Dr. Benjamin B. Dunlap

A Passionate Life

Cocteau is really concerned not just with glory, but with the peculiar glory of the poet, with the manner in which the poet cannibalizes his own past.

Ultimately the kind of meaning that music and painting possesses is one of dynamic relationships of elements.

Robert Shoals – Quite frequently those trained in literature were least able to appreciate film because they anticipated that profundity must perforce be verbal.  They could not acknowledge that it was possible for film to be at once banal verbally and profound visually.

Film adumbrates the conceptual.  Literature adumbrates the concrete.

Literature starts with a general idea, then you must provide the concrete detail….  On the other hand, if I convey this in film, I begin with a concrete detail.  Immediately you know what the man looks like…, but you must deduce, from physical detail, what the meaning of the man’s appearance is.  That is, you start with concrete detail and move toward meaning, connotation, poetry.  And in literature you start with the conception, the conceptual, and move toward the concrete.

Robert Lowery – The fascinating thing is that film is capable of turning anything into poetic statement.

I had supposed myself somehow disembodied, not real in the way other people were, an observer but not an actor, not a doer.  And suddenly I realized that the world was full of people who didn’t know they were real, whose lives didn’t conform to the glamorous expectations generated by culture, by television, by film, by literature, or by magazines. And that it was my duty in life to validate them, to take pictures of them, to show them their reality, to redeem that aspect of their lives that was otherwise lost, to bring them into being.

Every instant the entire universe is going over the spillway.

In film … there is a kind of symbolic triumph over time.

Much avant-garde film is pre-occupied simply with analysis of surface reality.

Film also, by anchoring itself in physical reality, captures a kind of irrelevant detail, almost by chance ….  I feel that the random, in terms of concrete detail at least, is more inescapably present and more convincingly realistic [than in other art forms].

Two Types of Modern Avant-Garde Film

[“Meshes of the Afternoon”] is subjective ….  The unreliable narrator filters everything through her own sensibility and though we think we are getting the truth … how can we be sure?  [“Meshes” is] certainly the expression of a neurotic sensibility ….  This sensibility is pre-occupied with … personal liberation, sexual and emotional submission to the man with whom she’s having the affair.  Nothing literally happens, the dramatic action of the entire film consists merely of this woman’s coming to the apartment … and sitting down in the chair.  That’s all that literally happens in the film, but that’s not all that happens on the screen.  Deren creates a new reality … playing very deftly with Freudian suggestion.

In the apparent suicide that occurs at the end of the film the symbolic gesture is altogether ambiguous; we don’t know if it’s an act of suicide, and act of eroticism (by symbolic imagery), or a gesture of liberation.  Deren at this point turn her facile Freudianism brilliantly to advantage.  It might be a crude language, but she’s found a way to manipulate it to make it wonderfully expressive.  The knife … connotes both violence and sexuality in a way that perfectly conveys the heroine’s presumed confusion about her own life and emotional complications (regarding her relationship with Shasha Hammid, the co-director of the film).

We can’t be sure whether the act is … is suicide in neurotic despair at the violation of self she feels imposed by the world of a man with whom she is having the affair, or whether it represents the ending of a relationship that entrammels her (and hence a mode of liberation) or the act of sex, which, since Elizabethan times … has been represented as a metaphysical death (le petite morte), however desired and feared.  All three of these possibilities overlap and become a single … complex and subtle statement.

There is no strident feminism in the film….  Ultimately, Maya Deren is more interested in herself as a person than as a woman.  If anything, this film seems to question the compatability of the two.  And yet the message of the film is clearly that conventional roles constitute a violation of self….  But, and this is the catch, and the profundity of he film’s statement:  efforts to affirm the self often destroy it in the process, becomes a mode of self-mutilation.  Perhaps the film would be described best as a classic statement of the romantic dilemma, the tension between the self and the mask that can lead to the destruction of both.  What we are dealing with is to some extent the myth of Narcissus and hence the use of mirrors throughout the film (psychological mask and romantic reflection) as a kind of leit motif.  What [Deren is] analyzing is the complexity of the male / female relationship, compounded out of love and hate, submission and violence, a relationship at once desired and despised, with which one cannot extricate oneself without destroying some part of one’s self – that’s the catch-22 of “Meshes of the Afternoon.”

‘[‘Meshes’] culminates in a double ending in which it would seem that the imagined achieved, for her, that it became reality.”  But note that it’s not.  She’s not dead, simply because we still see through her sensibility that which she imagines.  And because there’s a second and third part to the trilogy – “At Land” and “Ritual in Transfigured Time.”