Meshes: Miranda, Maya and Two Dream-Chasing Debuts

Fandor Keyframe introduces “Meshes,” an ongoing series that explores how films from different eras artistically overlap, contradict, and reference each other. “Meshes” is named after Maya Deren’s seminal masterpiece Meshes of the Afternoon, a film whose space-and-time-bending brilliance is a key inspiration for this series.

Maya Deren and Miranda July are kindred spirits bound together by their reckless pursuit of the ethereal moment. Each director made several experimental short films, disruptive and fragmented to the extreme, shaping raw emotions and desires into highly personalized aural and visual patterns. Both Deren and July’s cinematic art lies in confronting a universe of interior turmoil in the search for emotional resolve.

Both share a love for overlapping narrative folds, but they engage them in vastly different ways and tones. Meshes of the Afternoon is Deren’s descending escalator into hell, a broken kino-mirror splintered by the specter of male dominance. Me and You and Everyone We Know is July’s whimsical call and response to the idea of emotional confusion. It’s a theme she examines less successfully in The Future, an indulgent attempt at precious transcendence. But its upcoming release gives occasion to revisit the superior Me and You and Everyone We Know, especially in how its questing spirit echoes Deren’s. You couldn’t ask for a more resonant double feature of debut films by women directors.


Titles. Simple black and white font is the only certainty in Deren’s film. The title evokes a conversion of experiences, visceral and confrontational in nature.


July’s bright colors are the stylistic antithesis to Deren’s stark opening. But a vision of psychological uncertainty is evident, an interior torment that eventually expresses itself in self-immolation.


Windows.  In both films, they are portals to alternate, at times threatening experiences. Framed here as if trapped, Deren is denied access to what lies beyond the window pane. But stifling physical barriers like these will ultimately break apart through surrealist miracles in editing, rendering moot the limitations of real space.


Sylvie (Carlie Westerman) also searches for answers by looking outward. The serpentine cracks on the pane, signs of her own constricting denial, appear ready to burst.


Distortion. Distended visuals blur fantasy and reality. As Deren wanders a domain nestled between waking and dreaming states, her self-portrait transforms into something unrecognizable, mercurial, and artificial.


July’s distorted image of a goldfish is an early cue to her own sense of growing panic.


Frames. Off-kilter camera angles and frames stalk Deren’s every move.  This strange shot that moves backward into what looks like a metal pipe suggests a spatial vortex that eventually consumes the entire film.


Where Deren whirls in a dance of menacing kinetics, July gravitates towards more static images to find her poetry. Her framing is stunningly layered, juxtaposing multiple moments of both space and time (preserved as recorded images, both videos and photos) in one composition.


Reflections. The window’s mirror image of Deren splits her persona in two. To look is to see all that’s misleading about love and intimacy. Deren’s reflection gazes straight at the camera, while her actual self seems lost in the abyss.


July’s partially formed reflection, like Deren’s unreflected face in the previous shot, casts its eyes at something desired offscreen. While Deren’s void is rooted in bold expressions of panic, confrontation, and anger, July’s emptiness is defined by a more muted longing and sadness.


Parting images. Deren smashes the face of her partner like a windowpane, opening a portal to an ocean. The film’s facade of reality is both brittle and fluid, shattering into sharp edges while swirling in limitless possibility.


In the final scenes of Me and You and Everyone We Know, July envisions a world seething with thousands of pixels and lines of code that threaten to spell the end of intimacy.  Amazingly they amount to answered prayers; in the digital displays dominating our lives, July sees beauty and possibility. These dashes and commas add up to its own expression of our restless pursuit of the human.


Glenn Heath Jr. is a film critic living in San Diego, CA. He writes for Slant MagazineThe House Next DoorNot Coming to a Theater Near, and In Review Online.


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