death", James Wallace Productions: 16mm, 11 minutes. [A Little Death externalises conflict between characters through the use of physical obstacles and camera perspectives. The film is an evolution of the "Into The Void" project.]
Fig.2 Natalie Robertson (1994). Josephine Davison is confused to find herself on a photocopied floor.

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CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
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