Nov 10, 2013
Unquestionably, seeing the Spanish surrealist short Un Chien Andalou (1929) aka An Andalusian Dog during an intro to film course over a decade ago was a life changing experience for me, not least of all because it proved to me that cinema had always been a subversive art with seemingly unlimited aesthetic and thematic potential, which was in total contrast to everything I expected from cinema up until that point. Indeed, as someone who grew up like virtually all Americans watching the absurdly priced and mechanically manufactured celluloid products of Hollywood, Un Chien Andalou made me realize that, in a way, cinema had died in its infancy because if such nonlinear and iconoclastic work was created over ¾ a century ago, one could only imagine how cinema would have advanced if America and its culture-distorting cuckolded allies were not defecating artless swill around the world in an imperialist manner. Directed and co-written by Spanish surrealist master auteur Luis Buñuel (The Exterminating Angel, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie) and co-written by Salvador Dalí before he ‘sold out’ and earned the nickname “Avida Dollars” (an anagram of the alpha-surrealist name that translates to “eager for dollars”), Un Chien Andalou, despite being a short film under 20 minutes with an intentionally incoherent and nonsensical plot, stands today as one of the most influential, important, and revolutionary celluloid works ever made as a work that not only predates the poetic celluloid surrealism of Jean Cocteau and acted as the prototype for every film Alejandro Jodorowsky would direct, but also a work the manages to offend, shock, and disgust after all of these years. Opening with a scene of a flapper-like chick having her eye slit open with a straight razor thus causing gooey vitreous humour to drain out of her severed peeper (Buñuel would later confess he used a real dead calf’s eye), Un Chien Andalou lets the viewer know straight from the get go that it is a film meant to attack the viewer both viscerally and spiritually, with auteur Buñuel later writing regarding the film, “Nothing, in the film symbolizes anything. The only method of investigation of the symbols would be, perhaps, psychoanalysis.” A high-class piece of delightful celluloid degeneracy with a decidedly unrelenting dream logic, Un Chien Andalou was cleverly concocted by Dalí and Buñuel as an aesthetic assault against the young wine-sniffing bourgeoisie, with the latter later confessing regarding the film’s place in history, “Historically, this film represents a violent reaction against what at that time was called 'avantgarde cine,' which was directed exclusively to the artistic sensibility and to the reason of the spectator.” Unfortunately, Buñuel underestimated the decadence and nihilism of the cultivated French middle class as they loved Un Chien Andalou, which the director had mixed feelings about, stating, “What can I do about the people who adore all that is new, even when it goes against their deepest convictions, or about the insincere, corrupt press, and the inane herd that saw beauty or poetry in something which was basically no more than a desperate impassioned call for murder?” A work that inspired surrealist movement leader André Breton to invite both Dalí and Buñuel to become members of the iconoclastic art movement thereupon making them the first filmmakers officially welcomed to the ranks of surrealism, Un Chien Andalou was, more importantly, the arrival of a new cinematic language and universe that declared Europa had lost its sanity and art had lost its meaning as a nasty and nonsensical celluloid work that uses Richard Wagner’s “Prelude and Liebestod” from the opera Tristan und Isolde as a sick joke.
Opening with the title card “Once Upon a Time,” Un Chien Andalou then cuts to a man with slicked back hair played by Luis Buñuel sharpening a razor and then slitting the eye of a young woman (Simone Mareuil) with said razor appearing as a cloud glides by the moon in a similar manner. After the eyeball releases more than just tears, a title card appears reading “Eight Years Later,” and a young man (Pierre Batcheff) in semi-drag nun garb, peddles down the city street, but falls over on a curb, which is witnessed by the same woman who had her eye slit (her eye is magically still in place), who rushes to his aid and attempts to revive him by sweetly kissing the stranger. For whatever reason, the helpful young woman arranges the young man’s nun clothing on the bed in her apartment. Apparently, the bike accident was rather brutal as the young man has ants crawling out of a hole in his hand (“ants in the palms” is a French phrase meaning “itching to kill”). Meanwhile, an androgynous drag king with a dyke cut pokes at a decapitated hand with a stick outside as police and a growing crowd circle around her. A gentlemanly police officer picks up the hand and puts it into a box for the boyish broad, but she gets so happy that she forgets that she is standing in oncoming traffic and is killed instantly after being ran over by a car. The whole event seems to rather excite the bike boy as he begins fondling the bosoms and buttocks of the young lady that previously came to his aid. Unfortunately, the young man is cockblocked after he picks up two ropes and is forced to pull two grand pianos containing dead and rotting jackass corpses, stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments, and two discernibly perturbed priests (played by Jaime Miravilles and Salvador Dalí), all of which are somehow attached to the ropes in the small apartment, and the young woman subsequently escapes after trapping the lad’s hand, which is once again covered with ants, in a door. After leaving the apartment, the young woman finds the young man, who is once again sporting nun drag, sleeping in a bed like a baby. After another title card appears reading “Around Three In the Morning,” another young man appears (also played by Pierre Batcheff) and heckles the young man laying in the bed for sporting nun drag garb, so after another title card appears reading “Sixteen Years Before,”the lunatic lover of holy female clothing shoots and kills his heckler. Somehow the second young man is transported to a scenic meadow, where he drops dead on the unclad Venus-like body of a young lady that also magically appears out of nowhere. After the second young man’s corpse is carried away by a group of men, the young lady reappears in her apartment and spots a sinister The Silence of the Lambs-esque Death's-head Hawkmoth on the wall and the first young man sneers at her and subsequently wipes his mouth away with his hand, thus making it disappear. In her defense, the young lady puts some lipstick on and the young man responds by magically transporting her bushy armpit hair to where his mouth once was. Irked by the young man’s nasty armpit hair fetish, the young woman exits the apartment while sticking her tongue out at her would-be-suitor and finds herself inexplicably walking on a beach instead of the street where she meets a third young man who courts her by walking arm-in-arm with her. Whilst strolling on the beach, the two new lovers find the torn nun garb and the couple lives happily ever after, or so one would hope. Instead, a final title card appears reading “In Spring…” and Un Chien Andalou concludes rather abruptly and cynically with the lovers buried to their waste in sand and assumedly dead.
Featuring pansy priests being pulled by nooses, murderous molester men dressed in nun outfits, and various scenarios of sexual sadism and bloodlust, Un Chien Andalou may not make any sense, but it is certainly a certifiably sacrilegious celluloid work that wickedly (if not playfully so!) wallows in the sort of aggressive yet absurdist atheism that auteur Luis Buñuel would become revered for. Ultimately, Un Chien Andalou had many notable admirers, including the French aristocratic couple Viscount Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles, who offered to finance a sequel to the film that would inevitably be released as L’Age d’or (1930) aka The Golden Age. Originally titled La Bête andalouse and set to be the same length as Un Chien Andalou, L’Age d’or ultimately had a 63 minute running time (as opposed to the less than 20 minute running time of the previous film) and was mainly the result of Buñuel’s efforts as he had a famous falling out with Dalí and finally took it upon himself to develop a cinematic technique as opposed to relying on mere Dadaist dilettantism. Ultimately, L’Age d’or was withdrawn (which lasted over 40 years) by the Noailles family after being banned by the Paris Prefect of Police and being described in a Spanish right-wing newspaper as, “...the most repulsive corruption of our age ... the new poison which Judaism, Masonry, and rabid, revolutionary sectarianism want to use in order to corrupt the people.” Undoubtedly, both Un Chien Andalou and L’Age d’or are decidedly degenerate works that are quite symptomatic of the cultural, aesthetic, and spiritual decline of the Occident as works in league with Freudian psychoanalysis, bolshevism, antagonistic anti-Christian atheism, and anti-classicalism, yet the aesthetic potency of these works transcends the political sentiments of their creators as these pioneering works of cinema history have gone on to influence everyone from Kenneth Anger to Lucio Fulci (compare the eye-slicing scene of Un Chien Andalou with the eye-piercing scene of Zombi 2 (1979) aka Zombie) to Wes Craven to David Lynch. Described by Jewish-Austrian-American cineaste Amos Vogel in his revolutionary book Film as a Subversive Art (1974) as “the most famous avant-garde film ever made” and designed by Buñuel “to change our consciousness,” Un Chien Andalou ultimately set the standard for all subsequent iconoclastic auteur filmmakers to come. Thankfully, Buñuel eventually managed to combine his surrealist imagery with nuanced and allegorical storytelling, thus Un Chien Andalou makes for an immaculate introduction to the Spanish filmmaker's eclectic oeuvre. A darkly humorous nightmare dreamed up by two of Spain's most prodigal sons, Un Chien Andalou is sadistic celluloid surrealism without a cause that ultimately changed the course of cinema history and is thus mandatory viewing for anyone that has even the remotest respect for cinema.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 8:52 PM
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