In 1943 the husband and wife team of Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid decided to put their creative minds together to produce a film. The result of this is the influential short "Meshes of the Afternoon", which has a structure that in today's Screen Culture we would label as 'Experimental'. Well this blog post is an experimental piece in its own right, as I will mesh together a film made by a couple in 1943 with a film made by a couple in 2010. That is, the film "4907" made by Raelene Loong and myself.
Now I had never seen "Meshes of the Afternoon" until last week when it was screened as part of the Story module of my Screen Culture course. And yet, a film made 57 years ago, has a sharp resemblance to this short film that I wrote and co-directed this year. Now maybe i'm just unoriginal, which is quite possibly the case, or maybe it is an indication that 'experimental' is really not that experimental after all.
Black & White, strange angles, multiple perspectives, moody music, no dialogue, choppy editing, all tricks of the trade that have been used in 'experimental film' since the beginning of filmmaking itself. Now of course Black & White wasn't a choice for Maya, which it was in my case. Strangle angles, who knows, maybe she had a dodgy tripod. Other technical limitations can excuse all of these common traits, but it is not the process that is the point. It is the effect that these techniques have on people and their stark difference from the Classical Hollywood style that I wish to highlight.
Film Critic J.Hoberman states that "Meshes of the Afternoon" is 'a film that is concerned with the interior experiences of an individual'. Staunch Film Recommender Kieran Tully states that "4907" is 'about a young man who becomes trapped in an apartment block ... and in finding a way out, he finds himself. Literally'.
External expressions that reflect an Internal experience. But more precisely, External expressions through the medium of film. Jeremy Bushnell claims that "Deren is interested in using the fundamental grammar of cinema to make us experience things we cannot experience through any other art form".
This is what experimental film is about. It is not about what it contains, but what it does not. It operates on a Meta-level. It is self-aware of cinema's norms and chooses to neglect them. Just as Genre cinema operates within the restraints established by its form, experimental cinema does so also. And thus the similarities between the two films.
"Meshes of the Afternoon", one of the first widely known experimental films made in 1943 by a Ukrainian immigrant dancer with a Bolex camera. "4907", a film made by a Mathematician on a Leica D-Lux Digital Camera that had it's World Premiere at the Shepparton Short Film Festival in 2010. Two complete opposites in origin, and yet due to their common use of 'experimenting', a familiar expression results.
Both films are available to watch below. If you would prefer to watch "4907" in a collective environment, feel free to come along to Caught Short on May the 6th, when "4907" will be screened. This will include an introduction and no doubt highly involved Q&A between myself and Raelene with the audience afterwards. Enjoy!