Un Chien Andalou

Well, how does one possibly write about Un Chien Andalou?  Bunuel’s film, written with Salvador Dali in 1929, is probably the most famous short film of all time.  Indeed I cannot think of any other.  The surrealist something-0r-other (which indeed is probably the best epithet to hurl at any surrealist art piece) is seventeen minutes long, contains not one word of dialogue, is papered wall to wall with music, and … aw hell.  What one finds in trying to describe the movie is that you are listing characteristics.  There is no plot at all … though there are sequences which resemble a story, and show the illusion of something “happening”.

Indeed, nothing IS happening on a level.  On the other hand, what emerges is a bizarre, very very dark satire of the fundamental purpose of film – or of entertainment.  We all know the basic establishing shot:master shot film grammar, even if we have not been taught it.  For example: Shot A, subject looks right, Shot B: an apple.  What do we assume?  That the subject is looking at an apple, an apple in the room, or through a window or wherever.  But why is that the case?  After all these are two separate shots.  Of course it helps to have an association.  Sergei Eisenstein, a practitioner of more formal montage theory of film mess around with the notion – trying to deal in revolutionary sorts of themes.  The shots are unrelated in terms of plot, but they do matter.  Shot A and Shot B are meant to provide some sort of emotional reaction, though in terms of the action, they might be unrelated.

In any case, what makes Bunuel’s film so arresting is the total omission of such cues.  Consider an opening shot with a man looking at what seems to be the moon.  (there I go again, associating shots … bear with me)  The next shot is the famous shot of the woman with a razor approaching her eyeball, like the clouds across the moon.  There is a dream logic here, but none of it makes sense, and indeed Bunuel seems to satirizing the notion of our need FOR it to make sense.  This method is at the core of surrealist filmmaking, and when I saw the genesis of movies like Mulholland Drive in this little short – I know I am hardly being original.  It is decidedly a WTF sort of movie, but definitely worthwhile.

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