"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."
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.
"Cameraless film refers to a method of producing moving image where the artist or filmmaker bypasses the photographic process and directly manipulates film stock (either additively or subtractively) with methods such as drawing, collage and painting. Due to the inherent difficulties of generating handmade images on film, direct animation doesn’t lend itself to pictorial illusion or linear narratives. The imagery tends to be atavistic, animistic, frenetic; and due in part to this visual proximity to pure abstraction, the conceptual content of this genre has been largely overlooked. Since they sit so ambivalently between fine art and cinema, both camps have historically positioned these films as being principally concerned with formalism and material experimentation. But revising this apprehension, Zelluloid: Filme Ohne Kamera brings together a selection of films, tracing the ideational threads which significantly inform and influence this manner of filmmaking.
In 1935, Len Lye’s film A Colour Box was so different in its use of filmic language that the Brussels Film Festival had to invent a new prize for it to win. As vivid and enchanting today as they were visionary and challenging, Lye’s animated shapes dancing to the percussion of popular Cuban and African music were a hit with audiences more accustomed to viewing cinema in its industrial, commercial capacity. The very act of painting abstract imagery on film was a conceptual leap in terms of severing film’s indexical relationship with the world and using it to explore an abstract, synaesthetic experience."
(Genevieve Allison, 5 August 2010, EyeContact)
"Mothlight visualises a 'day in the life' of an insect from birth to death; however, it summons some of the more positive associations of lepidoptera, such as creativity and the soul (1). You could say Brakhage puts the 'anima' back into animation, reanimating the dead, painstakingly affixing the remains of dead insects, leaves and the like onto the film strip, and feeding it through the projector back to life. Of course, the principle of film projection is the illusion of life through light, with the audience gathering to watch like moths attracted to a lamp: the beauty of Mothlight is the way Brakhage evokes the moth not through cartoon mimicry, but by the fragile sensation of its movement, batting against the screen, hurtling in descent. The effect is exhilarating and terrifying.
Brakhage might be accused of playing God (or Dr Frankenstein), and it is no coincidence that Mothlight was assembled during the long production of his creationist epic Dog Star Man (1961-4). ... Its making is also a dismantling - imagine celluloid flypaper - and its examination of life's remains looks forward to The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes (1971). Mothlight acknowledges the limitations of the screen, the way film traps subject matter in a box, suffocating the life out of it."
"Drawing on Film will survey the practice of "direct film"—the process of drawing, scratching, or otherwise manipulating film stock to create images without a camera. The exhibition will present works spanning from the late 1930s to the present and will highlight an overlooked facet of experimental film. Many of the works to be exhibited are seminal films in the history of the genre—including Len Lye's A Colour Box and Norman McLaren's Blinkity Blank—while other, more contemporary works are being screened for the first time. By showcasing films from over seven decades, Drawing on Film will present an overview of the rich legacy of direct film.
The exhibition will transform the Drawing Room into a screening room with a program[me] of films by eleven artists that will screen multiple times each day. In addition, individual installations, one by Jennifer Reeves and one by Jennifer West, will run for one week each. Two separate evening screenings will feature works by Stan Brakhage and by Dieter Roth and Amy Granat, respectively."