In which we dream a dream of clouds gone by.
I believe Un Chien Andalou was the first film on my exploration of 1920’s movies that I had never heard of, let alone seen. Yet, like many of these early cinematic adventures, I had unknowingly already absorbed one of its most famous and striking images into my consciousness.
You may know it too. A man sharpens a razor blade and tests it on his thumb, a sharp cloud crosses a bright full moon and a woman’s eyeball appears to be gruesomely cut open. The film is an ongoing series of such images, at times visually linked and then again dancing around from moment to moment like a half-remembered dream weaving its way through our minds.
That’s exactly what Un Chien Andalou set out to be, a representation of a dream on film. It’s director Luis Bunuel wrote the outlines with the surrealist master Salvador Dali, combining two dreams they shared with each other. Dali’s involved a nest of ants coming out of the palm of his hand, a moment recreated in the film with little reaction from the characters witnessing it.
This is a difficult film to form a cohesive opinion around, as its sole purpose is to let go of cohesion and drift as the sleeping mind does. On that measure, it succeeds fully. From the shocking opening scene of the eyeball dripping out a milk-like substance to the ending, the movie follows the threads of an abstract tapestry. Unlike many art house efforts that followed, Un Chien Andalou never feels like it’s trying to invent or artificially capture surrealism on film. You can easily believe it’s as close to seeing the inner workings of the human mind as we’ll ever be able to get.
Despite that, I find the film a difficult watch. Though it’s only around 16 minutes long, less than the average episode of a sitcom, it overstays its welcome by half. As individual scenes or moments, each is interesting and often startling to watch. The moment a man begins to fondle a woman, who at first resists, then complies, then rejects him, leading to what feels like attempted murder is shocking both for 1929 and to watch today.
Yet, while individual images persist and one in particular has long surpassed the film, I can’t bring myself to recommend this as entertainment. As a piece of cinema history and an example of surrealism, it’s more than notable and should be studied. As an interpretation of our dreaming minds, it’s perhaps the purest form of voyeurism. However, as a film it leaves me unfulfilled, cold and in no rush to return. Not all great films need to be seen twice, in fact some have greatness which makes them watchable only once. When the film is 16 minutes long and you’re stuck in the house on lockdown but would rather stare at the Dominos pizza tracker app, this one’s a dream I don’t want to repeat.
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