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, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Great Train Rob­bery: Where West­erns Began

A Trip to the Moon: Where Sci Fi Movies Began

Sal­vador Dali (and Oth­er VIPs) on “What’s My Line?”

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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