‘Alexandr Hackenschmied (December 17, 1907 – 26 July 26, 2004). He was one of the most significant personalities of Czech film and photograph avant-garde. In the beginning of the 1930’s, he was a distinct promoter of world avant-garde movements and he organized one of the first avant-garde film projections in Prague, showing various films including those of Man Ray.
‘He was a leading photographer, film director, cinematographer and editor in Czechoslovakia between the two world wars. In 1938, he immigrated to the U.S. and became involved in American avant-garde cinema. He officially changed his name to Alexander Hammid when he became a citizen of the United States in 1942.
‘He is best known for three films: Crisis (1939), Meshes of the Afternoon (1943) and To Be Alive! (1964). Meshes of the Afternoon was made with his wife Maya Deren, to whom he was married from 1942 to 1947.
‘He also directed The Forgotten Village in 1941, a documentary examining the conflicts between the coming of modernization and the traditional culture of a small Mexican village. This film was banned for its depiction of childbirth.
‘It was in the United States where he met and married Eleanora Deren. He was the artist who later named her “Maya”, the name she became known for. Meshes of the Afternoon was a home movie made by the two of them. At that point, Maya had no experience in filmmaking.
‘On her Wikipedia page it states “Maya Deren was one of the most important American experimental filmmakers and entrepreneurial promoters of the avant-garde in the 1940s and 1950s. Deren was also a choreographer, dancer, film theorist, poet, lecturer, writer and photographer.” It was her collaboration and relationship with Alexander that set this in motion.
‘In 1965, Alexander won the Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject) for To Be Alive! Hammid also worked in partnership with filmmaker Francis Thompson (1908–2003) for over 25 years, producing numerous “in-house” documentaries as well as several films for general viewership.
‘One of the most notable of these is the first IMAX format film, To Fly! (1976), which premiered at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum (NASM) at the museum’s grand opening celebration on July 1, 1976. The film is a brief summary of the history of flight, from 19th century balloons through 21st century space probes, while simultaneously showing off the new Imax film medium. The evolution of flying technology is portrayed in parallel with the story of the westward exploration of America and the rural-to-cosmopolitan transformation of American society.
‘Hammid was the pioneer of multi-projection and IMAX films, with his work being shown at various world exhibitions. To Fly! was produced in conjunction with MacGillivray Freeman Films and it continues to play regularly at the Air and Space Museum.
‘Hammid lived to be 96 years old and his associates suggest his Buddhist lifestyle, which he adopted after making a film in India for his longevity. If you are interested in his life and work, we highly recommend Aimless Walk (Bezúčelná procházka): Alexander Hammid (1996) based on his life and work by Austrian film director, Martina Kudláček who directed the documentary.’ — Everything Czech
Alexander Hammid @ IMDb
Alexander Hammid profile @ monoskop
Alexander Hammid, Filmmaker Known for Many Styles
Alexander Hammid and the Avant Garde
AH @ MUBI
the american dream of alexander hammid
Alexander Hammid: From Prague to New York – A Lifetime of Filmmaking and Artistic Collaborations
Maya Deren by Alexand(e)r (Hammid) Hackenschmied
Alexander Hammid @ Letterboxd
Negative Traces: Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid in Los Angeles
We Are Young!
Private Lives: and the Films of Alexander Hammid
Alexandr Hackenschmied (Fototorst)
Two Memories of Alexander-Sasha Hammid
by Jonas Mekas
Alexander Hammid died on July 26, 2004 at the age of 96.
Born in Czechoslovakia in 1908, he gained fame with two films he made together with Herbert Kline, Crisis (1939) and Lights Out in Europe (1940)—the two films in which he warned the West about the rise of Nazi Germany. In 1943, in Los Angeles, he married Maya Deren and was the co-maker of her first film, Meshes of the Afternoon. Later he made many important documentary films of musicians and dancers including Arturo Toscanini, Pablo Casals, and Martha Graham. He was known for his very direct style and great respect and love for the subject he was filming.
The year was 1953. I had just moved into 95 Orchard Street place. The rent was $14.95 a month. During the days I worked at Lenard Perskie’s Graphic Studios on West 22nd Street, doing camera work. We did work for the international edition of Life magazine. I remember making for Archipenko copies of his old photographs. But my real work was to catch up with the best of New York’s culture. Especially, from the day that I landed in New York—that happened on October 29, 1940—I submerged myself into the world of cinema. One of my universities was the MoMA and its 5:30pm daily screenings. Another was Cinema 16 and its monthly screenings of experimental films at the Needle Trades School on West 24th Street. I had to see—and did see—everything that was screened in New York and I had to read everything that had been published on cinema in English. One publication that was always mentioned with great respect, in special publications on film as an art, was a mysterious book entitled An Anagram of Ideas on Art, Form, and Film by a certain Maya Deren. I combed all the bookshops and libraries, but could not locate it. I got so frustrated in my search that I decided to locate the author of the book. I had heard that she actually lived here in New York on Morton Street. I was so obsessed with the book that I decided to call and ask her to lend me a copy of the book. And so I did.
A husky voice came on the line. She was Maya Deren, she said. I presented her with my problem. “Come, of course I’ll lend you the book,” she said. We made an appointment.
At the appointed time I arrive, ring the doorbell, and begin to climb up to I think the fifth floor. I arrive at the top of the stairs and there is this woman, Maya Deren, staring at me very weirdly. I expected to meet her very simply and normally. Instead, I found this woman who seemed sort of panicky. I looked at her strange stare and I didn’t know how to react. She was really panicky.
“Anything wrong?” I managed to stammer.
The silent panic continued another moment, then Maya said:
“I really thought you were Sasha. You looked so much like Sasha and I had not expected him.”
I was a little bit confused. But as she received me and we talked it became clear that Sasha was her recently divorced husband Sasha Hammid. Still in my old European Displaced Persons camp cloths, I was very European looking and when she showed me some pictures of Sasha I understood how close our resemblance was.
That’s how I met Maya Deren. Not as myself, but as a doppelganger of Alexander-Sasha Hammid. But we became very good friends immediately. And, of course, I walked out that afternoon clutching in my hands the thin volume of Anagram.
I met Sasha Hammid in real life in 1961. I was in the process of making my first “real” film, Guns of the Trees. Adolfas, my brother, thought we should get a car to help us move around. I don’t drive, but Adolfas does. We were told that Hammid had a car he was trying to sell. So we went to see him.
The first thing that we really appreciated was that the Hammids, Sasha and his wife Hella, treated us with a good meal. We were always hungry in those days; we put every penny either into our filming or Film Culture magazine. So a meal was always very welcome. Hella even gave us a big bag of food to take home with us. We especially liked her bread, which she baked herself. And of course we bought their old used car. They sold it to us for practically nothing. Their children called it Papacar. The Papacar served us faithfully during the filming of Guns. Whenever we visited the Hammids, the children always were asking us about Papacar. They were very attached to it.
Sasha helped us in another emergency. We had need of a tripod. When we told this to Sasha, he went to the closet and brought a beautiful giro-tripod. “Here it is, use it.” So we took it and used it for a lot of shooting. But one night we were stupid enough to leave it in the Papacar in the street. Next morning it was gone. Luckily, Adolfas was smart enough to insure it. For months we hid from Sasha the fact that his tripod was stolen. Then three months later, we got the insurance money, $300 of it. So we stopped to see Sasha at 1 West 89th Street, where he always lived, and we handed him the money, apologizing profusely.
Sasha looked at us in disbelief then he began laughing. “Yes,” he said, “thank you very much, but that tripod was worth only 30 dollars.”
We couldn’t believe it. We were quite ignorant about the prices of movie equipment. But we had to believe Sasha. So we had some good food and some good wine and we celebrated the stealing of the tripod. I think we split the money.
As years went, we had many good days and evenings with the Hammids. He was one of the nicest people I have ever met in my life.
14 of Alexander Hammid’s 20 films
The Prague Castle (1931)
‘Hammid bought a handheld camera Bell-Howell and made his second film, Na Pražském hradě [Prague Castle], in close collaboration with the composer of the sound track, striving for an organic intertwining of image and music.’ — letterboxd
w/ Herbert Kline Crisis (1939)
‘Crisis is a feature-length documentary about the 1938 Sudeten Crisis. It was released briefly before the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia on March 15, 1939.’ — collaged
w/ Herbert Kline The Forgotten Village (1941)
‘In this powerful 68-minute documentary is an unnamed, poverty-stricken Mexican community. In grim detail, the film records the life-cycle of a typical peasant family, from birth to death. The narration was written by John Steinbeck.’ — MUBI
w/ Maya Deren Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)
‘Meshes of the Afternoon is the 14-minute avant-garde film that director Maya Deren made in collaboration with her then husband, Alexander Hamid. The film is silent except for snippets of added sound, such as the ticking of a clock. In 1957, the Japanese composer Teiji Ito, Deren’s second husband, added an ambient, dreamy soundtrack to the film. The action centres around a woman (played by Deren) who repeatedly follows another woman, the latter of whom is dressed in black, is holding a flower and has a mirror for a face. Every time this mysterious presence disappears around the corner, Deren enters a house. The second time she goes inside, her first version is still there; the third time, there are three of her. The film is black-and-white with sharp shadows and many diagonal lines, and was shot with a camera that follows the woman from striking angles. A knife, a telephone and a key return time and again and sometimes abruptly merge. Subsequently, a man (played by Hamid) enters this menacing, circular fantasy world. Born in Kiev, Ukraine, director Deren was a prominent experimental filmmaker in New York in the 1940s and 1950s. Meshes of the Afternoon won the Grand Prix Internationale at the 1947 Cannes Film Festival.’ — idfa
w/ Maya Deren Witches Cradle (1943)
‘Witch’s Cradle, is a silent, unfinished film of around 12 minutes’ duration dating from 1943. When exactly in 1943 it was made is uncertain, but it would appear that it pre-dates even Meshes of the Afternoon, the film Deren made with Alexander Hammid in the same year which established Deren, previously known only as a dancer, as a vital force of non-linear filmmaking. That alone would prevent the footage from being a mere cutting-room curio, but it is her collaborator who also ensures this fragment’s status as an important document of filmic Modernism. Marcel Duchamp collaborated with Deren and Hammid on the film. Duchamp himself is seen briefly in Witch’s Cradle; Deren doesn’t appear in front of the camera (as she would in almost all of her later films).’ — Quasimodo King
Valley of the Tennessee (1944)
‘U.S. Goverment film about the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority in the 1930s and 1940s.’ — MUBI
Hymn of the Nations (1944)
‘An American documentary, Hymn of the Nations, using archival footage from 1943 and 1944, includes a stirring performance by the NBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Maestro Arturo Toscanini, and accompanied by Jan Peerce and the Westminster Choir in New York City, which was broadcast nationally on the radio at 5 p.m. on Sunday January 31, 1943. This documentary film, directed by Alexander Hammid, presents the performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s overture to the Italian opera “Forza del Destino” (The Power of Fate) and also his Inno delle nazioni (Hymn of Nations).’ — Perry J Greenbaum
Library of Congress (1945)
‘There’s so much to like in this Academy Award-nominated film, which celebrates reading and scholarship and humankind. The shots of patrons looking through the card catalogue speak — well, volumes. Watch too for other forms of beautiful technology and several musical surprises. Alexander Hammid directed. The narrator is Ralph Bellamy. The book that the boy is reading at the beginning and end is Lucy Salamanca’s Fortress of Freedom: The Story of the Library of Congress (1942).’ — collaged
A Better Tomorrow (1945)
‘A Better Tomorrow is a documentary short that focuses on New York City progressive public schools. One of the more inspiring and hopeful movies ever made about American politics, in that it believes that devoted young people of color can bring about change.’ — m_hulot
w/ Maya Deren The Private Life of a Cat (1947)
‘A day in the life of a cat, filmed from a cat’s-eye view. This film was circulated in two versions: a silent version without narration and a somewhat longer sound version with a narration read by filmmaker Alexander Hammid’s then-wife, Maya Deren.’ — MUBI
Angry Boy (1950)
‘Simple, affecting case study produced for social workers and psychologists and illustrating how counseling can help children come to terms with anger. Young Tommy Randall has been caught stealing money from his teacher’s purse and receives help from a psychiatrist. A psychiatric social worker enables his mother to better understand her relationship with her son. This sensitive documentary is filled with revealing behavioral details. Shot in the Huron Valley Child Guidance Clinic near Ann Arbor, Michigan. Also released in 16mm. Known for his avant-garde works, Alexander Hammid made other psychological films in the 1950s.’ — Old Reel Server
The Gentleman in Room Six (1951)
‘With Hans Heinrich von Twardowski, Norma Winters. Cinematography by the great Boris Kaufman. Offbeat little drama about a bitter guy who lives in a hotel and (spoiler alert) is Hitler.’ –– unpopulararts
Night Journey (1961)
‘Night Journey, the dance, had its premiere only two and a half years after Appalachian Spring, and it is a close cousin. It too has a stream-of-consciousness narration: Jocasta, as she is about to kill herself, remembering what has happened to her. It too contains soul-delving solos, broken up by ensemble dances. Here, however, the ensemble is a darker element. As the story was taken from Greek tragedy, so the corps is the equivalent of Greek tragedy’s chorus. They tell us how to feel: afraid mostly. In this piece Graham pushed her habitual economy to its limits.’ — Joan Acocella
To Be Alive (1965)
‘Most of the exhibits of the New York World’s Fair were real: models and buildings that portrayed the future and the past. But one of the most acclaimed exhibit of the fair was the Johnson’s Wax pavilion – a short movie called to be alive!
‘Part of it was a gimmick. This was a few years after Cinerama brought the (mixed) wonders of a super wide screen to theaters, but the fad had not quiet died yet. To be alive! tried something similar, but instead of having three cameras projecting across one extra wide screen, it use three regular-sized screens separated by a foot of black. This was easier to deal with technically, and audiences learned to ignore the black space immediately.
The movie is the musings of a narrator, who, tired of the rat race,* starts to wax poetic about how things were when he was a child. The movie starts with the life of a child, and then follows a life span as it celebrates human existence.
‘The strength of the film is in its images, which show people from all over the world, doing what the love and enjoying the world around them. The three-screen format was a feast for the eyes.
‘The film was a sensation. The New York Critics Film Circle gave it a special award, unprecedented for a nontheatrical film. It was considered ineligible for an Oscar because of its format, so they cut it down into on single-screen version that played in LA and won the award for documentary short.’ — Chuck Rothman
p.s. Hey. ** Dominik, Hi!!! God, I hope your heat abates. We’re being so lucky here in Paris. Velocicoaster was fantastic, very fast and inventive. Would definitely be in my top 10 favorite coasters. Did you get your tattoo? What’s ‘the figure’? What did your bro get? Ha ha, I spent a few minutes trying to unsuccessfully (but pleasurably) imagine what having his asscheeks as lungs would feel like. I finally got a full night of sleep last night, so I’m ready for your orgy love, thank you, and of course you’re invited. We can split the dungeon rental. Love inviting you along to a coffee I’m having in the next couple of days with a famous young pop star (whom I can’t name, at least not yet) and his boyfriend, G. ** Sypha, Hi, James. I expected to loathe ‘Tenet’, and I was so surprised that I didn’t that I might have given it more credit than it’s due, but I thought, Okay, a 200+ million dollar tricky, incoherent film is kind of cool. ** Bill, Hi. Those slaves made ‘The Sluts’ seem like a milk-fed puppy. I think my publisher is at least thinking of getting me to SF for a bookstore reading re: ‘I Wished’, and I’ll push for that. Would be very cool to see you! ** David Ehrenstein, Howdy, David. Okay … Everyone, Mr. Ehrenstein has a message/offer for y’all. Here he is to tell you about it. David: ‘Dear Dennisitas. I’m having a sale. LAVISHLY ILLUSTRATED FILM BOOKS FOR SALE. Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman”, George Clooney’s “The Midnight Sky,” Audrey Hepburn $50.00 each. numerous books, CDs and DVDs for sale at bargain prices. Call me and come over ASAP. Cheers, David Ehrenstein.’ I hadn’t heard that use of that term before. I wonder if S.E. Hinton took the name of Ponyboy Curtis in ‘The Outsiders’ from that. ** Steve Erickson, God knows the world needs non-creepy executioners. I mostly admire Tim Hunter because of ‘River’s Edge’, but I remember thinking ‘Tex’ was quite good, and ‘The Failures’ was pretty interesting, as I recall. I have friends who think highly of ‘Control’, but I haven’t seen it. Ha ha, a ‘Meg’ sequel. ** _Black_Acrylic, Yes, the blog clock is functioning again. Excellent that you’re writing and going to take that short stories class. Love what you did when you were back in the heat of your writing prioritising days. ** Corey Heiferman, Very kind of you to hope Cargo would get to snuggle up in bubble wrap. Great about the poetry nights, and about the festival! You’re cooking. Oh, hm, I don’t specifically recall how doing the reading series at Beyond Baroque way back when affected my writing. I seem to have written a lot. I think the fact that I was doing a lot of readings myself back then probably had a big affect. Maybe not the same thing, but it took me quite a while to get my footing as a writer in the early years of doing the blog. It really ate up my creativity and rhythm for a while. But I eventually sorted it. Is that what you mean? ** T, A pretty penny, wouldn’t you think? Me too re: being so impressed and envious about the slaves’ (and escorts’) writing. Funny that. I do edit the texts a bit, but the meat and spin of them is all theirs. I always imagine they’re very emotional when they write their texts, and I think that’s where a lot of the force and maybe creativity comes in, but I guess they could be calculating bastards for all I know. Anyway, yeah, good stuff. Yes, moot your idea to him! He could be your gift horse (whatever that means). My weekend was basically a wash of sleep deprivation-related blah, but the bad spell might have broken last night. Life feels possible this morning. At least you got through the reunion with your wits intact? Oh, Nemours. I see that one can travel from there to Paris, to and fro, by RER in 1 hr 9 minutes. Only 8 stops. And your Paris arrival/departure spot is Gare de Lyon. Not bad at all. Let’s definitely hang. Yeah, keep me posted. And happy Monday! ** Misanthrope, Thanks, pal. What’s been going on with you? ** Brian, Hi, Brian! Yeah, a wilder than even usual bunch. Totally get the anxiety. Like I’m sure I’ve said, to me, moving homes is inherently really stressful, even if it’s just across town. But, yeah, the liberation once you’re in the new digs and arranging your stuff there can be quite heady. So glad you liked ‘Satyricon’. An all-time fave, and, me too, definitely my fave of his films. Nuts. Those sets. Those set pieces. It even makes Jodorowsky’s extravaganzas seem like high school productions. My weekend was just a haze due to awful, awful jet lag, but I think, hope, I’m in the clear as of today, but we’ll see. I’m raring to make up for lost time. Is your week dawning all right? Best of the best! ** Right. Alexander Hammid is best known, when he’s known at all, as Mr. Maya Deren, but he made some very interesting films both with and without her. Investigate the oeuvre, if you will. See you tomorrow.