Monday, February 21, 2011

Un Chin Andalou (Bunuel. 1929)

"Give me two hours a day of activity, and I'll take the other 22 in dreams -- provided I can remember them."

When going about completing the 1077 Films to See Before You Die, the most important thing to remember is that selection is the key. There are some films on this list that will take days to finish, and there will be some that will simply take an afternoon. A great example of the latter would be Louis Bunuel's 1929 short film, Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog). Roger Ebert has referred to Un Chien Andalou as the most famous and iconic short film ever made. So, needless to say, my expectations were very high.

The film was written as a collaborative effort between Bunuel and the famous surrealist artist, Salvador Dali. Though the film has a less than 16 minute run time, the two writers (and arguably co-directors) manage to incorporate several themes that had never been presented before to an American audience. The most notable of these new ideas was surrealism.

Dali and Bunuel crafted this film for the sole purpose of confusing the audience. Though secular events occur on screen for the entirety of the film, no event is ever given a secular purpose. Un Chien Andalou is literally a film that portrays a conglomerate of unrelated events. The writers were in no way trying to please their audience. In fact, they were deliberately releasing a film that would induce flagrant shock. Un Chien Andalou is the first example in history of a film that disregarded the conventional limits of the human attention span. Long story short, the film is nonsense.

The important thing to look at is how Bunuel makes the nonsense interesting. He sets up an entire frame for these events that almost causes the habitual moviegoer to automatically formulate a plot line. This was Bunuel and Dali’s ingenious design. The foundation of this frame is the most iconic moment in all of pre-1940’s film, the eye cutting scene.

In a private meeting, Bunuel explained a dream that he had where the clouds “sliced through the moon like a razor through an eye.” This phrase was the beginning of Un Chein Andalou’s creative process. The scene itself features Simone Mareuil's eye being held open by Luis Bunuel. The frame then quickly switches to the knife slicing the eyeball (actually the eye of a dead calf) directly in half. The meaning of the scene has been speculated for years with Dali and Bunuel saying that there is no meaning at all.

For me, the meaning is clear. Having the eye sliced open in the first minute of Un Chien Andalou serves as a warning to the filmgoer. Surrealism is the knife and your pre-determined ideas of convention are sliced like the eyeball of the innocent “main character.”

In the end, this film serves as an undisputed victory for the surrealists. Dali and Bunuel successfully created a frustrating, thought-provoking, seemingly useless and ultimately ingenious short film that noticeably influenced directors like David Lynch, and the entire independent film industry. This low budget dream is a film that helped widen the boundaries of popular expression. Before viewing the film, remember to check your idea of film at the door and allow yourself to be engulfed in nonsense. Un Chien Andalou is more important than entertaining and more pretentious than redeeming, but I am happy to say I have seen it. One film down with 1076 to go.

Un Chien Andalou: B

Next Film.....Blue Velvet (Lynch. 1986)

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