Friday, March 23, 2012

Fut the Whuck?

Film: Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog)
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

As evidenced by the current state of where I stand, I’ve made a real effort at watching the earliest films on The List, and have virtually completed the first 100 films. However, Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog) has, until tonight, remained unwatched. My brother Tom is going through much of this list on his own (I think he has the fifth edition), and when I spoke to him a couple of weeks ago, he wondered at the fact that I hadn’t bothered to get through this short little oddity yet. I confess that the reason has been fear.

I know how this film starts. It starts, notoriously, with a man slicing a razor blade across an eyeball. Now, I know this is an illusion of sorts; a cow’s eye was used for the effect. That doesn’t make it any easier for me to watch. In fact, I sat for several minutes with the film frozen just before that moment, trying to steel myself for what was to come. It’s thankfully quick, but still pretty awful, especially if you have a thing with eyes.

Un Chien Andalou is essentially plotless, a series of images that follow one after the other. A cloud slices across the moon and the razor blade slices across the eye and suddenly eight years pass. A man falls off his bicycle, then ants crawl from a hole in his hand (a reference to a French idiom for wanting to kill someone). A severed hand appears in the street, and a woman is run down while the man watches. The man makes sexual advances on the woman from the start of the movie, alternately imagining her clothed and unclothed. He then drags a pair of pianos with a dead donkey on them toward her. There are a couple of priests involved in this as well. More ants in the palm. Hands through a wall act as a doorbell, or are shaking a drink.

You know what? I don’t know. The images seem sometimes related to each other, but often are simply random and have only the meaning I think we ascribe to them. They aren’t particularly meaningful in and of themselves but are only given the meaning that we give them. That, in many ways, is the nature of surrealism, at least to my mind.

I’m not sure I want to ascribe a great deal of meaning to it, really. I know that this is considered one of the great moments of surrealist art, and there’s reason for that. But most of us, myself included, want to ascribe meaning to what we see. We quite naturally want to put a story together, or make some kind of narrative, or at least generate a meaning for what is put in front of us. And there’s no meaning here intentionally.

It makes this film difficult to judge on its face. I’ve seen it now, and I know there is value in what I have seen, but there’s no real desire in me to see it again. I mean, I like it when the man covers his mouth, then pulls his hand away and his mouth is gone. But really, what’s the point of having the woman’s armpit hair appear in its place? And do I really want to create a personal meaning for armpit hair on the face? I think not.

Why to watch Un Chien Andalou: The first instance of real surrealism in film.
Why not to watch: Sliced eyeball.


  1. I think Germaine Dulac's "The Seashell and the Clergyman" predates this by about 8 heartbeats and should not be missed as well. I ask myself often why "The Smiling Madame Beudet" was chosen to represent Dulac when "The Seashell..." was such a meatier film.

  2. There really is no reason to see this, except for completists. It only gets the attention it does because Dali and Bunuel were involved in it's creation. The best thing about this is how short it is so that the amount of time wasted watching it is relatively painless.

    Sorry, there is one reason to see it - so that you get the eyeball slicing reference in Hitchcock's movie Spellbound (the nightmare sequence). Because I saw An Andalusian Dog, I picked up on this reference when I later saw Spellbound, which Dali worked on.

  3. It's interesting to see where Bunuel started and where he got to. That was worth 16 minutes of my time. I can't say I'm a huge fan of his early work, but I have really enjoyed his later career quite a bit.

  4. Yea, it's out there. Not sure what to make of it. An interesting experiment, but super revolting and not a film I went into lightly. Like you, I avoided if for quite some time. I think it's interesting and important, but I can't say I found it deep or compelling.

  5. I think your last sentence is the best summary criticism of this film I have seen.