I had seen Meshes of the Afternoon in CP 101 back in my first semester here and I did not have the context or experience to let me appreciate it. It was nothing more than another film in a long string but having rewatched it on Wednesday I feel in love not only with it but also with Deren’s unique and creative vision. Deren has something that I have found very rare in many experimental films…joy. Common emotions I have found in experimental films are anger, sadness, introspectiveness, lust, passion; but it is a rare thing that an experimental film can provoke joy.
Of course, Deren’s films are laced with many different emotions and anyone’s experience with them would not necessarily resemble my own but while watching this, while also feeling the mystery and terror, I could not help but feel joy. There is a sense of discovery and growth in Meshes and At Land that really moved me. Those are emotions I associate with joy and even though I do find elements of the films critical of society or life or things in an ethereal sense I cannot detach my primary emotional connection. The beginning of At Land there is a driving kinetic force evoke by the waves then disorientation from the quick camera movements landing on the washed up figure. From that point I feel like with every aspect of the film there is discovery, curiosity, yes some critique, and (what’s the word of the day?) joy. This is even more present in the other two films we watched A Study in Choreography for Camera and Ritual in Transfigured Time which revels in the joy of movement and lack the criticism that is found in At Land’s dinner table and Meshes’s husband character.
What makes Deren so interesting is that she can explores various concepts that may or may not be negative such as the dinner table or the husband but her work never falls into cynicalness. I do think cynicalness can be valuable and even entertaining such as with Tribulation 99 but the genuine spirit and honestly of Deren’s work is more insightful than almost any other experimental work I have seen.
Now on to Brakhage! A journey through focus changes, sun spots, dead moths, and child birth! Where Deren seemed much more methodical and experimental in her tone and themes Brakhage seems to quick on the trigger and ready to experiment more with form and content. The sheer amount of films he made indicates to me that where he was influential was not his individual pieces of work and more his process of creating. This is not to put down his work but instead to look past it to where the art is really taking place. I have never been drawn to Mothlight for numerous reasons but I can appreciate the thought process of trying to redefine cinema from not just a content perspective but also a physical one. I recognize the process as valuable even if the end product is less than impressive. Each of his films are important in the process and often the the actually product varies.