Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Un Chien Andalou (1928)
By Eric Jessen 8/18/09
Luis Bunuel's films are a guilty pleasure: indifferent sacrilege and whimsical pornography with a lawless depraved charm. Their utter absurdity keep me in limbo, bewildered and confused but oddly enough, laughing. At first I laugh as a nervous reaction to being completely shocked. I feel a sort of detachment, as if Bunuel's message is always one step ahead of me. But slowly a Bunuel film strips me of my conventions for movie watching (the woman looking out a window is not necessarily watching the man in the following shot, they could be completely unrelated). I'm put in a primitive state of dream logic (the Freudian term for no logic). There is no message. It doesn't make sense and it's not supposed to. I chuckle at the ironic or satirical, shake my head (hiding a smile) at the revolting, feeling as though I understand the gag.
A Bunuel film is an attitude - anti-establishment, leftist, blasphemous but mostly carefree - and a collection of remarkable little zany ideas, put together with a shaggy slap-happy fancy. He mocks seriousness and snobbery by undercutting it with perversion and cruelty (the noble priest or proper bourgeoisie are always closet fetishists, treating each other like "An Andalusian Dog"). He scoffs at the thought of mise en scene, throwing together jagged shots, leaving in abnormalities or goofs, and seeming to cast blindfolded (although having two different actors play one part in That Obscure Object of Desire must have been calculated). Of all Bunuel's hedonist, insane masterpieces (Belle de jour, The Exterminating Angel and “Discreet Charm” among my favorites) Un Chien Andalou, the 16 minute short, is undoubtedly the most maddening and the most purely ridiculous.
One afternoon in Paris Luis Bunuel had lunch with Salvatore Dali, one of many friends from the French surrealist cult. Bunuel remarked to Dali that he dreamed that a thin cloud cut the moon in half like a razor blade. Dali responded by describing a dream in which his hand was crawling with ants. It was from there that Dali and Bunuel conceived Un Chien Andalou.
The movie opens with the card “Once upon a time....” We then see a man (Bunuel himself) sharpening a razor blade on a balcony. He looks up and we see a thin cloud approaching a full moon, cut to “wife” (played by Simone Mareuil who later committed self-immolation) being held down by “husband.” The cloud crosses the moon, then we see the razor blade slice “wife's” eye (actually a calf's eye) in half. From then on, to the music of Wagner and a jaunty tango, taunted by ever changing title cards (“About 3 in the Morning,” “17 Years Before,” “In Spring”) we see a man riding a bike down the street in a nun's outfit. We see Dali's dream of an ant-hill hand, then someone run over by a car, then the “wife” being groped by a man drooling blood. We see the “wife” running from the man, then grabbing a tennis racket to defend herself, and the man abruptly stopping to pick up and pull two ropes attached to two ten commandment tablets, two priests (one played by Salvatore Dali), two pianos and two rotting donkey corpses. Later we see a man's mouth replaced by a patch of armpit hair. (I'm giggling just describing the wacky lewdness.)
Call it obscene, disgusting debauchery, but Bunuel's films are a necessary evil. They are the perfect counterbalance to obedient conventional cinema. With his dry humor and weird antics, I adore Bunuel, the wonderful lecher, cheerful and lovable in his eagerness to offend.