It's a whole new world

Thoughts in motion for Media Studies & H.O.C

Analysis Project #2: Formal Analysis

Filed under: Class Assignments — Natalie Bernabe at 6:57 am on Friday, December 9, 2011

Natalie Bernabe

History of Cinema II


Prof. Amy Herzog

The Materiality of Mesh in the Afternoon

            Within every movie, there is a plot, or a storyline. One that draws us in, allowing us to envelop ourselves to the lives of the characters and their actions. Rarely do viewers remember the director and what they are striving to portray, which is an idea or thought they wish to share. However, there are certain films that filmmakers have succeeded in drawing the viewer’s attention to the ‘materiality’ of film, or the physical attributes that make up a film, such as the camera and frames. These films are notable for their either daring content or in the interesting way they have filmed the movie. These films are called avant-garde films, or experimental films. One such film that has drawn our attention to the materiality of the film is Maya Deren’s 1941 avant-garde film Meshes of the Afternoon.

However, there are many different types of avant-garde films that can draw one’s attention to the materiality of the film. What sets Meshes of The Afternoon apart from the rest? For one, there is the film’s storyline, which does contribute in drawing our attention to the filming rather than the film, which was a bit unusual. The entire piece revolves around a surreal dream-like environment that relies heavily on imagery and the use of cinematic techniques, and was a film that dealt with devastating psychological problems, inspired by many French Surrealist films, such as films made by Salvador Dali. The film is made without the use of special effects by computers, which was unavailable in the 40s, but there were other methods. How does the film Meshes of the Afternoon depict a surreal dream world without the use of computer-generated imagery (CGI)?

One scene in particular drew my eye to notice the materiality of the film. In the video, the scene is 2 minutes and 22 seconds long, from 4:17 to 6:39, as the video is 13 minutes and 30 seconds long. The scene starts with a medium close-up of a woman, who is played coincidently by Maya Deren, who opens a door to a living room, where she scans the room. Here, the camera has a horizontal take of newspapers on the floor, some furniture until it reaches some stairs which has a butter knife facing down. Earlier in the film, we had seen a similar scene, yet the camera took a take of the center of the room, and there was a telephone instead of a knife. There is an uncanny feeling in the silence of the room, and how similar the scene prior to this one was. Then she goes up the stairs, and we see the camera focus on only her feet ascending the stairs. Prior to the scene, the stairs were the only thing depicted of her going up the stairs. While she is going up, the film is now in slow motion, showing us an approximate 23 seconds of a slow motion action of walking up the stairs, and then her face from a high angle shot as she reaches the railing. We then see her slowly walking through some black curtains in a light room, almost as if she is in another dimension. It feels unnatural, and is very captivating; it does not look like it would happen in real life. This slow motion editing of the film makes us conscious of the materiality of the film, for the filmmakers did not simply press a button on a computer to slow the frames down, but had to edit them physically; frame by frame. The use of slow motion in this film helps to depict a surreal dream environment without the use of CGI.


She now enters the room through the window in real time, and looks down at the bed, where a phone is unhooked on the pillow. As she reaches to uncover the blankets, there is a loud humming sound and we see her uncover a knife. Now, the camera is zoomed in for us to see a close-up of the woman’s face in the reflection of the knife, where the light makes it seem as if her face is moving to the side, and gives her face an eerie quality that looks unnatural. She puts the phone back on the hook, and is now moving backwards into the window and drums are being hit, and a flute is being played. She moves backwards into the railing and looks around frantically with her arms waving about, meanwhile the camera is turning. Although she is only on the stairs, having the camera turned into a specific angle makes it seem as if she is trying not to fall into the ceiling. Her hair blowing and her hands desperately clinging to the ceiling make it seem as if she was propelled there and as if she is literally stuck to the ceiling. The camera’s angle shot of her torso and under her chin emphasizes this as well. She finally reaches the arch into her living room. We only see a medium shot of her as her arms are splayed across the wall, she could very well be standing on a chair, but the wind and her actions make it seem as if she is stuck there. Then we see a high angle take of the room. The two things that drew our attention to the materiality of the film were the camera angles, and the Maya’s portrayal to an uncanny circumstance. The camera angles and shots helped depict a topsy-turvy world  where up was down and nothing seemed aligned, but this effect was strengthen by the Maya’s acting out a ‘falling’ victim with her movements of her body and arms. It was similar to that of Alice dropping down the rabbit hole, and had that same surreal quality to it, which is what drew our attention to it. It did not have to rely on special effects such as CGI to capture the same feeling, and our attention was tied with the camera’s movements.

We then see her reach from the ceiling down to the phonograph, where she turns it off, and is now on the floor looking at her double sleeping on the chair near the window. She now touches the window, where we see her reflection for a brief moment, as she stares down to a figure cloaked in black holding a large flower. As well as herself from a high angle shot running towards the figure. Both her hands are on the window as she stares at them, and the shot reflects the trees in the window glass, which makes her hair seem as if it is turning into leaves; giving her an ethereal quality. Meanwhile, strings are being pulled along with the distinct humming. This is how the scene ends.  The use of the split-screen technique in this scene was truly effective because it really emphasized the dream-like quality of the scene; the fact that one of the doubles was watching one sleep and one run. Dreams do not usually make sense, and this portion of the scene was very unusual and fantastical. The shot of her and her reflection, although perfectly normal, felt as if it foreshadowed the arrival of a new double; which did arrive. The entire film had the recurring scene of her trying to catch up to the cloaked figure, which was shown in this scene. The last shot by the camera, where her hair looks like it is turning into part of the tree, was exceptionally creative. This was one of the best techniques used to and again, added to the surreal dream environment, without CGI.


This short scene has depicted numerous ways in which a surreal dream world can be filmed, without such special effects specifically by CGI. We became conscious of the director’s vision, and the filmmaker’s efforts in portraying that image. The filmmaker’s effects and work clearly paid off in the making of this sort of experimental film. We focused more on the editing and styling rather than the plot. It became a visually captivating, and poetic story, which didn’t require over the top effects to get a reaction to the surrealism and materiality of the film.

All rights to Supercinema77 on Youtube: Maya Deren – Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)

Analysis project #1: Shot-by-shot- breakdown of a scene.

Filed under: Class Assignments — Natalie Bernabe at 7:19 am on Friday, October 14, 2011

This Scene is from Umberto D. In this scene, he is leaving the apartment and is going on a Trolley ride in order to find a new home for Flike.

14 shots. 2 minutes and 15 seconds long (2:15). Umberto D from 4:07 to 6:23. All rights to ilposto19614u on Youtube.

1. L.S (19 seconds). Low angle. Frame of the Building is shown on the right of the screen. Camera is facing the left side in a diagonal viewpoint. Umberto walks out of the building, with Flike by the leash. Puts briefcase down, closes the door. Picks briefcase back up, and walks towards the street. Stops by the street and faces the camera. Waits, while a person in a bike comes into view. Violin music has been playing a somber melody. Cut.

2. L.S (10 seconds). Low angle. Back of Umberto is shown.  Rows of buildings. Trolley comes in on the right side of the screen. Umberto walks briskly towards it. It stops, and he puts is briefcase in first, then picks up Flike and steps inside. Cut.

3. Medium Long Shot (35 seconds). Long take. Straight angle. View of Umberto with Flike in hand, he puts Flike down. Conductor informs him he cannot bring the dog in. Violin music has cut off.  Umberto looks at him while putting his briefcase down. Facing Umberto’s left side; he is on the right side of the screen. Conductor’s right side, he is writing something, he is on the left side of the screen. Umberto says before 8:00 he can. Conductor asks if he is telling him the rules. He says if it is a hunting dog, then yes, if otherwise, no (He shrugs). Umberto, while fishing for money in his left jacket pocket,  claims he could say he is going hunting. Conductor asks for what. Umberto replies with a question:  that couldn’t he have a gun in his suitcase? Conductor looks down at it, then looks up and says all right, and asks where he is getting off. Umberto replies Via Leccosa. Hands him ticket, Umberto takes it, and picks up his briefcase. Conductor turns his face to the right and says go. Umberto passes to the left side of the screen and walks out of frame.Shot of conductor writing something. Cut.

4. M.S (4 seconds). Low angle. Music turns back on. Umberto is in frame again. Sits down on chair looking out the window. He takes up most of the right side of the screen. An old man is to the left side of the screen. Umberto looks up out the window. Cut.

5. L.S (10 seconds). Low angle. Side of the building, maid is looking down towards him. She is occupying the center of the frame. Camera moves with the bus; towards the left. hroughout the shot, she stays in the center. Lamp post, trees come into view. Cut.

6. M.S (11 seconds). Straight angle. Umberto’s right profile. His bust is towards the camera. Looks down, his body faces the camera more, face still downcast. Without looking at the camera, turns to his right, giving us his left profile. Peers out of the window. Cut.

7. Medium Long Shot (13 seconds). Straight angle. Rest of the trolley shown. Bus driver is on the far left side of the screen. We see Umberto to our right, 2 men sitting in chairs in front of him. Left profile shown. Commentary  of two men, where one says the whistle keeps blowing and the other says that he is so sleepy in the morning. The music lowers. At this, Umberto looks up to the left, three men walk through. One stands to the left of Umberto, and he picks up Flike from the seat to his left. Cut.

8. M.S (10 seconds). Straight angle. Man sits down. One right side of screen, on Umberto’s immediate left. Umberto looks at him, then down, then to the right again to look out the window. Cut.

9. M.S (5 seconds).  Low angle. White buildings are in view. Camera is still moving with the Trolley. Motion is towards the left. Cut.

10. Medium Close-up Shot (3 seconds). High angle. Umberto’s face, and he is looking up. He is on the left side of the screen. Somber expression. blinks. Cut.

11. M.S (5 seconds). Low angle. More buildings pass by. A window is open on one side of a building. Something white sticks out. Goes out of frame. Cut.

12. Medium Close-up Shot (2 seconds). High angle. Umberto’s face again with the same expression. Sways a little bit. Cut.

13. M.S (3 seconds). Low angle. Looking outside of the window again, but turning a corner of a building, now facing it. Cut.

14. M.S (9 seconds). Straight angle. Umberto and old man on his left. We see a little of Umberto’s back and left side. Gets up and walks out of frame. Other old man now turns to his right and puts his hands up to his eyes. Fade out.


First of all, the music the melody was a violin streaming a sad long melody, that would go high in a few places, but overall had a feeling of departure, which basically was what the entire scene was about. The fact that the music was cut off entirely during he and the conductor’s conversation is pretty interesting. Almost as if he was in his own little world, and had to be brought back to reality. Once the dialogue ends, the music cues and he is back to lose himself in his thoughts. The fact that he is always looking out the window is important; as we clearly see his regret and sadness in leaving with the long, low-angle shot where he looks up at the maid in the window. It is the most memorable shot, clearly depicting the home he is leaving, the one he has dwelt in for many, many years. The maid looks down at him, and it almost seems like she is next to go. After seeing her go out of view, he doesn’t look at the camera, almost as if he doesn’t want to face us. He stares at the man who made him move his dog, and the man has an almost weary posture. I also thought the shot with the window with the white was symbolic, as it almost looked like a person, and his somber expression was probably him reminiscing his last moments with the maid. But, just as the Trolley had to move on, so did he.



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