Surrealism and “Un Chien Andalou”

Luis Bunuel Quote

I recently created this poster for my Psychology class, and since surrealism, specifically Un Chien Andalou and the work of it’s two creators, has interested me for some time, I would like to write about why this poster means something to me.

Luis Buñuel was a spanish filmmaker in the mid 1900’s who is often associated with the surrealist movement. This image is a frame from a film he created with surrealist artist Salvador Dalí entitled Un Chien Andalou (1929). The scene pictured above was inspired by a dream that Buñuel had about a wisp of cloud cutting across the moon like a razor blade cutting an eye. The film was actually conceived after Buñuel and Dalí shared with each other some strange dreams they had each had and decided to make a film about them. (Dalí’s was a dream about ants coming out of a hand which he referenced in this and other works throughout his career, including this short animation that he began to develop with Walt Disney in 1945.)

The two artists wrote the film to ultimately signify – nothing. They literally wanted to create an abstract visual roller coaster, full of incredibly symbolic images that do not, in fact, symbolize anything. They went out of their way to make the film as incomprehensible as possible. Buñuel later commented:

“Our only rule was very simple: no idea or image that might lend itself to a rational explanation was to be accepted. We had to open all doors to the irrational and keep only those images that surprised us, without trying to explain why.”
Luis Buñuel

Un Chien Andalou is also a classic example of DIY. The two artists had next to no money when creating the film, Buñuel’s mother funded it, and it was shot entirely within a period of ten days. They had to do what they could for the few “special effect” shots that the film called for. For example, the now iconic shot of an eyeball being slit open by Buñuel – which accompanies the above moon image – was accomplished by slitting the eyeball of a dead calf and using extreme makeup, lighting, and camera preparation to make it flow with the preceding images of the woman’s face. By the end of production the two had so little money left that Buñuel had to cut the film himself, in his kitchen, with no editing equipment to assist him.

When completed, the hope for the film was to enrage the French bourgeoisie society of the day by completely and intentionally undermining everything they had come to expect and love in cinema, and art in general; however, the bourgeoisie ended up embracing and lauding the film, which ultimately prompted this response from Buñuel, who had expected nothing less than a violent upheaval at the initial screening of the film:

“What can I do about the people who adore all that is new, even when it goes against their deepest convictions, or about the insincere, corrupt press, and the inane herd that saw beauty or poetry in something which was basically no more than a desperate call for murder?”
Luis Buñuel

The irony that abounds throughout this entire story is impossible to ignore: the unintentionally inexplicable acceptance of an intentionally inexplicable work of art; a work of art that explores themes of love despite hate, which received love where hate was expected, and ended up hating that love in return; and two financially broke artists creating revolutionary art from practically nothing to speak to hundreds of people doing practically nothing with exorbitant amounts of wealth.

The ironic paradoxes of the situation are almost surreal in themselves, and yet, it is only through the reality of this surrealism that Buñuel’s dream to “explode the social order, to transform life itself” can ultimately be realized.

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