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
"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
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,
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 . . .