Un Chien Andalou Potent Cinematic Surrealism

Hypnagogique Enters the Realm of Movies

Updated 12.23.12 with another video of the film.

SPOILER ALERT: Throughout this text I offer pertinent information about not only the feature presentation, but a mini-retrospective of other Buñuel films that may ruin the cinematic experience for anyone who has not seen the films. If you’d prefer to watch the film first and formulate your own opinions watch it first and then read the text.

I offered a personal retrospective of Un Chien Andalou on March 6, 2008 and have re-posted it here, while removing it from the earlier date so as to not have duplication. For avant-garde purists it is my observations and opinions and was originally just text without the actual film presented. Luis Buñuel Portolés was born February 22, 1900 in Calanda, Teruel, Aragón, Spain and died July 29, 1983 in Mexico City, Mexico and in honor of his recent birth date I have chosen to inaugurate the Rosenbush Cafe Midnight Movies series with his film, which is presented at the end of the retrospective, with a trailer for his 1972 Best Foreign Film ‘Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie” (The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie) and a few other surprises.

Luis Buñuel’s collaboration with painter Salvador Dali on Un Chien Andalou or The Andalusian Dog (B/W-Silent-1929; 16:08) is still a potent piece of cinematic surrealism eighty one years later.

An exchange of dreams between Dali and Buñuel, this landmark film is considered the first motion picture produced entirely within the Surrealist Movement. Although it begins with the innocent “Il etait une fois…” (“Once Upon a Time”) it is far from a fairy tale. With a perfect score, including Richard Wagner’s Prelude and Isolde’s Death, and original music track Buñuel prepared in 1960 based on the soundtrack from the original premiere, the seemingly random imagery is disturbing, amusing, wicked and thought-provoking simultaneously, even if the creator’s own predilections differ from that of its intended audience.

As a writer who embraces the drowsy entrance into the dream state, known as hypnagogique (désigne l’état de conscience en début du sommeil et au moment du réveil) which precede REM (Rapid Eye Movement) Sleep, I understand the significance it provides not only authors and poets but painters, photographers and film makers because if one does not immediately make detailed notations of the imagery before falling into the actual dreams they are lost. By the time we reach S-Sleep (slow–wave sleep or NREM or Non-REM), which is the deepest, and although not always, a dreamless state, the earlier hypnagogic period is lost forever. This period is characterized by delta waves and a low level of autonomic physiological activity.

The hypnagogique state produces startling imagery, and in my case and of those of other people who have shared the experience, often graphic sexual and violence scenes, unconnected, with resplendent colors, auditory hallucinations and non sequitur verbal communications. Anyone who has almost fallen asleep and abruptly awakened to they are drooling on their pillows because they “heard” a voice they are convinced emanated from nearby, even if they are alone, has unexpectedly interrupted hypnagogique. In interviews, Canadian director David Cronenberg has admitted to awakening and making notes of this state of mind that later became scenarios in his films.

Our visualizations are distorted and if we can remember what we have seen while it may be disconcerting it is immeasurably useful for artistry. For a brilliant example of how these images can manifest themselves into art I recommend Kalliope Amorphous Hypnagogia

With this explanation of dreams and its illogicality one can almost over hear the conversations between Buñuel and Dali as they collaborate on the story.

Anyone who has seen it will immediately have a different response to the woman’s eye being slit open, by a cigarette-smoking, straight razor-wielding Dali, while editing with juxtaposition of the moon while clouds drift over the sphere, clearly representing a clean, although still graphic, slicing of the eyeball. Hands fondling a woman’s breasts through her blouse as the material slowly fades to show her partially nude, ants crawling from a hole in a man’s hand, a man dragging a piano, two Bishops and two rotting asses, and the sight of a woman’s armpit hair disappearing to reappear as a man’s beard are a few scenes that once seen are never forgotten!

The showing in Paris, in a private theater, drew artists like Cocteau and Pablo Picasso to its premiere. Buñuel stood behind the screen manually playing records on an old phonograph to accompany the film. His son tells that his father had pockets full of stones that, had the film reaction been less than his anticipation, he would have “stoned the audience.” Luckily, the success left the stones unused.

Transflux Films released the DVD version in December, 2004 and it as is definitive as one is likely to find. The original full screen Aspect Ration of 1.33:1 is intact and certainly makes earlier releases primitive by comparison. To be sure, there are still issues with the visual and sound qualities (audio is in Dolby Digital); however, this may be the best available print in existence, although that is a debatable topic, but having viewed it several times, in various formats, it is better than the edited PBS version I saw with annoying black bars censoring some of what must have been determined too salacious or violent for the audience.

The DVD has extras including an audio commentary by surrealism expert Stephen Barber, an epilogue with the director and co writer, a 16 minute essential interview and documentary from son, Juan-Luis Buñuel wherein we learn that Buñuel (who was studying agricultural engineering in Madrid), Dali and poet Frederico Garcia Lorca met and became lifelong friends. It is interesting to note that these three men were surrealists in Spain before hearing about the Paris Surreal Movement. The stories he shares are a wonderful insight into how these inseparable friends each influenced the other.

At the University of Southern Mississippi, around 1973, it was shown in a crudely duped 16mm format that was truly primitive. There were numerous walkouts from students who either were repulsed or did not “get it.” When it ended there were only a handful of us left, jaws a gaped at what we had seen, but I was thrilled.

My mother purchased a Curtis Mathis top-loading video recorder, in 1983, while I was working in New Smyrna Beach, Florida as a newspaper city reporter. Without a girl friend or any male friends, I was instantly infatuated with the possibilities of both recording and purchasing videos. My date nights were spent alone watching videos. As the years past and the DVD replaced the VHS format, much as CDs led to the end of vinyl (although in recent years there has been a resurgence in albums) I began collecting them as well and my collection grew to an insanely high number in the thousands (DVD and VHS) with emphasis on foreign, silent, documentaries, avant-garde and naturally, domestic films.

I was scanning my collection recently to decide what to sell or keep and I was forced to admit the inescapable fact that my collected works were as esoteric as my vast album library. While not boasting to being the only collector of the arcane, I realized how much I truly enjoyed searching for, and finding, unexpected pleasures especially since these were in the pre-internet days and locating catalogues or companies specializing in the offbeat was as challenging as seeing the films themselves.

Today, through the power of the ether, the Internet offers virtually anything you can imagine and there are finally enough movie rental-purchase sites to find documentaries on surrealism, Dadaism, Max Ernst, Dali, M. C. Escher, et al.

Early in the videocassette age I purchased an Avant-garde collection, in 1985, with other masterpieces including, Buñuel’s L’Âge d’Or (1930) that served as an introduction to this genre. This was at a time when the video libraries were supremely limited especially in the areas of art and documentaries.

Although many were OOP (Out of Print) as the audience grew so did the market; documentaries on Max Ernst, Dali, M.C. Escher and Germany-Dada became available and immediately added to my ever-growing collection. The Germany-Dada documentary is an outstanding piece of historical and hysterical exploration into the movements and with the constant onomatopoeia of “Dadadadadadadadadadadada…’ fuels a desire to learn more about all the participants.

Un Chien Andalou defied logic because there was none and Dali and Buñuel worked well together as they combined ideas that would soon become the genus of the film. One scene with a woman and man has many interpretations and they are all false; the film is a dream “totally irrational.” Imagine today’s film critics’ elucidations about this segment; the woman’s fear of man who wants to love or dominate her but he cannot reach her as he is held back by a piano – he is being stopped by his art, but what of the two dead donkeys, which may represent death? The two priests can be interpreted as religion stopping him from reaching her.

André Breton, the French poet, essayist and one of the founders, with Paul Eluard, of the Surrealist movement, explains: “…the simplest surrealist act consists of dashing down into the street, pistol in hand, and firing blindly…” Breton’s manifestoes of

Surrealism are the most important theoretical statements of this movement:

Ma Femme à la chevelure de feu de bois
Aux pensées d’eclairs de chaleur
A la taille de sablier
Ma femme à la taille de loutre entre les dents du tigre
Ma femme à la bouche de cocarde et de bouquet d’étoiles de dernière grandeur
Aux dents d’empreintes de souris blanche sur la terre blanche
A la langue d’ambre et de verre frottés
Ma femme à la langue d’hostie poignardée
A la langue de poupée qui ouvre et ferme les yeux
A la langue de pierre incroyable (…)

‘Ma Femme à la Chevelure de Feu de Bois’

After various quarrels with the Dadaist group he joined in 1916, Breton moved towards Surrealism.

“Leave everything. Leave Dada. Leave your wife. Leave your mistress. Leave your hopes and fears. Leave your children in the woods. Leave the substance for the shadow. Leave your easy life, leave what you are given for the future. Set off on the road.” With Louis Aragon and Philippe Soupault, Breton founded the Littérature and in MANIFESTE DU SURRÉALISME (1924), Breton defined Surrealism as:

“pure psychic automatism, by which an attempt is made to express, either verbally, in writing or in any other manner, the true functioning of thought. The dictation of thought, in the absence of all control by reason, excluding any aesthetic or moral preoccupation.’

In the Second Manifesto he further stated that surrealists strive to attain a “mental vantage-point (point de l’esprit) from which life and death, the real and the imaginary, past and future, communicable and incommunicable, high and low, will no longer be perceived as contradictions.”

Buñuel understood that the surrealism in Un Chien Andalou was made to shock as it revealed images that no one in the world had ever seen. My experience at USM with the walkouts should not be surprising; the eye slit shot is in the very beginning and those disturbed by it obviously were not interested in seeing anything else. This was the era of recreational drugs and naturally many in the audience were stoned and perhaps this was the wrong venue for it, but the few of us who remained were touched by the wonderful audacity Buñuel and Dali projected.

Buñuel’s career would finally net him an Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 1972 with The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie but all of his films contained the surreal, black humor and elegant decadence. His first feature film, L’Âge d’Or was banned by high ranking members of the Catholic Church due to its perceived sacrilegious content. His films often presented uncompromising looks at poverty, squalor, ignorance and anti-Catholicism.

If Un Chien Andalou seems an uncomfortable place to start viewing his films, I suggest the following films:

The Phantom of Liberty (1974)

One of his most episodic films, Phantom’s stories are linked together in such a way that one is never certain what happens next. Favorite scenes: a “missing girl” helps police find her; a possible child molester shows young girls pictures that are described as horrible and when we see them they are of landscapes and criticized not for the sexual perversity we were led to believe but through the compositions; and at a formerly dressed affair everyone sits around the table on individual toilets, rather than chairs and occasionally excuse themselves to private bathroom-style cubicles where they eat their meals alone! Only in this surreal world could defecating and eating be reversed and although it sounds grotesque is actually both humorous and profound.

That Obscure Object of Desire (1977)

Two actresses (Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina) portray the same character, Conchita; the Spanish actor Fernando Rey was dubbed by French star, Michel Piccoli while the two women are dubbed by a third – how’s that for surreal? Conchita is a hot and cold 19 year old former chambermaid with whom Mathieu (Rey) is obsessed. The manipulative femme, although played by the two actresses is accepted on screen as a single character. When I first saw it I was unable to identify with anyone and actually appreciated the subversive ending that while may seem today as nilhistic and downbeat was refreshing in 1977. Terrorist bombings figure prominently throughout the scenario and especially in the climax.

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)

The Oscar winner skewers the conventions of society and is as wicked as anything imaginable as a group of high society couples attempt continuously and unsuccessfully to enjoy a dinner party. There are dreams within the group, dealing with interrupted meals and even a realization the friends are all part of a stage play! There are plenty of perfect examples in the script, written by J written by Jean-Claude Carrière in collaboration with Buñuel and the surrealism is, as expected, contradictory but what makes the film work is that all the characters accept every scenario which includes intertwining of individual dreams, terrorists from the Republic of Miranda (fictitious) and a reoccurring scene of the six major characters walking silently down a country road towards a mysterious destination echoes the Ingmar Bergman esthetics of “The Seventh Seal.”

Belle de Jour (1967)

Re-issued in 1994, where I saw it in an empty theater in Birmingham, Catherine Deneuve stars as a bored newlywed who turns to sexual depravity, without her husband aware. It starts with her character kidnapped, tied to a tree and gang-raped, but it was a daydream. The film offers two possible endings, and much like Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965) where she played a virgin attracted and repulsed by sex, leading to a pair of murders while she is left alone in her sister’s London flat, afforded the talented and beautiful French actress two particular films that make a great, albeit disturbing, Double Feature.

Diary of a Chambermaid (1964)

As a child, I had a huge crush on Jeanne Moreau (Mademoiselle, 1966; The Bride Wore Black, 1968), who stars here as the aforementioned Chambermaid, who comes to work at a Normandy estate in 1930. The family is quintessential Buñuel; the husband has a boot fetish, his daughter is frigid and her husband spends most of his time trying to bed the servants and naturally, there is a Fascist character who keeps the owner involved of the goings on. The radiant Moreau commands the screen as her observations of the decadence surrounding her poignant and profound.

The Exterminating Angel (1962)

Another candidate for Double Feature viewing with Discreet, this film involves a group and a dinner party; however, after the banquet, they find the servants gone and for a never explained reason cannot leave although they are not locked in but are convinced they are stranded. They degenerate into savagery; hiding bodies of dead guests, axing a water pipe for water, even slaughtering and eating a sheep that was part of post-party entertainment. It is a savage satire with plenty of the film maker’s quixotic dry wit.

Felix The Cat – Monkeys with Magic.More bloopers are a click away

Cast of Un Chien Andalou
Simone Mareuil: Young girl (as Simonne Mareuil)
Pierre Batcheff: Man (as Pierre Batchef)
Luis Buñuel: Man in Prolog (uncredited)
Salvador Dalí: Seminarist (uncredited)
Robert Hommet: Young Man (uncredited)
Marval: Seminarist (uncredited)
Fano Messan: Hermaphrodite (uncredited)
Jaume Miravitlles: Fat Seminarist (uncredited)

Directed, Produced, Edited and Scored by Luis Buñuel; Cinematography by Albert Duvergerand Jimmy Berliet (uncredited); Art Direction by Pierre Schild (uncredited)

Luis Buñuel Filmography

Un chien andalou An Andalusian Dog 1929 France French 16 min Written by Buñuel and Salvador Dalí
L’Âge d’or The Golden Age 1930 France French 60 min Written by Buñuel and Salvador Dalí
Las Hurdes: Tierra Sin Pan Land Without Bread 1933 Spain French 30 min Documentary/mockumentary.
Gran Casino Magnificent Casino 1947 Mexico Spanish 92 min
El Gran Calavera The Great Madcap 1949 Mexico Spanish 92 min
Los olvidados The Forgotten 1950 Mexico Spanish 85 min
Susana The Devil and the Flesh 1951 Mexico Spanish 86 min
La hija del engaño The Daughter of Deceit 1951 Mexico Spanish 78 min
Subida al cielo Ascent to Heaven (Mexican Bus Ride) 1952 Mexico Spanish 85 min
Una mujer sin amor A Woman Without Love 1952 Mexico Spanish 85 min
El bruto The Brute 1953 Mexico Spanish 81 min
Él This Strange Passion aka Torments 1953 Mexico Spanish 92 min
La ilusión viaja en tranvía Illusion Travels by Streetcar 1954 Mexico Spanish 82 min
Abismos de pasión aka Cumbres Borrascosas Wuthering Heights 1954 Mexico Spanish 91 min
Robinson Crusoe 1954 Mexico English 90 min
Ensayo de un crimen Rehearsal for a Crime aka The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz 1955 Mexico Spanish 89 min
El río y la muerte The River and the Death 1955 Mexico Spanish 91 min
Cela s’appelle l’aurore That is the Dawn 1956 Italy/France French 102 min
La mort en ce jardin Death in the Garden 1956 France/Mexico French 104 min
Nazarín 1959 Mexico Spanish 94 min
La fièvre monte à El Pao Fever Rises in El Pao aka Republic of Sin 1959 France/Mexico French 109 min
The Young One 1960 Mexico/USA English 96 min
Viridiana 1961 Mexico/Spain Spanish 90 min
El ángel exterminador The Exterminating Angel 1962 Mexico Spanish 95 min
Le journal d’une femme de chambre The Diary of a Chambermaid 1964 France/Italy French 98 min
Simón del desierto Simon of the Desert 1965 Mexico Spanish 45 min
Belle de jour 1967 France/Italy French 101 min
La Voie Lactée The Milky Way 1969 France/Italy French 105 min
Tristana 1970 France/Italy/Spain Spanish 105 min
Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie 1972 France/Italy/Spain French 102 min
Le fantôme de la liberté The Phantom of Liberty 1974 Italy/France French 104 min
Cet obscur objet du désir That Obscure Object of Desire 1977 France/Spain French 105 min

Next Saturday Night: Georges Méliès 1902 Le Voyage Dans La Lune (A Trip To The Moon). French black and white silent science fiction film; loosely based on From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne and The First Men in the Moon by H. G. Wells.

8 thoughts on “Un Chien Andalou Potent Cinematic Surrealism

  1. Chien Andalou, not just a great film but something truly revolutionary, to introduce the world to psychological disturbance, inescapability of dreams etc. It has a direct impact, I enjoy writing like that sometimes, a stream of direct mental interactions.
    Much of my own work comes from dreams or sudden strange thoughts, kind of like daydreaming, there is the snap of the finger and it feels as if the whole of your reality has changed.
    I’ve seen quite a few Bunuel films, Chien Andalou was the first one I ever saw; and I like him, there is a lot of psychological depth to him.

  2. Thank you LK and Steven. It was inspiring revisiting the film and adding new comments; I had more ideas since I watched it last November and then again last night.

    As LK articulated “who needs words?”

    This is one of the finest examples of imagery as story and visualization and is as powerful today as in 1929.


  3. Fantastic, Henry. As soon as I have a moment of leisure time, I need to check out more films like this….that is if my DVD player is not clogged with dust at this point. Thank you for sharing this!

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