Un Chien Andalou
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Un chien andalou (English: An Andalusian Dog) is a sixteen-minute French silent surrealist film released in France on June 6 1929 by writer/directors Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí. It the best-known film of the French avant-garde film movement of the 1920s. It stars Simone Mareuil and Pierre Batcheff as the unnamed protagonists. In a bizarre twist of fate, both actors would later commit suicide. The film's best known scene is the eye slit by the razor.
The 'eye and the razor' scene
The most memorable scene in Un chien andalou is the 'eye and the razor' scene. Following the opening credits appear the words "Once upon a time" the first scene shows two masculine hands sharpening a razor. After the man has tested the sharpness of the razor he steps out on to the balcony, leans on the railing, and looks up to the sky. Presumably, he is watching the moon. There is another shot of the man looking thoughtfully to the moon and smoking before we see the face of a young woman. One of the man's hands opens her left eye while the other holds the razor. There is another shot of the moon before the final shot of an extreme close-up with the razor slicing through the woman's eyeball as jell-like fluids come seeping out of from behind the incision.
Buñuel explained that the eyeball sliced in the opening scene is a cow's eye which was placed into an open socket of an actress missing her original eye. However, a close inspection of the shot makes it clear that it is in fact a cow's eye in a cow's socket.
The film has no plot, in the normal sense of the word. There are two central characters, a man and a woman, who appear throughout and seem to be having a relationship crisis, but they are unnamed and the chronology of the film is disjointed: for example it jumps from "once upon a time" to "eight years later" without the events changing. It uses dream logic that can be described in terms of Freudian free association, presenting a series of tenuously related, and at times potentially offensive, scenes that attempt to shock the viewer. It also features surprising camera angles and other film tricks.
The film opens with a scene in which a woman's eye is slit by a razor. The man with the razor is played by Buñuel himself. In subsequent scenes, a man's hand has a hole in the palm from which ants emerge (a literalization of the French phrase "ants in the palms," meaning that someone is "itching" to kill or is motivated by sexual desire); an androgynous blind woman pokes at a severed hand in the street with her cane before being knocked down by a car; a man fondles a woman, who resists him violently, and then he drags two grand pianos containing dead and rotting donkeys, the tablets of the Ten Commandments, and two live priests (Dalí plays one of the priests in this scene); the man's father (played by the same actor as the man himself) arrives to punish him, but the man eventually shoots him with two pistols that appear seemingly out of nowhere (see Oedipus complex) and a woman's armpit hair attaches itself to a man's face.
At the end of the film, the couple seem to be reconciled, but the final shot shows two figures buried in sand and apparently dead.
Modern prints of the film feature a soundtrack: excerpts from Richard Wagner's Liebestod, the concert version of the overture to his opera Tristan und Isolde, and two Argentinian tangos. These are the same music that Buñuel played on a phonograph during the original 1929 screening; he first added them to a sound print of the film in 1960.
American film critic Roger Ebert has called Un chien andalou "the most famous short film ever made, and anyone halfway interested in the cinema sees it sooner or later, usually several times."
Critics have suggested that Un chien andalou can be understood as a typically Buñuelian anti-bourgeois, anticlerical piece. The man dragging a piano, donkey and priests has been interpreted as an allegory of man's progress towards his goal being hindered by the baggage of society's conventions that he is forced to bear. Likewise, the image of an eyeball being sliced by a razor can be understood as Buñuel "attacking" the film's viewers. Also, Federico García Lorca viewed this film as a personal attack on him.
In spite of these varying interpretations, Buñuel made clear throughout his writings, that between Dalí and himself, the only rule for the writing of the script was that "no idea or image that might lend itself to a rational explanation of any kind would be accepted." Moreover, he stated that, "Nothing, in the film, symbolizes anything. The only method of investigation of the symbols would be, perhaps, psychoanalysis."
Luis Buñuel also referred to those who praised Un Chien Andalou as “that crowd of imbeciles who find the film beautiful and poetic when it is fundamentally a desperate and passionate call to murder.”
He also said that "This film draws its inspiration from poetry, freed from reason and traditional morality. It has no intention of attracting or pleasing the spectator -- indeed, on the contrary, it attacks him to a degree to which he belongs to a society with which surrealism is at war ... this film is meant to explode in the hands of its enemies."
Amos Vogel commented in Film as a Subversive Art that "There is no "plot" -- only innuendos; no logic except that of the nightmare; no reality except the inner universe of the subconscious. The continuity, if any, arises solely in the mind of the viewer. The illogical, dream-like progression of feared or forbidden images in this intentionally shocking work has by now entered film history and has almost acquired a patina of respectability, so far has the world moved towards real and worse nightmares."
An attack on the 'eye'
Daniel Brown has argued that Un chien andalou and by default modernism itself was an attack on the eye. A graphic termination that was also present in the work of Georges Bataille and in the work of Marcel Duchamp who explicitly rejected what he termed "retinal art".
- The film is heavily referenced in the Pixies' song "Debaser"
- During his 1976 tour, David Bowie used the film as his opening act.
- A 2007 episode of The Simpsons includes a scene in which a viewing of Un chien andalou at a Buñuel film festival is part of Lisa's attempt to expose Cletus's children to art and culture.
- The cartoon Ren and Stimpy features music from the film as well as Dali-esque imagery.