I forgot — until it unfolded — that this is the movie with a graphic simulation of a woman’s eye getting cut open with a razor, amid myriad other shots of weirdness, and there were people sitting all around me at Starbucks who probably didn’t appreciate having to catch glimpses of this. So this is a first for the List: something too graphic to watch comfortably in public (although I’d have probably felt awkward with Birth of a Nation).
An Andalusian Dog is a twelve-minute montage of strange images (which I liked a lot, thought that they captured dream logic pretty well) directed by Louis Bunuel and Salvador Dali, a couple of shaggy twentysomethings at the heart of the Surrealist movement — about which I know very little.
Interesting bit of trivia I came across in reading about Bunuel is that he refused what seems like a golden career opportunity, to work on the set of an Abel Gance picture (whose four-hour The Wheel is exceeded on this List by his five-hour Napoleon) because he didn’t like Gance’s work. Sounds right. Gance being a sprawling craftsman, a realist, a conventional storyteller with plots and linear narratives — he’s like an anti-Bunuel.
I’m not sure where I stand, overall, when it comes to abstract art that totally just surrenders itself to the viewer’s interpretation and thus forfeits any semblance of objective coherence. Especially on those few, but not unheard of, occasions when the artist wants to be dickishly vocal about dispelling the viewer’s effort to impose coherence, telling us all that we’re wrong to even try making sense out of it. Shit like that. I mean I do understand the desire to have your work felt rather than interpreted, but for some reason I’ve got this caricature in my head of the petulant abstractionist who wants to tell you how to not think about his work.
Like I know Bunuel’s been vocal about there being no great plan or meaning behind the images in Andalusian Dog, that they’re just miscellany from his and Dali’s dreams. I’m sure this is true. But artists do also tend to get tired of having to explain themselves and so resort, sometimes, to insisting that their work is just meaningless and ought to be enjoyed only superficially. But I feel lazy, and suffer some vague sort of guilt, whenever I try to abide by this and just relax my interpretive reflex, just stare at the screen, take it in, float.
At the same time, however, I was just recently reminded of how insidious that interpretive reflex can be, thanks to Facebook, when a friend of mine recently wrote a status saying that he seldom goes to the movies anymore because he just gets caught up in picking apart the movie’s flaws. When I saw this I thought, “Jeez, how pretentious,” but then, meh, I watched Andalusian Dog and thought that maybe my own eager push to Make Sense of it was a similar kind of reflex to my friend’s helpless, scoffing, movie-ruining snobbery. Something you can only turn off with a great meditative effort that finally feels like a betrayal of self.
Just as these kids behind the camera might feel if you were to ask them to try to make sense of the images they’re creating. To do so would be a betrayal of the images, their weird menacing beauty.
There is something pretentious in all film art. What differentiates the good from the bad is that it activates you. The Andalusian Dog us crazy and fun and horrifying and very very confusing and to me that means it is working. There is so much art junk on the list in sixties particularly and far between the diamonds, but this one is a winner.