Alexander Hammid


Two short films by Maya Deren’s husband are now available for viewing at Ubuweb. I’ve known about Hammid’s work for years but this is the first time I’ve seen any of it so these additions are very welcome. In a reversal of the usual state of affairs, the works of the wife overshadowed those of the husband even though they collaborated on Deren’s most famous film, Meshes of the Afternoon (which is also at Ubuweb).

Of the pair of films, Na Prazskem Hrade (At Prague Castle) (1931) is the most interesting for this Prague fetishist, a disjointed study of the architecture of the city’s castle which turns the building into an expressionist collage. Two obvious associations arise while watching this; one is Franz Kafka who lived for a time in the castle’s Hradcany district at 22 Golden Lane and whose novel, The Castle (1926), is inspired by the dominating presence of the building. The other is the Nazi invasion which took place a few years after the film was made and caused its maker and his wife to flee to America. The Nazi high command controlled the country from Prague Castle so the brief glimpse of marching soldiers in one shot can be seen as an ominous presentiment of the future. The castle has featured in bigger budget productions more recently, including one of my cult films, Steven Soderbergh’s Kafka (1991), and the underrated The Illusionist (2006) where Prague masqueraded as turn-of-the-century Vienna.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Jan Svankmajer: The Complete Short Films
Meshes of the Afternoon by Maya Deren
How to disappear completely
Karel Plicka’s views of Prague
Giant mantis invades Prague
Barta’s Golem

8 thoughts on “Alexander Hammid”

  1. John, Stumbled across your blog while doing some editing on my father’s Wikipedia page. Glad you appreciate his work but would like to offer an adjustment to your (fairly common) misconception regarding his collaborations with his first wife (not my mother), Maya Deren: Meshes was the first film she had ever had anything to do with. Sasha (as he was known all his life), was the filmmaker on the project, while Deren provided more of the content. But as a film, it is primarily his. Deren went on to make only a handful of additional films (Ritual in Transfigured Time, At Land, Meditation on Violence and Divine Horsemen), several in collaboration with Sasha but all of these others more hers than his. Sasha, on the other hand, went on to devote a long lifetime to filmmaking (see the Wiki page and links therein Again, thanks for the mention and best to you in your work! Julia

  2. Thanks Julia, one of the great things about doing these posts is when someone comments with a piece of information that adds to the pool of knowledge. As it happens, I’d wondered about Meshes before now, since it seemed to have a different quality to Deren’s other films which are less surreal in atmosphere. The surreality is certainly there in Hammid’s Aimless Walk and so to is the command of film technique.

    Good luck to you with the imps of Wikipedia!

  3. Hello John. I’m Julia’s brother and I thank you for your comments, and thank her for taking the time to write and post her comments. In addition to what she said, I would like to add a few things in case readers are not willing to go over to Wikipedia, which is still incomplete.

    Maya Deren’s status as a film maker remained limited to a very small segment of the art film community until the 1970s when the feminist movement began to influence the art film world. Naturally, they discovered and promoted women they perceived to be under-appreciated. Deren’s strong personality was prime material for their interest and so she was revived in some circles as a heroine forgotten. Her limited film career of some 6 films before her untimely death in 1961 added to her magnetism and her posthumous following became even wider.

    The nature of my father’s life was to be understated and modest. The people who admired him, even in more serious film circles than Maya ever reached, rarely sought to pitch his status to outsiders. His body of work spanned 60 years and about 100 films (in various capacities), not to mention his still photography and early film criticism. As you pointed out, he was a pioneer in avant garde film long before he met Maya Deren, but went on to pioneer synchronized mulit-screen productions and the very first IMAX releases. His early 1970s IMAX film “To Fly” still plays at the Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. to this day. Though he never sought social status, his works convey his creative mastery.

    The recent trend of viewing Alexander (Sasha) Hammid most notably as the husband of cult film maker Maya Deren is a myopic perceptual inversion of history long after the facts, Academy Award notwithstanding! Sadly, very few of my father’s films are available for easy viewing. Primarily a documentarian uninterested in promoting himself, his films mostly languish in celluloid or destroyed nitrate form. He rarely owned his work, rather leaving distribution and preservation to clients and distributors. Some of his early works comprise a part of the Czech Film Archive in Prague where he grew up. Others are scattered in various vaults and collections. Some are viewable at:

    One of his great documentaries, “Valley of the Tennessee” is there too but inexplicably is not listed in a search under “Hammid”. It must be found by title. If you’re interested in further research, there is a nicely assembled web site assembled by Czech film historian Pavel Vancat at:

    Additionally, you might just try a Google search for either Alexander Hammid or Alexandr Hackenschmied.

    Best regards,
    Tino Hammid

  4. I am Claire MELKA who is working for Mrs. Isabelle Daire, at the Department of films of the Centre Pompidou in Paris.
    Our department is working on digitization of our film collection, for its better preservation and adaptation to exhibitions. For our doing this, it is essential to have authorization of the legal owner of each film.

    So it would be very nice of you to give us the e-mail of Tino and Julia Hammid in order to know if they are the right holder of Alexender Hammid’s film.

    Thank you in advance for your reply,

    Best regards,

    Claire MELKA

  5. Very much enjoyed the exchange. I used to work with Sasha and very much agree with Julia and Tino – Meshes was very much Sasha’s film, the camera was his brush and he loved to explore the devises such as you see in Meshes. I loved Sasha and miss him.
    Richard Rice

  6. Hi everybody! I’d like to add my admiration and respect for Sasha. I knew him from late 70’s in NYC. He was indeed a very modest man. And very generous with his advice, always accessible, kind and smiling, enjoying young people with ideas. He was amazing to his last day, always knew what was happening in the art scene around him and in the technology. I believe that there is a documentary made recently by a Czech filmmaker. He is missed in NYC!

    Zuzana Halsey
    PS: Julie and Tino, would you know if your father knew George Voskovec and perhaps took some film or photos of him when he lived in NYC between 1950-1978? I am helping a Czech documentary filmmamker. Thank you.

  7. Oh, my goodness. I, too, loved and was helped by and was briefly very close to Sasha. I remember both Julie and Tino from when they were young(er) and was tangentially related to Sasha when I married Mirek Miksovsky. I have, thanks to Julie, a beautiful oil painting by Jim Lounsbury, which I sent to Sasha as a gift several years before his death, and which was returned to me posthumously. I just saw Meshes of the Afternoon and would like to see others of Sasha’s films. “To Fly” thrilled me as a young person and I hope to see it again the next time I’m in Washington. I am now unable to (re) see Meshes online, or to see anything else- on Ubuweb or anywhere else. But for this past half hour, I have been enthralled. Love to you, Julie and Tino. Julie- I think we have each other’s email addresses. I would love to renew our correspondence. Lyn

Comments are closed.

Discover more from { feuilleton }

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading