Cinema Absurdo

With apologies to Norman Bates, no one slashed their way into cinematic history quite like the great Spanish director Luís Buñuel. In the first scene of his first film, Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog), Buñuel's character looks up to the night sky, where a cigar-shaped cloud eclipses a full moon. Inspired, he pulls out a razor and—with the camera cutting to mega-extreme close-up—carefully slits open a woman's eye.

Seventy-six years later, Buñuel's impromptu surgery remains filmdom's most notorious intro and a guaranteed squirm-inducer—artists ranging from David Bowie to the Pixies used Un Chien Andalou to warm up their audiences. But in the ultimate arc of an illustrious career, the eyeball slicing was actually Buñuel at his least scandalous. No director—not Stanley Kubrick, not Sergei Eisenstein, not even Buñuel's fellow Spaniard Pedro Almodóvar—put a bazooka to society's mores and rich so consistently and entertainingly as Buñuel. And you'll have the rare opportunity to view his two best heresies on celluloid this Saturday, when Santa Ana's nifty Cultural Stage of Art screens Un Chien Andalou and its follow-up, L'Age d'Or, for gratis.

I last saw Un Chien Andalou years ago while enrolled in Orange Coast College's excellent film program, and the 16-minute silent flick still haunts me. There's no plot to speak of in this 1929 reel, only images and juxtapositions that are cattle prods to the subconscious. In addition to the chopped-open eyeball (which actually belonged to a stunt cow), Un Chien Andalou also features ants crawling out of a hand; someone ringing a doorbell, only to watch as two disembodied hands stir a cocktail; a man's lecherous pursuit of his beloved foiled by a dead donkey, two priests, an upright piano and the Ten Commandments. The woman who was being pursued later discovers her armpit hair is growing from her attacker's mouth. A man falls out of a window and onto a lawn.

And the soundtrack backing all this Bizarro World action? Two ridiculously jaunty tangos and the lovers' theme from Tristan und Isolde.

Un Chien Andalou makes no sense, but many film scholars insist on interpreting Buñuel's work as a Freudian commentary on severely repressed European culture. Buñuel himself, however, would've dismissed such analyzing as the machinations of doofuses. “I do not want [Un Chien Andalou] to please you, but to offend you,” he told an audience around the time of the film's debut. “I would be sorry if you were to enjoy it.” To another crowd, Buñuel described the intent of Un Chien Andalou as “a desperate appeal to murder.”

Contrary to popular belief, Spanish surrealist Salvador Dalí played only a minimal role in the conceptualization of Un Chien Andalou. According to Gwynne Edwards' 1982 study, The Discreet Art of Luís Buñuel, Dalí suggested the film's title, a couple of sequences, played the role of one of the two priests—and that was it. “The final product,” wrote Edwards, “in terms of its cinematographic quality and style was, with the exception of a few details, pure Buñuel.” By the time Buñuel began filming 1930's L'Age d'Or, he and Dalí were no longer on speaking terms, but the filmmaker left the artist's name on the finished product, Edwards disclosed, “out of respect for their former friendship.”

Indeed, L'Age d'Or, while wading into the realm of the surreal, is more identifiable as a Buñuel meditation on the gluttonous, corrupt, tight-assed world of the bourgeoisie—think Belle de Jour and Viridiana. The hourlong tale begins near the coast, where town leaders are about to christen a new building, only to be perturbed by the nearby moans of two lovers rolling in the mud. The police arrest the man, and the woman's father forces her into the mundane world of the upper class. The lovers eventually rekindle their sordid stuff at a mansion, and along the way, Buñuel packs in such jolting images as a Christ-like figure participating in an orgy, scorpions fighting, a woman fellating a statue's toe and the wealthy dining in bliss even as a peasant child shot by his father dies in their presence.

Legend has it that Buñuel attended Un Chien Andalou's Paris premiere with stones in his pockets, expecting a furious crowd. Riots wouldn't happen that night—France saved it for L'Age d'Or. Just a week into its original run, a coalition of conservative French groups seized the film's negative, tore apart seats in the exhibiting theater and destroyed the screen with acid. The conservative press also launched into talking-points mode: Le Figaro wrote that the movie was an “insult to any kind of technical standard” and “combines, as a public spectacle, the most obscene, disgusting and tasteless episodes.”

And Fox News hates France why?


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