Un Chien Andalou and the Language of Desire
According to Rosemary Lambert in the Cambridge Introduction to the History of Art: The Twentieth Century, "Surrealism was concerned with exploring and illustrating the unconscious mind" (40-41). This exploration and illustration was carried out with the use of dream imagery, symbols, puns, and with a general attitude of complete freedom of expression. The surrealists were concerned with liberating the imagination from its rational and scientific chains by making use of dreams and fantasy (41).
Bunuel, himself, in his Notes on the Making of Un Chien Andalou, has the following to say about the surrealist movement and its relation to his film:
Un Chien Andalou would not have existed if the movement called surrealist had not existed. For its "ideology," its psychic motivation and the systematic use of the poetic image as an arm to overthrow accepted notions corresponds to the characteristics of all authentically surrealist work. This film has no intention of attracting nor pleasing the spectator; indeed, on the contrary, it attacks him, to the degree that he belongs to a society with which surrealist is at war. (Stauffacher 29 - 30).
The film, Un Chien Andalou, written, directed, and produced by Luis Bunuel with contributions from Salvadore Dali, is an excellent example of a surrealist work as attested to by Andre Breton himself (Aranta 63). Bunuel and Dali make use of dream imagery, symbolism, and the pun in an all out attack on social convention in an attempt to force the audience to deal with the repressed and taboo subjects of sexual desire, violence and death (63-64). While, on the one hand, Bunuel admits that the film is, indeed, a surrealist work, on the other hand, he is adamant in stating that "NOTHING in the film SYMBOLIZES ANYTHING" (Stauffacher 30 [Bunuel's emphasis]). This statement seems rather silly at best and at worst ludicrous, for at a very basic level, at least, it would seem that once something (whether animate or inanimate) is placed before a camera and filmed it immediately upon projection can become symbolic of something in some way, shape, or form. As Dudley Andrew so succinctly puts it in Concepts in Film Theory: "Cinema, as a cultural institution, is by definition a symbolic system, mediating the spectator and the world in countless exchangeable ways" (150). For example, a gun can be symbolic of death and violence, a book can be symbolic of education and culture, the color white can be symbolic of purity or innocence, and a priest is usually symbolic of religion. All of the examples mentioned above (however obvious) and more, at least possibly, are in operation in Un Chien Andalou irrespective of Bunuel's denial of the use of symbolism. In fact, there is so much symbolism to be found in Un Chien Andalou, that it is quite possible to present a reading of the film which gives it at least some semblance of coherence--a coherence it might otherwise be impossible to draw from the film without the symbolism, whether implicit or explicit.
In some respects, Bunuel's Un Chien Andalou can be seen as a precursor (by more than fifty years) of some of Laura Mulvey's sentiments in her article "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema." In this article Mulvey says that "Hollywood...always managed to restrict itself to a formal mise-en-scene reflecting the dominant ideological concept of the cinema" (Mulvey 747). She goes on to call for
A cinema to be born which is radical in both a political and an aesthetic sense and challenges the basic assumptions of the mainstream film...to highlight the ways in which its formal preoccupations reflect the physical obsessions of the society which produced it, and, further, to...start specifically by reacting against those obsessions and assumptions...[and] daring to break with normal pleasurable expectations in order to conceive a new language of desire (Mulvey 747-748).
It is rather apparent that...
Cited: Andrew, Dudley. Concepts in Film Theory. Oxford: Oxford Press, 1984.
Aranda, Francisco. Luis Bunuel: A Critical Biography. David Robinson Trans. and Ed. New York: Da Capo Press, 1976.
Brunius, Jacques B. "Experimental Film in France." Experiment in the Film. Roger Manvell, Ed. New York: Arno Press, 1970.
Cook, David A. A History of Narrative Film. New York: W.W. Norton, 1990.
Eisentein, S. M., Pudovkin, V. I., Alexandrov, G. V. "A Statement [On Sound]." Film Theory and Criticism. Eds. Gerald Mast, Marshall Cohen, and Leo Braudy. New York: Oxford Press, 1992.
Kyrou, Ado. Luis Bunuel: An Introduction. Trans. Adrienne Foulke. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1963.
Lambert, Rosemary. Cambridge Introduction to the History of Art: The Twentieth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge Press, 1981.
Metz, Christian. “The Imaginary Signifier.“ Film Theory and Criticism. Gerald Mast, Marshall Cohen, and Leo Braudy, Eds. New York: Oxford Press, 1992.
Mulvey, Laura. "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema." In Film Theory and Criticism. Eds. Gerald Mast, Marshall Cohen, and Leo Braudy. New York: Oxford Press, 1992.
Stauffacher, Frank. (Ed.) Art in Cinema: A Symposium on the Avant-garde Film. New York: Arno Press, 1968.
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