A nonnarrative work, Meshes of the Afternoon is a key example of the “trance film”—a work in which a protagonist is in a dreamlike state, and where the camera conveys his or her subjective focus. The central figure, 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.”
Meshes of the Afternoon is one of the most influential works in American experimental cinema. Made by Deren with her husband, cinematographer Alexander Hammid, it established the independent avant-garde movement in film in the United States, now 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, who had been a leading documentary filmmaker and cameraman in Europe (where he used the surname Hackenschmied) before he moved to New York, the film made new and startling use of standard cinematic devices such as montage and matte shots. Through her extensive writings, lectures, and films, Deren became the preeminent voice of avant-garde cinema in the 1940s and early ’50s.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)