Un Chien Andalou (1929)
Dir: Luis Buñel & Salvaor Dalí
The idea for this surrealist nightmare began when Buñel was working as an assistant director for French filmmaker, film theorist, literary critic and novelist Jean Epstein in France. While out for dinner with Epstein and legendary artist Salvador Dalí, Buñel told Salvador about a dream in which a cloud sliced the moon in half “like a razor blade slicing through an eye”. Dalí responded that he had dreamed about a hand crawling with ants. Excitedly, Bruñel declared: “There’s the film, let’s go and make it.” Both artists were fascinated with what the psyche could create in dreams and decided to write a script based on the concept of suppressed emotions.
Shot entirely in black and white 35mm, the film was shot over a period of 10 days in March 1928. Sources state the film had a physical length of 430 metres. For many years reports have stated that Buñel had used the eye of either a pig, sheep or donkey in the notorious eyeball slicing scene, which has scarred me and generations before since its release. In a 1975 interview it was revealed a calf’s eye was used, in combination with intense lighting and bleaching of the calf’s skin, in order to make the furred face of the animal appear as human flesh.
As far as the plot goes, it can be open to interpretation. Bruñels intent with this film was to shock and insult the intellectual bourgeoisie of his childhood. Later saying “Historically, this film represents a violent reaction against what at the time was called ‘avantgarde cine,’ which was directly exclusively to the artistic sensibility and to the reason of the spectator.” Against his expectations, the film was a huge success amongst the French bourgeoisie leading Buñel to exclaim “What can I do about the people who adore all that is new, even when it goes against their deepest convictions, or about the insincere, corrupt press, and the inane herd that saw beauty or poetry in something which was basically no more than a desperate impassioned call for murder?”
The 17 minute short launched the careers of Buñel and Dalí after its success and scandalized bourgeois society, as they had hoped. The film famously opens with a woman’s eyeball being sliced open with a razor, and from there a parade of surreal images and related vignettes fill the screen: Hands crawling with ants, rotting donkeys on grand pianos; cross dressing men falling off tall bicycles and more make this ground-breaking short film not only one of the strangest and more mentally scarring films I’ve seen, but also probably one of the more daring projects in the history of film and cinema.
Any attempt to explain the meaning of this film I think misses the point entirely.
Dalí and Bruñel wanted it to be an illogical mystery for all those who watched it. It’s still difficult to disentangle the film’s influence from the wider influence of surrealism in modern cinema, though critics have found echoes of Un Chien Andalou in everything from Mr. Oizo music videos to David Lynch to Roman Polanski. This film still gets a collective wince from audiences 90 years later, placing it on our Most Disturbing Films Of All Time List.
If you aren’t put off by eye surgery, death, rotting flesh or animals with a dash of surrealism, look no further! Check back on screamish as we continue to count down The Most Disturbing Films Of All Time. Watch the full film below!
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