In 1929 few had heard of Luis Buñuel or Salvador Dalí, two young Spanish artists living in Paris. If you know Dalí’s paintings, then you know his penchant for the absurd and tapping into the stranger depths of the subconscious. But before he gained renown as a painter, Dalí broke into the Surrealist art circle of Paris by creating this short film with Buñuel, who made his directorial debut with Un Chien Andalou. The film abandons all narrative convention to create a story (or more accurately a sequence of events and images) that takes its internal logic (or lack thereof) from dreams. Even the title of the film, which translates to An Andalusian Dog, has no connection to the events and imagery of the movie. The intent of the film, according to Buñuel, was to shock and confuse audiences. The director claimed that he filled his pockets with rocks during the first screening in case he had to defend himself against the audience. He was disappointed when they liked the movie. Oh, and for you connoisseurs of excellent music, Un Chien Andalou is the inspiration for the Pixies’ song “Debaser”. (16 min.)
J. – I have a feeling our blog is in for its first significant disagreement; I’m rather excited to see how it plays out.
S. – Hmm, let’s see. In my case confusing the audience was definitely achieved. There were a number of clever and interesting scenes created, which were entertaining and sometimes shocking to watch. I didn’t mind the lack of narrative so much as the messing around with time. That felt like a deliberate attack on the viewer by implying there was a thread to be found and followed but that was blatantly untrue. So I guess I felt a bit cheated at the end when it was clear everything was intentionally random and nonsensical.
J. – I also kept assuming that there was going to ultimately be a point, or at least a real connecting thread among all the madness, but I really didn’t mind when there wasn’t. Actually, by the time the short had ended I was positively glad that the movie made no damn sense whatsoever. It’s a rare thing to see filmmakers disregard convention to such a degree. And when they do I often find the results can be a touch pretentious, or at least far too SERIOUS. This movie was way too farcical and gleefully mischievous for that, and consequently I really got a kick out of it.
S. – There were some fantastic scenarios constructed, a kind of warped reality that looks genuine but contains a bizarre element that your mind rejects. Some effects were more successful than others but as far as shock value goes I don’t think I will ever be the same after the eyeball slicing.
J. – Haha… I knew about that ahead of seeing the film, but it still appalled me when it happened. I can only imagine what it did to audiences in the late 20s. I was quite impressed with some of the techniques and effects on display, including the eye slicing and the amazing shots of ants crawling out of a hole in the man’s hand. It’s interesting to think that a number of the things done in this intentionally confrontational film have really moved their way into mainstream film making, particularly for dream sequences. Take the scene where the woman closes the apartment door and is then suddenly on a beach; I think something like that has popped up in countless films. But what really elevates Un Chien Andalou from those that have borrowed bits and pieces from it is the movie’s willingness to unapologetically go for broke without compromise — and they’ve got the dead donkeys to prove it.
Out of curiosity, are you a fan of Surrealism in general? Because I enjoy it a good deal (well, except for Joan Miró), which probably contributed a great deal to my enjoyment of this film. I particularly love the closing shot of the half-buried people in the sand; for me, that was a fantastic Surrealist composition.
S. – I do like Surrealism and was quite excited to learn that Dalí was a creative force in this project. I liked the experimentation and the sense of anything goes, many of the visual effects were humorous or just damn impressive. I am in total agreement that this film still has echoes in the movies made today, for that reason I can see why it made the list. It falls apart for me because it is presented as a movie and with that I have an expectation of something more than some crazy imagery. Sure it was these types of expectations that Buñuel was challenging but the result was that it left me cold.
J. – I had the opposite reaction and really found it as thrilling as it was perplexing (and I still have that tango music stuck in my head), but I confess I am awfully glad it was just a short. I’m not sure Un Chien Andalou could have remained enjoyable over the length of a feature film, if only because it lacked the kineticism of, say, Man With a Movie Camera, which was also fractured and without a real plot or point, but remained grounded, cohesive, and compelling. But I suppose we’ll soon put it to the test, because Buñuel and Dalí did collaborate on a feature film (L’Age d’Or) and it is on the Top 250 list.
S. – Oh bugger 😦