Analysis #2 Formal Analysis: Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)23

The Materiality of Film

Maya Deren’s short film examplifies the “Materiality” of film which breaks all of the rules of filmaking. Meshes of the Afternoon is a film that gratifies towards the subconscious level as it is presented as a mysterious, suspenseful dream within a dream. Since the opening shot of the film, the viewer can sense the dreamlike theme of the film. The first shot is a MCU of an artificial like arm placing a flower on the ground, then suddenly dissappears from view. This stop action shot is used often throughout this film, already giving an illusionary feel. The next shot shows a women walking in frame through shadow as we see  her take the flower. A CU shot of her hand picking up the flower automatically draws the viewers attention to the flower. A WS as she sees someone turning a corner who we can’t make out since the person is hidden in shadow. The CU shot of her hands trying to retrieve her key but drops it down the stairs has a dramatic effect as the rhythm of the music matches as a diegetic sound of the key hitting each stair.

Once the women enters her home we see through her POV shot scanning the living room but then jump cuts to the dining room table. The camera zooms in on the bread and knife then jump cuts again to a CU of the knife falling down on the table, then pans to a telephone that is off the hook on a stairway. As the women goes up the stairs, we see a POV shot of her looking in her bedroom, then jump cuts to her stopping a phonograph after the music stops almost seeming as if the score is diegetic. As she goes back downstairs to sit on the chair, the camera followes as a POV shot moving steadily towards the arm chair. When she sits down, the shot is a high angle which only shows from her kness up to her chest, cutting off her head as  she places the flower on her lap.  An ECU shot of her eye shutting is parallel to the WS of the outside view as it slowly darkens making it a POV shot. These shots places the viewer in a state of tranquility as the darkening of the shot and silence of sounds progresses into a dream state of consciousness.

A low humming sound abrubtly ends the silence in the next shot of the outside view, which the camera zooms out of a tunnel to reveal a dark hooded figure. A MCU shot of the hooded figure turns to the camera reavealing a mirror as a face holding the flower. The music in this scene abrubtly stops and re starts creating an eerie atmosphere. The women is shown trying to catch up to the figure through shadow and close ups of her feet running, but not showing her face. As she re enters her home through the door, the same POV shot is shown of her scanning the house, which jumpcuts to a CU of a knife on the stairway. She ascends up the stairs passing the knife in a close up shot of her feet in slow motion which examplifies a dream like quality of the scene. The women even slowely and dramatically enters through her bedroom curtains also dreamlike. When she scans her bedroom in a MCU shot, her facial expression is kinda frightened and cautious. When she finds the phone on her pillow, we view it as a POV shot as she pulls the cover to reveal a knife. The music humming starts up again setting the mood to suspense. A CU shot of her reflection on the phone also gives off an eerie vibe as her face in the reflection is somewhat distorted.

The next shot of her is MCU of her falling out her window, then cuts back to her falling against the stair railing at an odd angle. The scene cuts to many other odd angles of her hanging on to the railing as the camera shifts and turns following her movement on the railing. The camera then cuts to a low angle shot as she gravitates toward the ceiling while the music speedens up. The POV high angle shots of her looking down at herself and stopping the phonograph also gives off a dream setting. She views at herself numerously from her resting on the chair to viewing herself outside as she chases the hooded figure multiple times. A CU shot of her removing a key from her mouth is also repeated througout the film, which not only gives off a dream like quality but also alertness to the subject of the key. When she re enters her home in the next shot, we see her POV on the hooded figure walking up the stairs which the camera followes as well as her in the shot. As she ascends up the stairs, she is viewed at a high angle crawling up the stairs with difficulty as she is thrust towards the wall along with the camera following her. The camera shifts again as she slowly turns to the right away from the camera, then shifts again as she reaches the top of the staircase from below the camera viewpoint. The MCU of the hooded figure placing the flower on her bed as he slowly turns towards the camera is visualy unsettling when the humming starts up again, but is then confusing when it abrubtly dissappears in a stop action shot. This sequence is followed by numerous still shots of the women in the staircase appearing forward and backward creating another illusionary quality.

In a CU shot of her looking out at herself on the couch then towards the window, she views repetitive shots of herself chasing the hooded figure while (also repetitively) removes a key from her mouth. However, in the CU shot of the key on her palm, it cuts to a knife instead of a key. She re enters her home with a knife, then cuts back to the diner table which shows two versions of herself looking back impressively in the same shot. When she places the knife on the table in front of her twin selves, there is a stop action on the knife as it reappears as a key, and they continue to questioningly stare at her. These double versions of her, similar to a doppelganger, gives off an uneasiness danger vibe. As repetitive shots of each twin taking the key proceeds, there is a MCU of each women softly imitating the same hand gestures that the initial women previously done before she falls asleep. Once the initial women takes the key, a CU shot of the key reappears  as a knife, cuts back to CU of the womens’s shock expression then cuts to her sleeping body on the arm chair. The next shot of her is an odd turnaround since she is wearing mysterious goggles and advances to herself with a knife. Each shots proceeds with CU of her feet walking on sand near the ocean repetively, examplifying a difference in time and space.

After the knife lowers on her unconcious body, it cuts to a ECU of her eyes opening, then a CU of a man emerging in front of her. He lifts her up, and she slowly followes him as he ascends the stairs, a MS where he places the phone back on hook and carries the same flower with him. At this point as she followes him up the stairway, all shots are repetively similar to her dream sequence when she followed the hooded figure. A MS of her looking through her bedroom doorway entails that she is cautionary. A MCU shot of the man’s face appears as his reflection on the bedside mirror leads viewers to believe that he is the dark hooded figure in her dream. The shot of his reflection is half covered in darkness giving the impression of impending danger beneath the surface as he puts the mirror away. The music also gives off a suspenseful atmosphere as the humming sound speeds up almost imitating a heart pounding. We see a CU shot of the knife reappearing again on her pillow after she lies down which she throws towards the man. The shot cuts to the knife breaking the man’s reflection revealing a beach scenery behind it, signifying that this may be another dream. The film ends with the man entering his home with a flower to find shattered glass on the floor beside his dead wife.


Deren’s film clearly demonstrates a dreamscape atmosphere through over use of stop action cutting and abrubt editing. The abstract camera angles and movements generates a dream like quality that allowes audiences to question and wonder into a subconscious level. With all of the abstract editing and symbolic imagery, it’s evident to believe that Deren and husband Hammid wanted to show an artistic visual of the subconscious through film. Viewers that watch the film are lead to follow a normal narrative, but gets fooled once the first shot is displayed. There are many subjective shots that parallels with camera angles and movements. These technical shots are obvious to the viewer,while also subtle to clues and symbolism leaving an open ending. Deren’s objective for this film was to create a poetic visual art film, initially an avant garde personal film with her husband. However not only does this film carries out as an avant garde, but also is considered one of the most influential and powerful experimental films ever made.


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  1.    Amy Herzog:

    Very nice choice for this assignment! There are some places where grammatical errors prevent the full force of your argument to come through. Nevertheless, you pay wonderful attention to detail, and your argument about film materiality and the creation of a dream world is very thoughtful.

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