#102 (tie) – Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), dir. Maya Deren & Alexander Hammid

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Samsara. Maya Deren and Maya Deren sit at a table waiting for Maya Deren to pull up a chair in Meshes of the Afternoon, a circular, surrealist dive into the outer edges of American wartime cinema.

A flower, a key, a knife, a phone with its receiver off the hook, and a mysterious figure in black. It is remarkable what one can achieve with a few stray images and a lot of imagination. This handful of components are remixed and repurposed in an inventive, circular narrative in the experimental Surrealist short Meshes of the Afternoon (1943). Made by the husband and wife team of Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid on a minuscule budget, Meshes is frequently cited as the film that really kicked off American experimental cinema and as a major influence on later filmmakers, particularly David Lynch. Much like Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí’s avant-garde image-fest Un Chien Andalou (1929), Meshes of the Afternoon taps into the imagery and feel of dreams, but its vision is less confronting and more meditative. It also has something closer to an actual narrative thread: A woman steps into a house and falls asleep in a chair, at which point multiple dream selves enter the same house and encounter different experiences with the five items listed above. The result is a cyclical narrative wherein the story repeats itself in different variations as dream clones of the woman begin to pile up in the house. Meshes of the Afternoon gives the viewer no quarter, drawing you in through its wild imagery and offering no explanation of the meaning of it all — if there even is one. (13 min.) Continue reading

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#59 (tie) – Sherlock, Jr. (1924), dir. Buster Keaton

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Excitebike. No stranger to close calls, Buster Keaton hurtles forward on a driver-less motorcycle to rescue his beloved in Sherlock, Jr.

We have already yammered about a few early films that incorporated impressive dream sequences or dream imagery, but none of those movies have the relentless comedic energy of Buster Keaton’s Sherlock, Jr. This 1924 silent comedy features Keaton as a cinema projectionist who literally leaps into the movies to fulfill his dream of being a detective. After falling asleep in his projection booth, Keaton’s dream-self enters the movie screen and begins a series of bizarre adventures that push the boundaries of early filmmaking and involve a number of inspired comedic set pieces — including perhaps the craziest motorcycle chase ever caught on film. Because it is all a dream, Keaton is able to throw away all pretense to reality and not let logic or physics get in the way of a good gag. Sherlock, Jr. may lack the grand scale complexity of Keaton’s triumph The General (1926), but the danger and derring-do of that later film can be found here in spades (Keaton actually fractured his neck doing one Sherlock, Jr. stunt). And as with any decent silent comedy it ends with a nice bit of romance… um, sort of. (45 min.) Continue reading

#110 (tie) – L’Age d’Or (1930), dir. Luis Buñuel

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Stone cold crazy – Lust overwhelms actress Lya Lys’ character as she gets over-affectionate with a marble toe in the surrealist Buñuel/Dalí feature film L’Age d’Or.

Director Luis Buñuel and famed artist Salvador Dalí had a surprise success when they collaborated to produce the silent surrealist short Un Chien Andalou in 1929. That film utilized the logic and imagery of dreams to create a 16 minute string of fractured, meaningless moments punctuated by confrontational bursts of violence, lust, and absurdity. Using the short as a springboard, Buñuel and Dalí attempted to pull together a more ambitious film for their second and final collaboration: L’Age d’Or (The Golden Age, 1930). Not only is L’Age d’Or a full length feature film, but it is also an early sound movie — in fact, it is the oldest sound movie in the Sight and Sound Top 250. Unlike Un Chien Andalou, L’Age d’Or has a plot of sorts, or at least something reasonably resembling an overall story, but it is ultimately a fool’s errand to try to make sense of the film’s internal logic (or for us to bother writing up a summary), as it is also loaded with dream imagery, strange manipulations of time, and scenes meant to do nothing but shock and confuse. (62 min.) Continue reading

#93 (tie) – Un Chien Andalou (1929), dir. Luis Buñuel

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Au printemps…. About one second after this frame you realize you’re in for a very different experience with Un Chien Andalou.

In 1929 few had heard of Luis Buñuel or Salvador Dalí, two young Spanish artists living in Paris. If you know Dalí’s paintings, then you know his penchant for the absurd and tapping into the stranger depths of the subconscious. But before he gained renown as a painter, Dalí broke into the Surrealist art circle of Paris by creating this short film with Buñuel, who made his directorial debut with Un Chien Andalou. The film abandons all narrative convention to create a story (or more accurately a sequence of events and images) that takes its internal logic (or lack thereof) from dreams. Even the title of the film, which translates to An Andalusian Dog, has no connection to the events and imagery of the movie. The intent of the film, according to Buñuel, was to shock and confuse audiences. The director claimed that he filled his pockets with rocks during the first screening in case he had to defend himself against the audience. He was disappointed when they liked the movie. Oh, and for you connoisseurs of excellent music, Un Chien Andalou is the inspiration for the Pixies’ song “Debaser”. (16 min.) Continue reading