119. MESHES OF THE AFTERNOON (1943)

“This film is concerned with the interior experiences of an individual. It does not record an event which could be witnessed by other persons. Rather, it reproduces the way in which the subconscious of an individual will develop, interpret and elaborate an apparently simple and casual incident into a critical emotional experience.”–Maya Deren, notes on Meshes of the Afternoon

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: , Alexander Hammid

FEATURING: Maya Deren, Alexander Hammid

PLOT: Approaching her apartment one afternoon, a woman picks up a flower, sees a figure disappearing around a corner down the garden path, then fumbles her key as she tries to unlock the door to her room. She goes upstairs and falls asleep in a chair looking out of the window, where she has a series of dreams that recombine these simple events and objects in unexpected ways. Doubles appear, she floats up the staircase, and the person she briefly glimpsed earlier appears as a figure of menace haunting the corners of her mind.

Still from Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)

BACKGROUND:

  • Deren legally changed her first name from Eleanora to Maya (Sanskrit for “illusion”) just before embarking on her career as a filmmaker with Meshes.
  • Alexander Hammid, Deren’s second husband, co-created and appears in Meshes as “the Man.” The music that now accompanies the film was added in 1957 and was composed by Deren’s third husband, Teijo Ito.
  • Some commentators, including avant-garde director Stan Brakhage (who knew the couple) claim that Meshes was largely the work of Hammid rather than Deren, who went on to have the more noted career.
  • Meshes was made for $275 (which would be about $3,500 today adjusted for inflation). Deren once joked that she made movies for what Hollywood spent on lipstick.
  • Added to the National Film Registry in 1990. The registry began in 1989 with twenty five American films worthy of preservation due to their historical and artistic importance and adds twenty five more films each year since; Meshes was in the second class inducted.
  • Deren, a Ukrainian immigrant, was the first avant-garde filmmaker working outside the studio system of any importance in the United States. She was also a lecturer, wrote articles on film theory, and established the Creative Film Foundation and the Film-Makers Co-op. She unexpectedly died of a brain hemorrhage at 44 while studying and filming Voodoo ceremonies in Haiti.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The image film critics usually invoke when describing Meshes is Deren with her face and palms pressed up against the windowpane, the reflections of palm trees merging into her curly black hair and an inscrutable expression on her face. The picture has an undeniable metaphorical power: here we see a portrait of the psyche, the plane where reflections from the external world merge into the self. But while there’s an undeniable intellectual appeal to that selection, we’re going to go instead with something freakier and more nightmarishly visceral: the cloaked form with a mirror for a face, a mysterious figure into whom the sleeping protagonist pours her suppressed fears and anxieties.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Many weird movies are about dreams, or plumb the sleeping mind to exploit dream logic and plunder the unconscious’ mutated symbols, but Meshes of the Afternoon is probably the most psychologically accurate dream movie ever made. From the way it repurposes everyday events and objects, turning keys into knives and passing pedestrians into emissaries of the unknown, to its impossible geometries where windows open onto stairs and distant beaches, Meshes captures the architecture of a dream—and traps us inside it.


Film student analysis of a scene from Meshes of the Afternoon

COMMENTS: A mesh is a net or a web, and this afternoon the strands that trap our nameless Continue reading 119. MESHES OF THE AFTERNOON (1943)

THE THREE FETISHES: TRANSFORMATION AND ETHICAL ENGAGEMENT IN WALTER MURCH’S RETURN TO OZ (1985)

Guest essay by Jesse Miksic. Warning: this analysis contains spoilers for Return to Oz (1985).

The Three Fetishes: Transformation and Ethical Engagement in Walter Murch’s Return to Oz (1985)

There is a vast mythology out there, deeper and wider than Middle Earth or Hogwarts, and yet more intimate, more rooted in the flights of fancy and weirdness that writhe in the dirt of our collective childhood. This is the mythology of Oz, created by L. Frank Baum and articulated in his fourteen novels about Dorothy and her various companions. For over 100 years, it’s been dormant, waiting patiently to be mined for spectacles and narratives; unfortunately, most of us only know it by a single film, the celebrated 1939 adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The whole thing is tragic case of untapped potential.

There was one other notable film drawn from this mythology, however, and it vibrates with richness and rabid weirdness. This is director Walter Murch’s 1985 Return to Oz, a film sentenced by the cruel hand of circumstance to obscurity and cult status. Murch was a first-time director, and the film was generally considered too harsh and frightening for the children that would presumably make up its primary audience. It’s a sad outcome, because locked within this Labyrinthian orgy of a pseudo-children’s horror moviemare some mind-bending subtexts, glimpses of some interesting ideas about transformation, childhood, and ethical agency.

In this essay, I’ll be breaking some of those ideas down. Using three potent symbols – the ECT machine, the Magic Powder, and the egg – as guideposts, I’ll unpack some of the paradoxes and explorations of identity and transformation that underlie the film’s pixie-dust grotesqueries. I’ll show how these subtexts connect with ideas of ethics and responsibility, allowing humble little Dorothy to be the savior of a whole imaginary universe. Don’t expect too much… the film resolutely refuses to make sense, or behave in any linear or predictable way… but as with any genuinely eccentric film, this shouldn’t stop us from looking for the deeper ideas locked away within all the weirdness.

And so, without further ado – the first of the three fetishes of Oz:

I. The Electrotherapy Machine

“Now this fellow here has a face. Do you see it? There are his eyes, and this must be his nose, Continue reading THE THREE FETISHES: TRANSFORMATION AND ETHICAL ENGAGEMENT IN WALTER MURCH’S RETURN TO OZ (1985)

YOUR GUIDE TO TROMA ON YOUTUBE

Following in the footsteps of Mosfilm, who put a hundreds of films from their Soviet back catalog onto YouTube for free (you can read our guide to them here), the American studio Troma has spent the past two weeks uploading 96 free videos. Whereas Mosfilm provides you with international cinema treasures like Alexander Nevsky and The Battleship Potemkin, , who both make their own films and distribute otherwise undistributable low-budget sleaze and curios made by others, brings us lesser known classics: movies with titles like Meat Weed Madness, Seduction of a Nerd and COONS: Night of the Bandits of the Night. Also unlike Mosfilm, Troma is offering most of these movies commercial free (!) The giveaway is in celebration of the studio’s 40th anniversary; although the Troma team didn’t announce an expiration date, we can’t imagine that a deal this good will last forever. Watch what you want while you can. To navigate this bewildering maze of titles we brought in Troma fan C. Corvo, who offered up this list of some of the choicer movies available for your viewing pleasure. If you mention other titles in the comments section, we may add them to this list. You can find all the free Troma movies on their Tromamovies channel.

The Chosen One: Legend of the Raven (1998) – This film is presented for free by Troma with a commentary by the director attached (at least for the first couple scenes).  As a fan of commentaries, I prefer tales of low budget filmmaking to the stories of Hollywood filmmaking, and for that reason alone this title comes “Highly Recommended.”  Also, Carmen Electra looks amazing in an early (and substantial) appearance. Watch The Chosen One: Legend of the Raven free on YouTube.

Class of Nuke’Em High 2: Subhumanoid Meltdown (1991) – The first film isn’t up yet but for now we have the two sequels to the original Class of Nuke’Em High. In this entry toxic waste causes yet more havoc in Tromaville. Keep an eye out for the Toxic Avenger, giant mutant squirrels and constant fourth wall breaks. Watch Class of Nuke’Em High 2: Subhumanoid Meltdown free on YouTube.

Frostbiter: Legend of the Wendigo (1995) – An amateurish portrayal of what happens when you unleash the curse of the mythological Wendigo! This movie goes for laughs and is mostly successful, in my opinion. This one also goes by the title Frostbiter, Wrath of the Wendigo. Watch Frostbiter: Legend of the Wendigo free on YouTube.

Lollilove (2004) – Mockumentary about a delusional rich couple’s mission to help the homeless Continue reading YOUR GUIDE TO TROMA ON YOUTUBE

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

It’s been a busy week here at 366 Weird Movies as we relocated our world headquarters from one undisclosed location to another one down the road. Even though our offices are now stacked high with mountains of unopened boxes containing Guy Maddin DVDs, unsold Jack Nance Eraserhead wigs, and surplus cow organs coated in fine layers of Cheetos dust (sounds odd, until you realize that our lab technicians need them for validating copyright issues), we’ve still managed to put together a fine slate of exemplary weird content for you to peruse in the coming week. First, we noted that the studio we have our biggest love/hate crush on— —has just dumped (a most appropriate verb in this case) a load of their back catalog onto YouTube for free viewing. We’ll provide a short guide to navigating this wealth of cinematic offal for your viewing pleasure. Next up, guest columnist Jesse Miksic (of the impressive pan-media blog Benefit of the Doubt) brings us a critical essay on the 1985 cult fantasy Return to Oz. We didn’t forget that July 4 marks the 236th anniversary (has it really been that long?) of the United States declaring independence from ol’ King George III. What better way to celebrate Independence Day than with a review of Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), the revolutionary declaration from the mother of domestic independent cinema and of the American avant-garde, the great Maya Deren?

Due to what our web host terms “unscheduled maintenance,” last Pipeline we neglected to bring you our installment of Weirdest Search Terms of the Week, but promised you a double shot this week. True to our word, here’s two weeks worth of the strangest search terms that clogged up our server logs the past fortnight.

  • a girl opens a box and becomes wierd movies
  • weirdness i am weird
  • anti drugs dream world camping wake wings jail or bs movie
  • movie where kids where salves of senor (note to the guy who’s been repeatedly searching for this term for the past two months: we nominated you, you can stop now)
  • weird man eating fanny aliens movie
  • robot boy reals nakeds sexys bigs boobs

Our dual winners for the past two weeks are “hollywood romantic movies bigboobs movies two much bad boys boobs” (you had us at Hollywood romantic big boobs movies) and “satans’satanic whacky chess game ride” (weird due to redundancy: what kind of wacky chess game ride would Satan have other than a satanic one?) Thanks to all the horny schizophrenic non-English speaking Googlers who participated in the contest, and see you next week!

One more thing: here’s how that ridiculously-long-and-ever-growing reader suggested review queue stands: “Meshes of the Afternoon” (next week!); “My Wrongs 8245-8249 and 117″; The Hour-glass Sanatorium [Saanatorium pod klepsidra] (out of print in Region 1, but we’ll keep looking); Liquid Sky (re-review);  Fantastic Planet; “Twin Peaks” (TV series); Society; May; Little Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

WEIRD HORZION FOR THE WEEK OF 6/29/2012

Our weekly look at what’s weird in theaters, on hot-off-the-presses DVDs, and on more distant horizons…

Trailers of new release movies are generally available on the official site links.

IN THEATERS (LIMITED RELEASE):

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012): A six-year old girl named Hushpuppy contracts a fever, which ushers in the apocalypse and a plague of prehistoric creatures called aurochs. Benh Zeitlin’s debut feature is the arthouse festival hit of the season, and will start its theatrical run in New York and Los Angeles this week, appearing in major cities throughout the country throughout July. Beasts of the Southern Wild official site.

NEW ON DVD:

Numero Deux (1975): Sexually explicit postmodern portrait of a dissolving marriage from . The action plays out on two video monitors, which are juxtaposed and superimposed in different ways throughout this cinematic experiment. Buy Numero Deux.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011): A group of policemen and a suspect patrol the Anatolian countryside one long night searching for a victim’s corpse.  It looks like an arthouse police procedural but critics hints at something deeper: NPR’s Ella Taylor describes it as “an existential fairy tale set in a nocturnal netherworld…” This year’s Palme D’or winner (the last two Cannes champions have been Certified Weird—will the trend continue?) Buy Once Upon a Time in Anatolia.

Sound of Noise (2010): A music hating cop tries to silence a band of avant-garde percussionists who are planning to stage a performance art symphony in the public spaces of Stockholm in this quirky Swedish satire. It’s won a few awards on the festival circuit and is often described as “absurd.” Buy Sound of Noise.

FREE (LEGITIMATE RELEASE) MOVIES ON YOUTUBE:

Tommy (1975): Read our capsule review. Who better to direct a psychedelic rock opera about the deaf, dumb and blind kid who sure plays a mean pinball then the always tasteful and restrained Ken Russell? Watch Tommy free on YouTube.

What are you looking forward to? If you have any weird movie leads that I have overlooked, feel free to leave them in the COMMENTS section.

GLASS LIPS (2007)

Lech Majewski’s Glass Lips (2007) debuted as an instillation piece at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It’s original title was Blood of a Poet, paying homage to Jean Cocteau’s 1930 film. Surreal, kaleidoscopic, and predominantly silent, Glass Lips feels like a series of interrelated shorts literally forming a “motion picture.”

Sebastien (Patrick Czajka) is the poet in question in this painterly film, which begins with his birth atop a towering rock. The sound of the infant wailing, his umbilical cord dangling, is the only one we hear from his lips. This image later connects to a waterlogged dream of his mother (Joanna Litwin) giving birth to a bloodied rock.

Maternal inertia is the dominant pigment used in painting Sebastien as the scourged poet. One striking image calls to mind early photographs of artist Andres Serrano (when Serrano actually counted). The sensual, nude mother, clothed only in pathos, glides by row after row of slaughtered hogs. The Serrano image, so striking and, for some reason, long unavailable, showed the image of Christ (a young, blonde woman, dressed in a short, black nightclub dress) before the swine (the hog’s bloodied torso hanging from a hook in the ceiling). Paradoxically, iconoclastic and liturgical metaphors repetitively intertwine in Majewski’s parochial bedlam.

The suffering mother is forced to witness her only son’s humiliation by a severe, unyielding father (Grzegorz Przybyl). The mother seeks to both nurture and be nurtured. She is not milked and can no longer can provide milk. Therefore, she baptizes her naked body, as Sebastien witnesses. For the father, mother is not fully human. She is merely a hole for his convenience. She is, at first, replaced by a blow-up doll.

Eventually, the death of his wife resonates and the father peels away layer after layer, to discover his own folly. But, neither is Sebastien guiltless. His romanticized nihilism might be something akin to dysfunctional stained glass windows that simultaneously mythologize, canonize and eroticize his projected experiences.

Alpo as the Eucharist; erotic playtime between Ma and Pa as Sebastien, bound and adorned in first communion dress, stands in for the host in this poetic reenactment of transubstantiation.

Still from Glass Lips (2007)The homoerotic frescoes of St. Sebastien are re-imaged with a Marian sheen. Mother repeatedly replaces son in martyrdom. Rows of the maternal tree, reduced to an orifice by exploring patriarchal hands.

There is also resurrection. Nothing is permanent, possible because the martyr also co-created his passion, painted his pathos, and unraveled the rope which ties him to the cliches and traditions of the doomed poet.

Majewski himself composed the impressive score, creating  a lush language to supplant impotent words. Glass Lips not only inspires the viewer to labor in his or her voyeurism, but the film also demands some sweat from those who write about it.

Celebrating the cinematically surreal, bizarre, cult, oddball, fantastique, strange, psychedelic, and the just plain WEIRD!