Following their classic experimental and surrealist short film, Un chien andalou (1929), directors Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí came together one last time to create a deliriously surreal, provocative, and blasphemous take on l’amour fou and the constraints of a stultifying, oppressive society. Wryly beginning with a documentary on the poisonous power of scorpions and irrationally moving towards a peasant revolution (led by famed surrealist painter Max Ernst) that comically withers and collapses before even sighting the enemy, the film jumps to its giddy, strange center: a passionate, lustful tryst torn apart by society, politics, class, and public morality. Surreal social satire rears its head to thwart the lovers’ reunion as decadent party-goers require our male hero (Gaston Modot) to meet-and-greet them politely as his lover (Lya Lys) waits, aroused and baffled, just a few feet away. As the rest of the world strives to keep them apart, sexual desire is displaced by fetishes: the man becomes enamored over a statue’s toe (and his girl begins sucking it when torn apart from him), and in one of cinema’s most enraptured moments, the woman gazes, dreamily in love but unable to spy her lover, into her boudoir mirror and sees a reflection of a cloudy sky.
A simple love story this is not. Buñuel and Dalí cram as much insanity, criticism, and manic energy into their gleeful cinematic broadside as they possible can. A violin is callously kicked down a street; our hero, the “Ambassador of Good Will,” boots a puppy, crushes a beetle, and knocks down a blind man; the clergy rot and turn to skeletons alone on a beach; and a Sade-like orgy takes place in a castle presided over by Jesus—these are just a few of L’Âge d’or‘s wicked swipes of humorous hatred and bizarre parody of a complacent, conventional society. Skewering everything from Catholic piety to sexual fetishism, the film provoked riots, was denounced by Mussolini’s ambassador, earned its backer a threat of excommunication and was banned by the French Police all within two weeks of its release. In its provocation and brilliant, associative creativity this film still shocks and surprises as much as the day it premiered, and shows perhaps how little the world has changed in over 70 years.
Although regarded as the greatest artist of Spanish cinema Luis Buñuel only made three films that are Spanish by nationality. His exile from his homeland at the end of the Spanish Civil War resulted in extended periods in Mexico and France. Despite this displacement, Spain was never far from Buñuel’s mind. The peasant culture of the villages of Calanda and Zaragoza, many of them dating to the Middle-Ages, greatly influenced his imagination during his childhood. The Spanish literary tradition, represented by Lope de Vega, Cervantes and the writers of picaresque stories, remained constant touchstones. Strongest of all was the distinctly Spanish nature of his Catholicism; he would retain its influence long after he renounced the teachings of the Church. At the University of Madrid his friendship with poet Federico Garcia Lorca and painter Salvador Dalí would play a major role in the avant-garde of the 1920s. It was during this period that he discovered the works of Sigmund Freud. His insight… read more
Luis Bunuel’s “Golden Age” (1930) is stylistically innovative and semantically sharp as only an exceptional film made today can be. We see on the screen the human thinking in motion that critically reviews our civilization with wit and from an independent spiritual position. We could be astonished by the director’s intellectual exuberance if we didn’t remember whom we are dealing with here – a person who made dozens of masterpieces which became visual textbooks for those who throughout the last several decades have studied film-directing. The “Golden Age” is a surrealistic parable about the birth, development and decline of a civilization based on religious ideology. Bunuel uses Christianity as a particular case for his analysis. Among the specific features of this kind of a civilization, Bunuel describes the following ones: the prevailing role of the psychological function of believing over analytical thinking; messianic complex – expansionist/ globalist tendencies and belligerent self-confidence necessary for attacking and conquering other people/countries; the anti-sexual/anti-body prejudices; the propensity to dominate over and control human love (overt and covert misogyny and aggressively disciplinary posture toward children); obsession with money and power; and megalomaniacal coloration of emotional life. Operating within a wide scope of historical and pre-historical realities Bunuel previewing human civilization as he and only he sees it with a scorpionological introduction, and continuing by analyzing the disturbed psyches of a people who perceive the world, feel and act in psychopathic ways that are encouraged, reinforced and perpetuated by cultural values and norms of behavior which are considered normal inside our civilization. As an artist Bunuel has guts not to hide his creative subjectivity behind a superficial plausibility of “realistic” narratives. For him meaning expressed through form is more important than cheap success achieved by imitating the surface of reality with which the viewers like to identify. The film resurrects the belief that director’s subjective truth (his unique angle of perceiving not only the reality but its meaning) can have stronger appeal than commercial seduction of the public. By Victor Enyutin Please, visit: www.actingoutpolitics.com to read about Bunuel’s film and analysis of stills from it.
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Written by Bunuel and Dali after their collaboration on Un chien andalou, this film was always bound to have quite a reputation.What we have here is a strangely relevant satire on bureaucracy and capitalism… read review
The film is a surreal expression of rebellion against sexual repression imposed by society and religion. Luis Bunuel has always been cynical of the upper class society. He likes narrating in terms… read review
Depending on how you view it even today, Luis Bunuel’s first feature length film is either a profound meditation on the absurdity of religion, ritual, and social standards, or a total prank that even… read review