Surrealism

SURREALIST CINEMA

After World War I, France looked toward avant-garde cinema to make its mark against Hollywood. Impressionism, which focused on psychological realism, naturalism, and symbolism, became the dominant French film movement. The surrealists, many of whom were avid film spectators, despised impressionism, but they admired lowbrow American serials and slapstick comedies. Breton and his fellow surrealists found the modernism of Hollywood cinema an exciting medium in its infancy, unencumbered by a conscious artistic tradition.

Though dada rejected cinema as a medium of impressionism, a few dada artists experimented with filmmaking. The Rhythmus films (1921, 1923, 1925) of Hans Richter (1888–1976) and Symphonie diagonale ( Symphonie diaganale , 1924) of Viking Eggeling (1880–1925) attempted to establish a universal pictorial language using abstract geometric shapes in rhythmic movement. Duchamp produced Anémic cinéma ( Anemic Cinema , 1926), in which he filmed a spinning spiral design intercut with a spinning disc containing French phrases. Man Ray (1890–1976) filmed Le Retour à la raison ( Return to Reason , 1923) using an avant-garde photography technique he pioneered and named the "rayograph." Though cubist artist Fernand Léger (1881–1955) and filmmaker Dudley Murphy (1897–1968) were not members of dada, their collaborative abstract film Ballet mécanique (1924) is often discussed in relation to these films because of its similar visual style and Léger's aim to exasperate viewers. Richter's Vormittagsspuk ( Ghosts Before Breakfast , 1928) merged slapstick and dada to create a highly entertaining six-minute film.

Although Breton never mentioned film in any of his manifestos, cinema's visual nature and the dreamlike experience of watching film led the surrealists to consider cinema the ideal medium for carrying out their theories in practice. Between 1924 and 1935, surrealist Antonin Artaud (1896–1948) was the only surrealist writer to produce a body of theoretical work about the potential of the medium, which he called "raw cinema." His aim was to discover the mechanisms of dreams in order to reconstitute the violent power of dreaming as a process, overruling interpretation or explanation. He formulated the tearing away of image from representation and giving it to the viewer as a pure image. Spectators are then in a subjugated position to it, and the experience triggers a violent unleashing of their senses. Yet Artaud faced much trouble trying to turn his theories into actual films. impressionist filmmaker Germaine Dulac directed Artaud's only completed screenplay, La Coquille et le clergyman ( The Seashell and the Clergyman , 1928), which Artaud rejected as a distortion of his theories on surrealism.

Man Ray attempted several surrealist films, including Emak-Bakia (1926) and L'Étoile de mer ( The Starfish , 1928), but they failed to excite the surrealists, who considered them too dadaist. Two months after Breton had published the first Manifesto of Surrealism , dada artist Francis Picabia (1879–1953) and filmmaker René Clair presented their film, Entr'acte (1924), during the intermission of a ballet performance. Among a number of unrelated images, the film features Duchamp and Man Ray playing chess, and although it is considered to be surrealist, Picabia meant for it to be a personal attack on Breton.

GERMAINE DULAC
b. Amiens, France, 17 November 1882, d. 20 July 1942

A director, writer, and film theorist, Germaine Dulac was the first female avant-garde filmmaker in France. She was never an official member of the surrealist movement, but her theory of "pure cinema" shared similar goals and ideals to those of surrealism. Though many of Dulac's films were highly successful commercial narratives (serials and melodramas), her best moments evoked emotion without resorting to dramatic devices. Her skill of tapping into the unconscious processes of her characters and her viewers' perceptions linked her thematically to the surrealists.

Dulac's goal of "pure cinema" centered on producing films that were independent of literary, theatrical, or other artistic influences. Throughout her film career, she experimented with new ways of presenting characters' inner emotions and exploring their psychological states through cinematic means without ever being tied to one particular avant-garde movement. Her editing techniques have been compared to those of D. W. Griffith, creating an unconscious reaction in the mind of the viewer. She was also very skilled in incorporating music into her later sound films to create visual and aural rhythms.

Dulac's pre-film background involved feminism and journalism, and her films return time and again to themes of femininity. Her films directly challenge the romantic perceptions, metaphorical mythologies, and social constructions of womanhood. She distinguishes between male and female subjectivity in La Mort du soleil ( The Death of the Sun , 1922) and focuses on female subjectivity in La Souriante Madame Beudet ( The Smiling Madame Beudet , 1922), in which she uses a number of special effects, lighting, and editing techniques to represent directly the protagonist's thoughts and imagination.

In 1927 Dulac came across surrealist Antonin Artaud's screenplay for La Coquille et le clergyman ( The Seashell and the Clergyman ), which he had deposited at a film institute due to lack of funds to produce it. The surrealists considered Dulac, who was already well established in the Parisian avant-garde film community, to be strictly impressionist—too loyal to traditions of naturalism and symbolism for their liking. Dulac followed Artaud's script closely in her 1928 film, only changing a few practical elements when necessary. Yet Artaud claimed she had butchered his script, and he staged a riot during the premiere screening. Although André Breton had expelled Artaud from the surrealists the previous year, the group joined in the riot, screaming profanities and halting projection of the film. La Coquille et le Clergyman was removed from the program and its surrealism was overshadowed that year by Dali and Buñuel's Un Chien andalou ( An Andalusian Dog , 1928). Though the surrealists themselves rejected the film, most critics today consider La Coquille et le Clergyman to be the first surrealist film.

RECOMMENDED VIEWING

Âmes de fous ( Crazy Souls or Souls of the Crazy Ones , 1918), La Mort du soleil ( The Death of the Sun , 1922), La Souriante Madame Beudet ( The Smiling Madame Beudet , 1922), La Coquille et le clergyman ( The Seashell and the Clergyman , 1928)

FURTHER READING

Flitterman-Lewis, Sandy. To Desire Differently: Feminism and the French Cinema . Expanded ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.

Hayward, Susan. French National Cinema . London and New York: Routledge, 1993.

Kuenzli, Rudolf E., ed. Dada and Surrealist Film . New York: Willis, Locker and Owens, 1987.

Short, Robert. The Age of Gold: Surrealist Cinema . London: Creation Books, 2003.

Erin Foster

The film generally considered to be the masterpiece of surrealist cinema, Un Chien andalou ( An Andalusian Dog , 1928), was made by the painter Salvador Dali and his college friend Luis Buñuel (1900–1983). By 1927, the influence of surrealism was apparent in Dali's painting, although he was not officially a member of the movement. Buñuel had worked in the film industry through bit parts, odd jobs, and film criticism and was looking to become a director. The idea for the film came from an encounter between two of their dreams, and they

Germaine Dulac.

wrote a script for it in a week. Their only rule was that no idea or image that might lend itself to a rational explanation of any kind would be used: all images in the film had to be shocking and completely unexpected. Buñuel brought rocks in his pockets to the premiere screening to throw at the audience if they hated it, but the surrealists loved it. The film had an eight-month run at the prestigious Studio 28, and Breton gave Buñuel the task of advancing surrealist cinema.

Un Chien andalou begins with a title card reading "Once upon a time …" followed by a shot of a man (played by Buñuel) sharpening a razor blade. After briefly looking at the moon, he then slices a woman's eyeball with the razor. This is followed by a shot of a cloud drifting across the moon in a similar slicing manner, a title card reading "Eight years later …," and a number of unrelated scenes, including one in which ants crawl out of a man's hand. By using audience expectation of narrative conventions through the deceptive title cards, the film draws in viewers before attacking them with seemingly inexplicable surrealist images. Buñuel and Dali play with and subvert Freudian imagery and sexual symbolism as a form of criticism and parody. The misleading narrative scaffolding, the eyeline matches, dissolves, and superimpositions all mock the clichésof impressionist film. Though originally based on Buñuel and Dali's dreams, Un Chien andalou is not a filmed dream but an exploration of how the mind dreams and creates meanings in the unconscious process.

The unprecedented success of Un Chien andalou was both a blessing and a curse for surrealism. Audience exposure to the film meant that the movement was getting its message to the public, but the movement itself was suspicious of success, especially commercial success, because popularity meant surrealism was too easily digestible and not reactionary enough. Breton was fearful of the museumification of surrealism.

Buñuel and Dali's next film, L'Age d'or ( The Golden Age , 1930), was less accessible than Un Chien andalou . Wealthy aristocrat Vicomte de Noailles commissioned L'Age d'or in 1930 as a birthday present to his wife. Originally meant to be a sequel to Un Chien andalou , it was one of France's first sound films. Dali's input on this film was much less significant than on Un Chien andalou , and he eventually disowned the film, arguing that Buñuel had betrayed his artistic intentions. The film was faithful to surrealism, with its structural duality between gold and feces, invoking a psychoanalytic link between the basest and most precious of substances and mocking the narrative conventions of classical cinema. During the initial screening of the film, which subtly depicts Jesus as a serial killer and mocks the ruling class and bourgeoisie alike, a riot broke out in which angry audience members chanted and threw ink on the screen and smoke bombs into the crowd. They also destroyed a surrealist exhibit in the lobby of the theater. L'Age d'or was banned within three months of its release, and it was not seen again until 1980. This invisibility worked to the surrealists' advantage, as mystery and legend furthered the film's notoriety.

Buñuel officially broke with the surrealists in 1932, but his later films remained faithful to the surrealist ethic, particularly Las Hurdes ( Land Without Bread , 1933) and Los Olvidados ( The Young and the Damned , 1950). He continued to use surrealist imagery and absurd narrative techniques for the rest of his career, as evident in films like El Á ngel exterminador ( The Exterminating Angel , 1962); Simón del desierto ( Simon of the Desert , 1965); and his final film, Cet obscur objet du désir ( That Obscure Object of Desire , 1977). Dali went to Hollywood to collaborate with Walt Disney in 1946 (on a seven-minute surrealist cartoon, "Destino," that never passed the storyboarding phase) and Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock liked Dali's understanding of psychoanalysis and hired him to create the sets for the

The Surrealist film Un Chien andalou (An Andalusian Dog, 1929) was a collaboration between filmmaker Luis Buñuel and painter Salvador Dali.

surrealistic dream sequence in Spellbound (1945). All other attempts Dali made at filmmaking proved unsuccessful, and he soon after returned to painting.

Cinema came relatively late in the surrealist movement, and it was never fully utilized, much to the regret of Breton. This was probably due to the actual practicalities of filmmaking, which were inherently opposed to the surrealist ideals of chance and automation. Buñuel was the only surrealist to have gotten seriously involved in the technical and practical aspects of the medium, which may have also helped lead him to breaking with the movement. Another limiting factor in surrealist film experimentation was that amateur filmmaking was extremely expensive until after World War II; afterward, cheaper film equipment became available, but by then the surrealist movement had disbanded. In 1947 Hans Richter released Dreams That Money Can Buy , seven short episodes that examine the unconscious, written by and featuring Richter, Man Ray, Duchamp, Léger, Max Ernst (1891–1976), and Alexander Calder (1898–1976). Besides Buñuel's work, this is the last official surrealist film.

Though surrealist film was limited, the artistic ideals of surrealism have been influential for a number of filmmakers. American experimental filmmakers like Maya Deren, Stan Brakhage, and Kenneth Anger utilized the surrealistic approach to push the boundaries of film representation and shock audiences out of passive spectatorship. Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon (1943) uses a repetitive, loosely narrative structure and Freudian symbolism to examine female subjectivity in cinema. Brakhage sometimes painted or scratched abstract designs directly onto celluloid, and films of his such as Dog Star Man (1962) use repetitive or unrelated imagery in ways that often alienate viewers. In Anger's dreamlike Fireworks (1947), the director uses violent imagery to explore his own homosexuality. The surrealist aesthetic also is apparent in animation, particularly in Japanese animé and in the work of eastern European animators like Jan Svankmajer. European auteurs like Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, and Wim Wenders also owe a debt to surrealism. American filmmakers David Lynch and Terry Gilliam and Canadian David Cronenberg also rely heavily on surrealistic imagery, ironic juxtapositions, misleading narrative devices, and Freudian symbolism to shock, confuse, and challenge spectators.

Bigsby, C. W. E. Dada and Surrealism . London: Methuen, 1972.

Breton, André. Manifestoes of Surrealism . Translated from the French by Richard Seaver and Helen R. Lane. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1969.

Hammond, Paul, ed. The Shadow and Its Shadow: Surrealist Writings on Cinema . London: British Film Institute, 1978.

Kuenzli, Rudolf E., ed. Dada and Surrealist Film . New York: Willis, Locker and Owens, 1987.

Matthews, J. H. Surrealism and American Feature Films . Boston: Twayne, 1979.

——. Surrealism and Film . Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1971.

Richter, Hans. Dada, Art and Anti-Art . Translated by David Britt. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1997.

Short, Robert. The Age of Gold: Surrealist Cinema . London: Creation Books, 2003.

——. Dada and Surrealism . London: Laurence King, 1994.

Erin Foster

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