While studying at the University of Madrid in the late 1910s, a young Luis Buñuel befriended an even younger Salvador Dalí. The first fruit of their association, a short film called Un Chien Andalou, appeared a decade later, in 1929, and quickly achieved the international renown it still has today. Several elements had to fall into place to bring this cinematic dream — or cinematic nightmare, or, most accurately, something nebulously in-between — into reality. First, Buñuel gained experience in the medium by assistant-directing on major silent-era European films like Mauprat, La chute de la maison Usher, and La Sirène des Tropiques. Then, Buñuel dreamt of the simultaneous image of a cloud slicing through the moon and a razor slicing through an eye. Then, Dalí dreamt of a human hand covered in ants. With those two visuals in place, they proceeded to collaborate on the rest of the film, working under the principle that “no idea or image that might lend itself to a rational explanation of any kind would be accepted.”
We could discuss Un Chien Andalou‘s rationally inexplicable images, but wouldn’t that defeat the purpose? The moon, the eye, the hand, the ants, the cyclist in the nun’s habit — these nonsensical but enduring images must be seen, and you can do that free on YouTube. But at sixteen minutes, the movie will only whet your aesthetic appetite for Buñuel and Dalí’s particular flavor of flamboyantly nonsensical, grimly satirical imagery. Luckily, you can follow it up with 1930’s L’Age d’Or, which began as another Buñuel-Dalí joint venture until the two suddenly went their separate ways after writing the script. Buñuel took over, crafting a wryly savage five-part critique of the Roman Catholic Church. Buñuel and Dalí had prepared themselves for shock-induced physical violence at the premiere of Un Chien Andalou, only to find that the crowd had heartily approved. But L’Age d’Or drew enough fire for both pictures and then some, getting banned in France and eventually withdrawn from distribution until re-emerging in 1979. Now you can watch it whenever you like on the internet, suggesting that the controversy has evaporated — yet the images remain as surreal a way as any to begin your weekend. A restored version of the film can be viewed here.
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