During September 21st’s class, we were graced by the presence of Loyola Professor Michael Booth. The aim of his lecture? To help us further understand the differences between independent cinema versus classical Hollywood cinema. He demonstrated these differences through two important films… Billy Wilder’s Double Idemity (1944), and Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon (1943). Wilder’s film, distributed by Paramount Studios, is the epitome of classical Hollywood conventions… the story is told through a linear narrative, it opens with typical shot sequences (wide establishing shot, moving to a medium shot, in for the close up, back out to a medium shot), makes use of cut-away shots for sake of continuity and fixates upon the male gaze. Despite the typical Hollywood conventions, Wilder managed to create a solid film. Deren, too, created a solid film… however, she strays greatly from any sort of typical film standards. Meshes…, which is only 14 minutes long, was a silent film. It wasn’t until much late that music, non-diagetic audio at that, was added to the score. Additionally, Deren casts away the convention of opening a film with an establishing shot and instead goes straight in to extreme closeups. Her reasoning for this? By avoiding an opening establishing shot, Deren is able to avoid establishing that the character we are seeing is a female and thus she cannot immediately become a fixture of the male gaze. In fact, Deren works, throughout the film to avoid casting her protagonist amidst the male gaze… the character behaves in a manner that is constantly looking inside of herself, thus controlling what the audience is able to see of her. Because Deren refuses to be looked at through the lens of the male gaze, she makes it incredibly difficult for the audience to see her as a sexual object. Instead, she presents images in a matter-of-fact way, leaving little room to fetish-ize the image being shown. Deren also makes use of unusual camera angles and jumps. For example, through a series of irrational cuts, or jump-cuts if you will, objects move all about the screen, breaking continuity and creating a general feeling of chaos. Again, she does this to keep the audience focused on the story as opposed to gazing at the woman. Being that Deren’s movie was made in 1943, her unconventional ways were highly criticized. However, that mattered not to Deren… she was going to make her movie, the way she wanted, or she wasn’t going to make it at all.
A Response to Professor Michael Booth