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Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)

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 Meshes of the Afternoon(1943), which directed by the celebrated American filmmaker Maya Deren[1], surprised the world with its extraordinary imagination. Stan Brakhage said that Deren was ‘trying to incorporate all meanings of all living things into her film’[2], that is why we see an endless daydream, a woman covered with a mirror, and a girl floating above the stairs. Different from conventional films, especially the unconventional and surrealistic storytelling makes the film Here is my essay analyzing the narration in the meshes of the afternoon. By analyzing the structure, the use of sequence shots and the space in the film, intend to analyze whether it is a narrative film, and to characterize its narration. 

To begin with, I will use the narrative structure theory to support my idea, that is, narration is divided into three sections, which are together referred to as the three-act structure: setup, conflict, and resolution[3]. Setup introduces the principal character, the setting and also the problem. At the very first shot of Meshes of the Afternoon, a hand enters the frame from above, picking up a flower, together with the shadow of a girl shown on the ground - this is the introduce to the main character. Then as we follow her getting into the house, we see a table in the foreground, a sofa in the mid-ground, a drawing hanging in the background, and a stair extended to the second floor. Deren creates a strong sense of space of the environment by using the combination of objective and subjective shots. As the girl looks through the window, she sees another ‘her’ chasing the woman in black, which leaves a question to the audience-why there are two ‘her’s, which drives the story forward. That’s the first stage of narration, setup. The second act, the conflict, is the part of the story where the characters struggle with different objects in their lives as a result of what is happening. In the middle part of the film, the girl repeats her daydream time and time again, with slight changes. In the first repetition of her dream, the girl in Meshes of the Afternoon struggles with the woman in black. She never seems to catch her. In the following repetitions, she lost herself; the space in the house begins unusual. The real world is against the imaginative world, and she gradually becomes nervous and upset. At the point, she is struggling with herself and the dream world. The conflict grows and slightly builds up. The third act, the resolution, is when the problem boils over and everything leads to the ending. At the last part of the film, the girl finally finds the reason why she is so troubled. She lost herself in the relationship with the man, so she decides to solve the problem - to revolt. However, she dies because of her revolting in the end. So in this part, the conflict is solved when the girl realizes her trouble, and everything leads to the ending when she dies. Therefore, in terms of narrative structure, Meshes of the Afternoon clearly follows the three sections, which makes it a narrative film. 

Next, I will talk about whether it is a narrative film through some more detailed examples. Firstly, I will focus on the use of sequence shots in Meshes of the Afternoon. Seymour Chstman(1986) states that narrative is a whole sequential, already be ordered in his book Story and Discourse.(p15)[4] Therefore, having a clear order of shots can be a property of narrative films. There is a scene in which the girl drops her key, then cuts to the key trips down the stairs, and cuts back to the girl picking up the key. These three individual shots can have many different orders. However, Deren chooses to arrange them in an order of drops- trips down - picks up. Another example is an extreme close-up shot of the girl’s eye, follows by a long shot of the street, and then cuts back to the girl’s eye. No doubt that the girl’s point of view of looking at the street. Since the shots are properly assigned in a logical way, the viewers can understand the story easily, which shows the story in a more narrative way. 

Second, I will focus on the time and space created in the film. Based on the narrative in space theory, narrative space in film is defined as the control of movement throughout the story, from the reader/viewer’s perspective.[5] In Meshes of the Afternoon, Deren shot most of the shoots indoors. In order to make this narrow and small space feel more depress, she used many non-horizontal angles while shooting, as well as zero gravity shots. What surprising me is, she did bold experiments through the space-time conversion, extended time through space and extended space through time. There is a shot of the close-up of the girl’s foot, when she digs her left foot into the soft sands, next shot is she steps her right foot on the weeds. By editing the coherent walking, Deren successfully creates a connection between two separate spaces. When the viewer is watching the shots, she takes account the continuous movements of the character. Although the connection of two separate spaces is surrealistic, from the viewers’ perspective, they still get continuity from the movements. A logical narrative then builds up in the viewers’ mind. 

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