Surrealism, expressionism, and psychoanalysis were intellectual currents that affected all of the arts in the 1920s. In Germany, expressionism was the most influential, but among the artistic community in Paris, surrealism had
of Modern Art/Film Stills
Earth, 1930. Still provided by Museum Archives.
of Modern Art/Film Stills an even greater influence. Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel, Spanish artists, were particularly attracted to the possibility of making surrealist film. Like Vertov in the Soviet Union, Bunuel and Dali reacted first against classical film narrative, the type of storytelling and editing represented by Griffith. Like Eisenstein, Bunuel particularly viewed the use of dialectic editing and counterpoint, setting one image off in reaction to another, as a strong operating principle.
The filmic outcome was Un Chien d'Andalou (An Andalusian Dog) (1929). Bunuel particularly was interested in making a film that destroyed meaning, interspersed with the occasional shock. Suddenly, a woman's eye is being slashed, two donkeys are draped across two pianos, a hand exudes ants or caresses a shoulder (Figures 1.38 to 1.41).
The fact that the film has become as famous as it has is a result of what the film represents: a satirical set of shocks intended to speak to the audience's unconscious. Whether the images are dream-like and surreal or satiric remains open to debate. The importance of the film is that it represents the height of asynchronism; it is based on visual disassociation rather than on the classic rules of continuity. Consequently, the film broadens the filmmaker's options: to make sense, to move, to disturb, to rob of meaning, to undermine the security of knowing.
To frame Bunuel's contribution to film editing in another way, consider classic narrative storytelling as a linear progression. The plot begins with the character's achievement or final failure of achieving that goal. The plot follows the progress of the character in a linear fashion.
Bunuel, in undermining narrative expectations creates in essence a nonlinear plot. Character may be replaced by a new character or by a new goal for the old character. This nonlinearity can be frustrating for the viewer. But it also can open up the story to a new series of story options and consequent experiences for the audience.
In this sense, Bunuel creates at least philosophically a nonlinear experience for his audience. And he uses editing to do so.
Bunuel and Dali followed up Un Chien d'Andalou with a film that is a surreal narrative, L'Age d'Or (The Golden Age) (1930). In this film, a couple is overwhelmed by their passion for one another, but society, family, and Church stand against them and prevent them from being together. This is a film about great passion and great resistance to that passion. Again, the satiric, exaggerated imagery of surrealism interposes a nonrealistic commentary on the behavior of all. Passion, anger, and resistance can lead only to death. The film's images portray each state (Figures 1.42 to 1.46).
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