The Surreal World of Un Chien Andalou
Thin clouds drift across a full moon. A man’s hand moves a freshly sharpened razor blade across a woman’s eye. It mimics the motion of the clouds as the eye splits to reveal its gel-like content. That describes the notorious opening to Un Chien Andalou. Considered to be a 16-minute surreal masterpiece, which Roger Ebert called “the most famous short film ever made.” That is high praise for the 1929 silent film inspired by the dreams of filmmaker Luis Buñuel and artist Salvador Dali.
“No idea or image that might lend itself to a rational explanation of any kind would 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 on Un Chien Andalou
There are hundreds of excellent reviews on the internet of Un Chien Andalou. We won’t try to repeat. Consider this as an invitation from movie fans to watch something unique and memorable. The opening scene described above is one of the most famous scenes in film history. It also means nothing in a movie without a plot. Un Chien Andalou, which means an Andalusian dog (naturally, there is no dog in the film) is an incoherent, non-sequitur flow of dream-like images intended to shock and provoke the viewer. You might expect this with co-writing credit from the surrealist master, Dali.
Although they are not as shocking today as they were when originally released, they are cringe-worthy. Un Chien Andalou achieves a surreal dream-like state with such images as donkeys, a transvestite, brief nudity, priests, a severed hand, ants, and sexual assault. Time does not move linearly. Title cards are shown stating “Once upon a time, eight years years later, and sixteen years ago” to demonstrate the change in time. This movement has little effect on the film.
Release of Un Chien Andalou
It mesmerized its original 1929-audience with its overt sexuality and graphic imagery. Luis Buñuel expected the audience to hate the film. It was his aim to insult artistic sensibility and the audience’s reason.
Legend has it that Buñuel stood behind the screen with rocks in his pocket. He was to throw them at an angry audience when attacked. To his dismay, it was a success. He said, “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, impassioned call for murder?”
Dalí once boasted that the movie, which was praised by avant-garde critics, “plunged like a dagger into the heart of Paris.” It is debatable if Dali’s claim was entirely correct, for it was an unusual sensation in its time.
Inspiration from the film and Luis Buñuel
The film and the director Luis Buñuel went on to inspire many modern artist and musician. His work encompassed fifty years of filmmaking, and he received several Oscar nominations. In 1972 he won best foreign film for The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. Arguably his most famous film is Belle du Jour, which ranked #56 on Empire magazine’s list, “The 100 Best Films of World Cinema”.
His work inspired many directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Hiroshi Teshigahara, and David Lynch. In such David Lynch films as Eraserhead or Mulholland Drive or the Television program Twin Peaks, you can see the blend of realism and surrealism which goes back to Buñuel.
The David Bowie would show Un Chien Andalou before his “Station to Station” tour shows. The Pixies were known to show the film as well, and it’s the inspiration for their song Debaser. The opening lines are “I got me a movie. I want you to know, slicing up eyeballs. I want you to know.” The song Debaser’s name and lyrics, according to lead singer Black Francis, is because Un Chien Andalou debases morality and standards of art.
To end with another quote by Roger Ebert, “anyone halfway interested in the cinema sees it sooner or later, usually several times.” If you are a fan of cinema, you should check it out. You can watch it in its entirety below (sorry no English Subtitles).
A few additional Facts
- Premiere ranked the opening scene as 10th out of “The 25 Most Shocking Moments in Movie History.
- Salvadore Dali played one of the priests.
- It is one of the few movies with a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
- Sadly both leading actors committed suicide. The male lead Pierre Batcheff died by an overdose of Veronal (Barbital). Simone Mareuil, after a deep depression, committed suicide by self-immolation. In a public square, she doused herself with gasoline and set herself on fire.
- Dali and Buñuel began to collaborate on a second film due to a falling out, Dali left the project.
- The sliced eye in the opening scene was a dead calf eye.
- The woman sitting on a chair, reading, during the bicycle scene throws a book aside. The open page shows a reproduction of a painting by Vermeer, a Dutch painter greatly admired by Salvador Dalí.
- The androgynous person poking the severed hand is French Sculpturer Fano Messan.
d-_-b “shadow” – Chromatics