Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Scene Analysis: Meshes of the Afternoon

Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon is a work that maintains all of the mystery, tranquility, unpredictability, and personal attachment that is ever present within the world of dreams. In the opening scene of the short film, these dreamy motifs are immediately established, bringing us into the strange world that we are about to inhabit for the next few minutes.

            The first formal aspect of the film that becomes immediately evident is that of a very hard, very drastic cut that appears seconds into the film. This cut begins with the image of an arm gently placing a white flower onto the ground, and then immediately jumps to the exact same shot, yet with the arm suddenly gone. The effect is an awkward and obvious disconnect, as if an alternate chain of events, things that could have but did not happen at this exact moment time, is about to be explored.

            Complementing this bit of hard editing is the curious cinematography within the scene. These first few minutes of film are just about completely comprised of close-ups, with deviances only toward mid-shots, which are still quite close, and full figure shots that obscure the identity or even form of the subject onscreen. Almost like a story being told on the fly, the viewer is presented with sequential details, given only the slightest bit of context, and focusing on very tiny bits of a larger picture.

            Surrounding both of the aforementioned techniques within the film is the addition of Tijo Ito’s soundtrack. I am no musician, and do not venture to guess the instruments used in this piece, but the overall quality of the sound is one of methodical thumps which gently lull the viewer into the film, while simultaneously acting as sound effects for certain events within the film. At key moments, the music speeds up, and suddenly our meandering lull is broken by panic or anticipation. 

            Put together, these three formal aspects not only carry over into the rest of the film physically, but also establish the dream settings that the viewer is about to enter. The disconnected feeling of the hard cut that appears seconds into the film is truly a disconnect as we are just that quickly taken from physical and mental reality, placed into a dreamscape. The close ups and denials of identification play right into this theme as, just like a dream, we are only subjected to individual details, unable to really grasp what is occurring around us or throughout the rest of our minds. Here, the soundtrack to the film ties things up, as the dreamscape we enter is supposed to be one of meandering relaxation. However, these dreams begin to turn nightmarish as the viewer is subjected to anxious anticipation and excitement. The soothing dreamscape is musically interrupted by loud pounding, completing the technical trifecta that brings us into the dreams of Maya Deren and the dreamscape of Meshes of the Afternoon.

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