Sunday, August 1, 2010

"Meshes Of The Afternoon"

On a visit to the Tate Modern in London in 2008, I was fortunate enough to encounter a showing of Maya Deren’s short film “Meshes Of the Afternoon” shot in 1943. I had never heard of Deren before but as I stood in the museum and read about her and her work, I learned that she was a key figure in the evolution of The New American Cinema and a very influential experimental filmmaker who influenced a slew of talented directors, including David Lynch.

“Meshes Of The Afternoon,” seen here, is a strange, cyclical story about a woman who is dreaming within a dream (considering my recent viewing of “Inception,” this seems apropos), starring Deren and her then-husband Alexander Hammid. Rife with symbolic imagery and objects such as a key, a flower, a knife, a Spanish-style Los Angeles house, and a cloaked figure with a mirrored face, this study of psychological states presents doubled characters and a sense of dread. A particularly favorite moment in the film comes when Deren floats up to the ceiling, seemingly unable to control her ascent (see “Inception”) which is absolutely dream-like. This version below does not feature the original Japanese-inspired soundtrack used by Deren. Any copies with the original score seem to be targeted for removal on any site. Instead, Isola Music created a wonderful, atmospheric soundtrack that references the original without copying it but adds a perfect ambient sense.

David Lynch lifted Deren's story pretty much intact—with some typical Lynch-ian additions—to make his 2001 film “Mulholland Drive.” The idea of split or doubled characters that Deren employs to great effect in “Meshes Of the Afternoon” can be seen not only in Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive” (Naomi Watts plays Diane Selwyn and Betty Elms) which I reviewed here, but also in his films “Lost Highway” (Patricia Arquette plays double characters), “Inland Empire” (Laura Dern playing two roles) which I reviewed here, and the television series “Twin Peaks” (Sheryl Lee playing doomed Laura Palmer and her cousin Maddy).

Deren’s film also spawned remakes in the medium of pop music videos! Below, we can see model/ singer/ actress Milla Jovovich in her 1994 video for her song “Gentleman Who Fell.”

Kristin Hersh recorded “Your Ghost” with REM frontman Michael Stipe in 1994 and the video features motifs and images from “Meshes Of The Afternoon” including a key in the mouth.

Turns out that Deren and Hammid were greatly influenced in the creation of “Meshes Of The Afternoon” by one of my all-time favorite avant-garde films, the legendary and brilliant surrealist short “Un Chien Andalou” (or “An Andalusian Dog”) made by Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel in 1929.


Unknown said...

And to the list of pop remakes, and quasi-remakes, you can add Janelle Monae's "Tightrope"--

Jeff said...

Hi Ben,

Yep, there they are: the robed, mirror-faced figures! Thanks for sharing this!