The Seashell and the Clergyman: The World’s First Surrealist Film

A few weeks ago, we posted New York Times critic A.O.Scott’s thoughtful three-minute look back at the surrealist classic Un Chien Andalou. The 1929 Buñuel/Dalí production may well be the world’s most famous bit of early surrealist cinema, but it was not the first. That honor goes to another very strange (and indubitably surreal) short film screened in Paris in 1928, prompting the now infamous condemnation from the British Board of Film Censors. It insisted that the 31-minute film was “apparently meaningless.” They then added, “If there is a meaning, it is doubtless objectionable.”

The Seashell and the Clergyman, based on Antonin Artaud’s screenplay about a priest who lusts after a General’s wife, was directed by the cinema theorist, journalist, and critic Germaine Dulac (1882-1942). Dulac was also a groundbreaking feminist filmmaker — she is best known today for The Smiling Mrs. Beudet (1923), a seminal silent film about a woman trapped in a loveless marriage.

You can find both in our collection of Free Movies Online.

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Sheerly Avni is a San Francisco-based arts and culture writer. Her work has appeared in Salon, LA Weekly, Mother Jones, and many other publications. You can follow her on twitter at @sheerly.

 

 



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