Luis Buñuel’s Shocks Parisian Audience Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Generally regarded as the first Surrealist film, Un Chien Andalou aroused public fury after its inaugural screening because of its shocking and disconnected imagery. Nevertheless, the film helped launch the artistic careers of its makers, Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí.

Summary of Event

Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí’s short film Un Chien Andalou (an Andalusian dog) is filled with perplexing and nightmarish scenes. On June 6, 1929, it had its first showing at Paris’s Studio des Ursuline. Because the government censor did not grant permission to show the film publicly, it was screened before a private audience of mostly Surrealists. André Breton, Surrealism’s domineering leader, had been known to organize disruptions of events claiming to be Surrealist without his authorization, so the audience’s expected response was uncertain for Un Chien Andalou. Buñuel expected a fight and stood behind the screen, prepared to throw stones at anyone who made trouble. However, the film was received enthusiastically by the Surrealist artists in attendance, many of whom welcomed anything deemed scandalous. The notoriety the film brought to Paris’s Studio 28 made it a popular avant-garde attraction visited by those who spurned bourgeois respectability. The general public’s response to the film, however, was different. [kw]Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou Shocks Parisian Audience, Luis (June 6, 1929) Chien Andalou, Un (film) Andalusian Dog, An (film) Dalí, Salvador Buñuel, Luis Surrealist films Spain Chien Andalou, Un (film) Andalusian Dog, An (film) Dalí, Salvador Buñuel, Luis Surrealist films Spain [g]Europe;June 6, 1929: Luis Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou Shocks Parisian Audience[00450] [g]France;June 6, 1929: Luis Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou Shocks Parisian Audience[00450] [c]Film;June 6, 1929: Luis Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou Shocks Parisian Audience[00450] [c]Art movements;June 6, 1929: Luis Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou Shocks Parisian Audience[00450] [c]Cultural and intellectual history;June 6, 1929: Luis Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou Shocks Parisian Audience[00450] [c]Public morals;June 6, 1929: Luis Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou Shocks Parisian Audience[00450] Breton, André Connolly, Cyril

Luis Buñuel in Spain, c. 1970.

(Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The film opened to the public on October 28, together with a crime film called The Cop. Surviving reports of the first public screening are unclear and contradictory. According to some, the public greeted Un Chien Andalou with quiet perplexity. However, British critic Cyril Connolly reported that many of those with whom he watched the film raised catcalls and shouted obscenities. Connolly himself saw the film as a liberation of the unconscious and of primordial instincts. In Spain, the famed poet Garcia Lorca, Federico Federico García Lorca read reviews of the film and became angry because he interpreted the film as an attack on him.

Buñuel and Dalí had become friends while Buñuel was studying at the University of Madrid and Dalí was studying at the San Fernando School of Fine Arts (SFSFA). They moved among a set of young artists, writers, and intellectuals. In 1925, Buñuel moved to Paris and worked as a director’s assistant on silent films. Four years younger than Buñuel, Dalí was regarded as eccentric from a very early age but showed talent and versatility as a painter. After his arrogance and unorthodox behavior got him expelled from SFSFA in 1926, he began splitting his time between Madrid and Paris.

In Paris, Dalí and Buñuel became acquainted with many of the most advanced artists of their day and were particularly close to writers and artists of the Surrealist movement. Surrealists sought to break up the rationality of everyday life to attain a reality like that of dreams that was beyond ordinary realism. Influenced by the theories of Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud Freud, Sigmund , among others, they attempted to bring the unconscious into the realm of consciousness through spontaneity, the merging of incongruous images and objects, and intentional shocks to ordinary expectations and morality. Later in his life, Buñuel called scandal one of the weapons Surrealists used to counter society.

Salvador Dalí in Paris, 1934.

(Library of Congress, Carl Van Vechten Collection)

As Buñuel absorbed the influences of the Surrealists, he aspired to become an artist. However, unlike Dalí, he could not paint, so he moved into the emerging art of filmmaking by writing film reviews. An admirer of the work of German director Erich von Stroheim, Buñuel studied the early dedication of silent films to coherent narrative structures and realistic settings. Eventually, he would apply the Surrealist principles to film to turn the early cinema against itself.

Meanwhile, Dalí had been living at Cadaques in Spain, where Buñuel visited him in 1929. Trying to find where he might fit into the art world, he proposed to Dalí that they make a film together. They began writing a script by sharing their dreams and working out how they could express these dreams through visual images. They agreed that they would include no idea or image that would lend itself to rational explanation.

Buñuel and Dalí shot Un Chien Andalou in only fifteen days, and the film was only sixteen minutes long. Its opening scene gained notoriety the first moment it was shown to an audience. It depicts a man (played by Buñuel) sharpening a razor. As he gazes at the sky and sees a drifting cloud, he takes a woman’s face in one hand and with his other hand draws his razor across her eye. A calf’s eye was used in filming, but the shot appears to show a living person’s eye being slit open. Many commentators regard the shot as a symbolic attack on the viewers themselves, expressing the Surrealist impulse to assault and disturb audiences, instead of providing entertainment. After this jolting beginning, the film continues with a progression of images, many clearly sexual or anticlerical in character.

The eye-slashing sequence is followed by the words “Eight Years Later” and a shot of a figure, who appears to be a Roman Catholic nun but turns out to be a man, bicycling down a street. A woman shown indoors reading suddenly looks up, sees the bicyclist fall over, and runs down some stairs to kiss and caress the fallen man. She then returns to her room. A nearby man looks at a hole in his hand from which ants are crawling. In the street, a short-haired woman pokes a severed hand with a stick. After additional disturbing scenes, the film ends with a man and a woman embracing and walking along a shore. The words “In the Springtime” appear, and then the film concludes with two figures seemingly buried in sand.

Impact

Un Chien Andalou ranks as one of the most notorious films in cinematic history. Its eye-slashing scene still shocks and disturbs even modern film audiences jaded by screen violence. Although Dalí and Buñuel made a second film together— L’Âge d’or (film)[LAge dor (film)] L’Âge d’or (1930; the golden age), which provoked riots in Paris before being banned—their friendship soon ended, and Un Chien Andalou became one of the points of contention between them. Although Buñuel apparently contributed much more to the film than his partner, Dalí claimed that he should have received more credit than he did. Dalí also accused Buñuel of withholding profits from the film, although it appears that the film did not actually make a profit.

Buñuel and Dalí both eventually became famous and controversial. Buñuel made a career in cinema after returning to Spain but fled to Mexico when the fascist dictator Francisco Franco came to power in 1936. After a long career in Mexico, he returned to Spain to make Viridiana (film) Viridiana (1961), an attack on Roman Catholicism and Spanish morals that scandalized Franco and his supporters while garnering international praise. As viewers increasingly expected artistic films to be ironic and subversive, Buñuel’s genius at expressing the scandalous made him one of the grand old artists of modern cinema.

Dalí also turned his rejection of convention into success and became the most widely recognized Surrealist painting Surrealist painter, even though most Surrealists shunned him. His odd behavior, as well as his art’s striking images, made him a popular icon who transformed scandal into reputation and reputation into marketable products.

The techniques of Un Chien Andalou, the sudden movement from one image to another without regard to logical or strictly narrative connections, influenced many later filmmakers. The film’s influence can be found in the work of such modern filmmakers as David Lynch and in the anarchic comedy of the group Monty Python. Film scholars have also noted more subtle influences in the works of many directors, such as Alfred Hitchcock and Roman Polanski, who produced films with more traditional plot structures. Spain Chien Andalou, Un (film) Andalusian Dog, An (film) Dalí, Salvador Buñuel, Luis Surrealist films

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Baxter, John. Buñuel. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1998. An excellent biography that includes descriptions of the making and impact of Un Chien Andalou.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Durozoi, Gerard. History of the Surrealist Movement. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002. Massive, detailed history of the art, literature, and philosophy of the Surrealist movement.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kuenzli, Rudolf E., ed. Dada and Surrealist Film. Boston: MIT Press, 1996. Collection of essays on connections between film and subversive Dada and Surrealist art movements. Two chapters deal specifically with Un Chien Andalou.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Talens, Jenaro. The Branded Eye: Buñuel’s “Un Chien Andalou.” Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993. Detailed analysis of the film and an account of its production. Includes biographical information on Buñuel and a discussion of Dalí’s influence.

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