Monday, February 4, 2013

Un Chien Andalou. (1929) Luis Buñuel

Vintage Surrealism for A Black and White February.

This is a surrealist film experience, perhaps the first of its kind -- and if not the first, certainly the most well known from its day. Created by artist Salvador Dali and (debut) filmmaker Luis Buñuel, Un Chien Andalou ("An Andalusian Dog") clocks in at a whopping sixteen minutes, and it is a silent film (although a score, which I do not recommend, has been added to some of its releases since that time). Its plot is nearly indescribable, as it cuts in a vicious montage from the grotesque to the risque, and from the mundane of every day life to that of the paradoxical.

It is quite possible that on first viewing a few of its key scenes might stay with you forever. One of the most talked about scenes is pictured above -- a man slicing a woman's eyeball with a razor. There is very little evidence that this scene has anything to do with much else in the film. The following scenes for an unknown reason travel back and forth in time: a man with ants crawling out of a hole in his hand; the same man carrying two pianos on his back to get to the woman he wants to forcefully coerce; two lovers finding each other after lengthy effort, to end up as corpses in the end -- half their bodies sticking out of the sandy beach on which they were just strolling in love:

The film has no meaning. Its makers said so at the time. Efforts at interpretation have been made; Freudian analysis of its depiction of sexuality has been massively attempted for eighty-five years. Freud himself would probably roll over in his grave, for the film's makers, through various editing techniques and dream logic, were trying in some way to put the "subconscious" on display -- a word typically rejected in psychoanalysis (a word rejected by Freud), but well-used in the metaphysical, in the spiritual, and in the arts.

I struggle to find meaning in the film because I look for meaning in all I see. I'm a symbologist in the way I live and think and reason. To create is to create something of meaning, so says my brain. In the way I view life, juxtaposing images to provoke or to entice without reason or logic is absurd. But the surrealism in Un Chien Andalou was made to do just that. Through distortion of reality, doppelgangers, and images thrown in only to jolt the heart, the film was made to shock the middle class who wouldn't be capable of filtering what they saw. When the French bourgeoisie admired and accepted the abstract production, both Dali and Buñuel were fiercely disappointed.

Usually one of my criteria in evaluating a film is based on whether it sets out with a purpose and accomplishes it. Here is the rare case where a film doesn't fit into that line of thinking. I consider Un Chien Andalou a masterpiece, regardless that it failed at what it set out to do.

I consider it such because it was the first film (that I know of, and that most scholars recognize) with the goal of tapping the subconscious, from both its makers and to its viewers. Through fuzzy logic and non-linear modes of thought, the only way to understand it is to soak into the moving pictures as their own narrative, letting them flow and not concentrating on any form of deductive process. Meaning only comes through experience, and in this case, the experience is the only meaning there is. In this way, what is made -- and the way it is being viewed -- are being created for a portion of the brain usually latent -- the subconscious. 

What is interesting to me are the choices that must have been made later -- choices made in the editing process, where the conscious mind of an editor is forced to work and reason with images laid before him. It is impossible to make a film purely from the subconscious when one must consciously choose what goes into the film.

There is little doubt that these abstract images were, in 1929, far ahead of their time. Interesting, too, that a film made in a certain way back then still provokes and disturbs on quite the same level today. The bizarre and alluring nature of surrealism hasn't been better captured than in this feverish sixteen-minute motion picture.

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