Un Chien Andalou (1929)

Director: Luis Bu˝uel

Stars: Salvador Dali, Simone Mareuil, Pierre Batcheff

Release Company: Kino Video

MPAA Rating: NR

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Luis Bunuel: Un Chien Andalou


Remember the scene in The Matrix where Keanu Reeves mouth is sealed shut? The angry refrigerator in Requiem for a Dream? How about the severed ear in Blue Velvet? Hitchcock's surreal dreams in Spellbound and Vertigo?

As memorable as those images are, the granddaddy of cinema surrealism goes back to 1929 to a seventeen-minute collaboration by Salvador Dali and Luis Bu˝uel called Un Chien Andalou. Translated, the title means "An Andalusian Dog," but that won't add insight to one of the most watched silent films of all time. It must also rank as one of the most studied films in history (at least by film students), and a myriad number of critiques and student papers have espoused various theories about the imagery. But no interpretation can be regarded as definitive--especially considering Bu˝uel's stated purpose:

"No idea or image that might lend itself to a rational explanation of any kind would be accepted. We had to open all doors to the irrational and keep only those images that surprised us, without trying to explain why."
Clouds slice the full moon in half. A sharpened razor slices a woman's eye in half—liquid ooze emerges. A transvestite pedals down a lonely street. Ants emerge from a hole in a man's hand. A crowd surrounds a severed hand. A dead donkey on a piano.

Designed to shock the hated bourgeois and the wannabe avant-garde, Bu˝uel and Dali fire the disjointed dreams off like missiles to signal the emergence of a new art form. No longer did film need to create a logical flow for action; it could capture dreams and absurdities, and Bu˝uel signals his intent to explore illusions and the surreal. A trademark of his subsequent films is the seamless blending of the two, with the only way to differentiate being to determine what is completely bizarre and unreal. No such quandary in his debut short--all scenes are surreal.

Originally a silent film, Bu˝uel later added tango music and Wagner's "Liebestod" from his Tristan and Isolde opera to good effect, but the imagery reigns supreme, most memorable being the extreme ocular violence and a playful "rape" scene. Students of English can have a field day speculating on Freudian interpretations and finding ways to connect the imagery. Whether these connections exist is irrelevant, but there is absolutely no doubt that Bu˝uel's initial foray helped establish cinema as a true art form, and has influenced many with his imagery.

Modern horror films owe much to Bu˝uel, and his dark humor continues to be reflected by countless other directors. D.W. Griffith deserves his place as the pioneer that established cinema as a unique art form and discovered visual narrative techniques, but Bu˝uel's short film stretched the boundaries and continues to influence modern filmmakers. Un Chien Andalou demonstrates that surreal dreams are prime cinematic subject matter, and they don't have to "make sense" to work well. Attempting to analyze deeper meaning can be fun, or as fruitless as mental masturbation, but I'll leave that to those who are so inclined.

Now...about Mulholland Drive . . .
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