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Un Chien Andalou; A surrealist film review
Some surrealist visuals from the film
Using Surrealism to Represent Unconscious Thoughts or Dreams
Surrealism is an artistic movement that was founded by André Breton in 1924. Surrealism is an art form that uses visual descriptions from dreams or the subconscious to create a piece that is illogical and incomprehensive. Surrealist films showed people a different way of seeing the world and it redefined reality. There were many surrealist movies but one of the most memorable is ‘Un Chien Andalou’.
‘Un Chien Andalou’ is a black and white, silent, surrealist, short film. It was produced by Luis Buňuel and artist Salvador Dalí and released in 1929. The pair came together to challenge audiences and experiment with surrealism in film. They weren’t so much interested in entertaining cinema as they were in changing cinema to undermine the usual bourgeois ideas, this is proved by Susan Sontag when she said, “Surrealism is a bourgeois disaffection”. They wanted to challenge the viewers to think differently. Salvador Dalí once said “Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision”. The film script was based on the perception of suppressed emotions. It is based upon a set of dreams both Buňuel and Dali experienced which may explain the unusual appearance of the film. ‘Un Chien Andalou’ is one of the most notorious surrealist films. It is exactly what a surrealist work is supposed to be; arranging apparently random illustrations together as to move an audience in a way that logic simply cannot.
The film consists of peculiar and surreal imagery. The film opens with a man sharpening a cut-throat razor. This builds suspense for the upcoming image of the man cutting a woman’s eye open. Although the movie doesn’t directly show the cutting of the eye at that point, it is juxtaposed by an image of a thin cloud slicing across the moon. This scene is deliberately trying to disgust the audience. It also gives the audience a false sense of security as they believe the brutality won’t be shown. Although it goes on to show the blade slice through the eye and spill the contents. In a strange and ironic coincidence both actors would later go on to commit suicide. Another juxtaposition is applied in the scene that shows a woman’s hairy armpit. It then blends with an image of a plant that has a similar appearance.
It is a non-linear narrative with title cards that run throughout the film disorganising the images being shown, e.g. “Eight years later” and “Once upon a time”. This confuses the order of the film. Presenting time passing in films give them a certain order of events, but in ‘Un Chien Andalou’ time is jumbled, confusing the viewers. Similar effects that confuse the audiences were used throughout, such as the scene where the woman walks out of the door of her apartment and onto a beach.
Many illustrations shown are thought to be symbols or metaphors. This is demonstrated in the scene where the man stares at his hand. We see that he has a hole in the centre of the palm with ants crawling out of it. This is a metaphor, as they are literally showing that the man is itching to kill, which gives meaning to the phrase ‘ants in the palms’. The ‘hidden messages’ in ‘Un Chien Andalou’ are considered an assault on the bourgeois ways of thinking such as religion, sexuality and traditional behaviour.
There are many violent aspects of the movie that are not blatantly aggressive. One such scene is that of the hand in the street being poked by a woman. This implies that something dreadful has happened but it doesn’t show the actual incident. This is then followed by the woman who was previously poking the hand being hit by a car. A further example of this is when the man is heaving two pianos towards the woman he is ‘itching to kill’. On the piano there are a number of shocking figures such as the live priests and the dead donkeys. Here the priests are being derided as an attack on the church. Imagery like this is outrageous which is important to the surrealist aspect of the film.
Deliberately shocking audiences with its peculiar imagery, confusing timeline and Juxtaposing images, ‘Un Chien Andalou’ is a film that even after 85 years from when it was first released is still the most impressionable surrealist, avant-garde film. It is a movie that relies heavily on abstract descriptions to frighten and provoke the audience. Containing surrealist illustrations that range from the scary, ambiguous, sexual and outlandish, it’s managed to horrify many people for generations.
1. Kimberly. Sharon, (20/10/2008), Surrealism, film and art: Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte, Luis Bunuel,Luis Bunuel-Un Chien Andalou(an Andalusian dog)-1929, (Online), Associated Content from Yahoo, 9/11/2010
2. http://www.surrealism.org/, (2009),(Online), 07/11/2010
3. Conrad. Peter, (09/06/2002), History of the surrealist movement, (Online), Guardian.co.uk, 09/11/2010