The film Meshes of the Afternoon (1943) is an enigma. It ‘works’ on many levels: as an example of polished cinematography; as a personal statement; as the original representation of filmic art as psychological journey (psychodrama) and as an almost interactive challenge to its viewers to be accepted and pursued. “Meshes” is definitely one of those films that—like the potato chip slogan states—“You can’t ‘eat’ just one.” The viewer feels compelled to watch it again and again. I watched it through the first time—then immediately watched it two more times. With each new viewing I found fresh, interesting nuances that I had not noticed before—such as how the general ‘feel’ and atmosphere of “Meshes” has a dreamy, yet oddly ‘gritty’ texture. All of the action seems to take place on a summer day in a rather warm climate (Italy kept coming to my mind). Deren, herself, wild haired and sandal-clad, looks like some sort of (Haitian?) earth goddess/mother. Also, with each new viewing I caught a particular look/reaction from each of the three ‘Mayas’ sitting at the table—which helped to establish a separate role or function for each one.
Further, there are particular sequences that seem most surreal—where Hammid uses odd camera angles while Deren seems to crawl and cling and climb up what has become a nightmarish staircase–and where she assumes a facial expression and body language not unlike Caesar of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), which I find most appropriate as Deren’s character walks—as does somnambulist Caesar– within a type of dreamscape.
Lastly, one has to wonder just how the filmscape of the American avant-garde movement would have looked in terms of attention-paid, subject matter, funding, opportunities, etc. had it not been for the innovation, power and intellectual curiosity of not only Maya Deren—but of Alexander Hammid, as well. Clearly, the advent and ensuing interest in the psychodrama would have been affected.