17 November 2003 | khatcher-2
- There is no sense in talking about meaning
Luis Buñuel, Calanda, in the province of Teruel in the south of the region called Aragón, a town itself afamed for the twenty-four hour non-stop drums (`la tamborada') in the streets played by hundreds of people together in Holy Week, as a young man fled to Paris with the intention of doing something great in this world. There he met Salvador Dalí who had done the same, leaving his native Catalonia in his mid twenties - some five years younger than Buñuel - with more or less the same ideas in his head.
These two young men, who in later years were to be known - even admired in some cases - as the most extravagant and flamboyant creators of art, were not alone. Pablo Picasso, not yet 50, had already been blazing the trail, to mention another Spaniard among those thronging the avant-garde Paris of the times. Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel had led the impressionist movement in music for many years, and the `Imagiste' school in poetry was well under way. Anybody who was anybody in the artistic world flocked to Paris, and either made a hit and became someone eminent, or did not.
Cinema was a new art form still to be experimented with; no wonder, then, that these two men of evidently original ideas trying to burst out of them, had to do something so as to gatecrash into the gentry of the established circles of artistes and would-be artistes or hangers-on. The Buñuel-Dalí tandem knew they would produce something different; not necessarily to scandalize anyone, but more with the purpose of attracting attention, whether from intellectuals, artists or their entrepreneurs, or just newspaper editors. Simply following the logical sequence that words can be poetic and an image is worth a thousand words, and that poetry can be abstract, thus so can images, and if they move - better still.
Buñuel got a bit of money out of his mother's purse, and thus the two young men had finance to start on making an abstract poetic sequence which did not pretend to have any logical meaning of any kind. `Un Chien Andalou' was to exist in the same way that any later painting either by Picasso or by Dalí himself would exist without necessarily purporting to mean anything, either significant or insignificant, and without necessarily any implicit objective - far less objective - raison d'etre than simply existing in itself. Whether the result could or should be considered `art' in any quintessential sense is/was up to the pundits, pseudointellectuals, newspaper critics, or anybody else who thought he had any ideas on the matter. Buñuel himself says in his autobiography `My Last Breath' that he would have quite happily burnt the film, but that would not have made any difference anyway.
`Un Chien Andalou' was the only silent film he made; whether because of lack of funds or otherwise intentionally, is hard to say. `L'Age d'Or' one year later had sound; however I cannot help thinking that Buñuel and Dali wanted to make a silent film, which then does not explain why in the 1960s Buñuel chose to add music - Wagner interspersed with a tango, a blatently at-odds combination - which would seem to have been some attempt at being unfaithful to the original. But Buñuel was nothing if not a contradictory person, to say the least. But by the 1960s he was beginning to turn out his best repertoire - `Viridiana' (qv), `Tristana', etc - and maybe his sense of maturity reigned over his other feelings, compelling him to `up-date' the film for newer audiences, even though he might be accused of unloyalty.
But, how does one remain loyal to abstract concepts which defy rationality?
Thus `Un Chien Andalou' remains one of the most misunderstood pieces of art to have ever been made public, and is perhaps the most widely-known short film of all time.