A hugely influential and pioneering experimental film, Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid’s Meshes of the Afternoon is not a narrative film, but, compared to other surrealist underground works of its time, the action onscreen compels viewers to make something more out of the pieces. Deren plays a protagonist trapped in a domestic space, albeit an upscale space in the Hollywood Hills. She’s also stuck in a spiraling story about a woman, mirror images of said woman, her encounters with a hooded figure with a mirror for a face, a man with flowers, harsh shadows, keys, stairs, doors, knives, off-the-hook phones, more mirrors, other Freudian objects, and a violent end. So what does it mean? Purgatory? Limbo? Dreams? A time loop? A simulacrum? The existential representation of life for an educated, twice-married Marxist woman in sunny SoCal during WWII? Who knows?
Meshes has mystified audiences for decades in cine-clubs, college classrooms, museums, and now, on the internet. As the hundreds of viewer comments can attest, the film still inspires myriad interpretations, from matter-of-fact ones to “Yikes! Really?” And its no wonder. Meshes can be enjoyed as a trance film, but narrative filmmakers have long borrowed from its rhythms and cryptic tone for dream sequences, psychodramas, thrillers, and sci-fi. Despite a minuscule crew and a $275 budget, this 16mm short boasts point-of-view shots, trick shots, extreme close-ups, slow motion, and sequences that fold in on one another. These techniques weren’t invented by Deren and Hammid, but their creative, poetic editing packs a psychological and dramatic wallop.