Monday, December 5, 2011

Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí's Un chien andalou (The Andalusian Dog)

Un chien andalou is a short film written by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí and directed by the former in 1929.  Pierre Batcheff plays an unidentified man, Simone Mareuil as an unidentified woman, Buñuel as the eye slicer, Dalí as a priest, Marval as another priest, Robert Hommet as a man on a beach, Jaume Miravitlles as a corpulent priest, and Fano Messan as an androgynous hand poker in this silent film.  The music for this piece comes from a tango and Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, interpreted by Carl Bamberger with the Frankfurt Opera Orchestra.  Buñuel played a mix of these two themes during the original release in Paris, France.  Les Grands Films Classiques, under Buñuel’s directions, added the soundtrack to the film in 1960.  Transflux Films distributes the film in DVD format beginning in 2004.  The DVD also contains the following extra features: (1) “A Slice of Buñuel: Exclusive interview/documentary with Juan-Luis Buñuel,” (2) “Epilogue: Dali & Buñuel: Bonus Interview,” (3) “Audio Commentary: By Surrealism expert Stephen Barber,” and (4) “Design: Dave McKean biography and statement.”  The DVD jacket states that there should be one more feature entitled “Mystery of Cinema: Abridged transcript of speech given by Luis Buñuel in 1953,” but I cannot find it anywhere on the disc.  Either the distributors have forgotten to include this segment in the DVD or the disc I have is another edition.

Given the nature of the film, the surrealism prevents me from summarizing the events of the story.  Therefore, I have drafted an incipient poem.

The greatest classic films present…
Tristan, Isolde, Wagner, and Bamberger in tango.
Luis Buñuel in 1960.
Un Chien Andalou
Buñuel places the stage.
Dalí and Buñuel create a scene
for Simone Mareuil
and Pierre Batcheff.
Duverger shoots.

“Once upon a time…”
Buñuel sharpens his razor diagonally.
He smokes.
999, 1000!
I wonder if it’s sharp enough.
I’ll test it on my cuticle.
He exits out the door onto the patio.
Hmm, no one’s out here.
He looks up.
What are you looking at?
A full moon and thin cloud stare.
He exhales more smoke.
(There’s a striped tie.)
Are you ready for your radial keratotomy?
Yes dear.
I have to time this exactly with the cloud.
He positions the razor horizontally.
The thin cloud slices the moon.
He cuts the eye too deeply.
Damn it!

“Eight years later.”
A nun bikes down a street.
A nun bikes up a street.
It’s a guy!
The street comes forward
and he has a box hanging from his neck.
The street likes looking at his backside.
The nun bikes down another street.
Another bicyclist zooms the other way.
Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do…
The box is fashionably striped.

A woman leisurely reads
in a cozy apartment.
She hears a sound.
Don’t tell me it’s him.
            …I can’t afford a carriage…
What is he doing here?
She throws down the book about
Vermeer’s The Lacemaker.
She walks to the window and looks out.
What the…!
            ...But you’d look sweet upon a seat…
Oh, that pervert!
…of a bicycle … built for…
He falls to the curb.
I told him to stop panty raiding the cloister!
He can’t do anything right without me.
She marches out the door.
He rests his head on the curb.
She flies down the stairs.
I think I’ll just take a nap.
Oh, my baby.  Are you hurt?
She smothers him with
kisses and caresses.

She unlocks the box.
She takes out a striped package.
She unwraps the packaging.
It’s a striped necktie.
She folds it into a collar
and arranges the nun’s habit
on the bed.
There.  Now I’ll sit down
and watch the show.
The tie moves.
I’m not impressed.
The tie ties itself.
Wow, this is boring.
She looks to her left.
I wonder what he’s watching.
The man stares intently at the
palm of his hand.
Ants crawl out from a hole in the
palm of his hand.
He continues staring.
I wanna see.
She approaches him.
She stares.
More ants crawl out from the
palm of his hand.
You should get that checked.
You think so?
Ants change into a hairy armpit.
The hairy armpit changes into
a sea urchin.
The sea urchin changes into
a person with a stick.

She pokes a severed hand
with a stick.
A crowd of men gathers
and circles her.
Two policemen keep the men
It’s an androgynous woman.
C’mon, Thing, wake up!
You’re causing a scene.
            Can I get your autograph?
The woman continues to poke.
People wonder.
More people wonder.
You’re embarrassing me.
Is she Thing’s girlfriend?
The man and woman
in the apartment
look down from the window.
I’ll keep poking until you move.
She’s so provocative!
A policeman reports for duty.
Let me give you a hand.
He picks up the hand
and places it within the striped box.
Here you go, ma’am.
Oh, he touched my hand.
The couple is dumbfounded.
Thank you, officer.
The man looks touched.
Okay, break it up, break it up.
There’s nothing else to see.
She stands alone in the street.
A car rushes by.
The man feels the suspense.
She stands alone in the street.
I betcha 5 bucks she gets run over.
C’mon, c’mon.
Mrs. Thing T. Thing.  I like that.
Meep, meep!
The head ornament has her in its sights.
Oh no!  I’ll never let go, Thing!
She gets run down.
Yes!  I won 5 bucks!
The dead lady sprawls over the road.
Did you see that?  She’s dead!
It’s a hit and run.
The man turns from the window.
The woman shrinks from the loss.
Well what?
Never mind the 5 bucks.
I have a better idea.

He gropes her breasts.
He leers at her.
She backs away.
He leers again.
She backs up against a piece
of furniture.
She goes the other way.
Aha again!
He pounces.
Get your grubby mitts off me!
He pounces again.
She reluctantly submits.
He undresses her with his mind.
His eyes roll back.
His mouth drools blood.
Breasts turn into buttocks
and back again.
Oh, that’s kinky!
Oh no he didn’t!
She flees.
He pursues her
around the apartment,
over the bed,
and into a corner.
She grabs a tennis racquet.
She brandishes it
and guards herself
behind a chair.
Oh shucks!
I’m no match for a tennis racquet.
I’ll bluff my way in.
She pants.
No.  She’s too strong.
Just try and take me.
She’s caught my bluff.
Aha!  You can’t touch this.
There’s gotta be something…
He finds something on the floor.
Yeah, that’ll work.
He picks up two ropes.
She gets worried.
He lunges forward
but the ropes
pull him back.
He wrings the ropes
over his shoulders
and pulls.
Tablets hang from the ropes.
Oh no!
He pulls some more.
He drags
two cork tablets,
two melons,
two priests,
two grand pianos,
and two dead donkeys.
Blood streams
enucleated sockets.
He gains ground.
She trembles
and hides
her face.
He pulls again.
The priests drag like dead weight.
They hold on.
She looks again.
Dead donkey!
Befuddled priests!
Hang in there, buddy.
Just a few more feet.
He strains.
She sees the door.
She makes off for it.
He lets go
of the ropes
to reach
the escaping woman.
The door closes on the man’s
right arm.
She keeps closing the door.
He writhes in pain.
She forces the door.
She sees the ants in the
palm of his hand.
Ants crawl
on the writhing hand.
C’mon, c’mon!
The hand grips up.
Close you stupid door!
The man, in the nun’s habit,
lies in bed.
He stares at the ceiling.
The woman finally
closes the door.
She notices him.
The man glances
She calms down.
Whoa, a woman is in my bedroom.

“About three in the morning…”
A man approaches the door.
He rings the doorbell.
Two hands
from two holes
in the wall
a cocktail
Who could that be?
Shake, shake, shake.
No thanks.  I don’t drink.
I’ll get it.
The door opens by itself.
The man enters.
The man gets terribly upset.
What are you doing in bed?
I’m gonna punch you!
You good-for-nothin’…
But godfather…
Get out of bed!
I don’t wanna.
Oh, you don’t wanna, eh?
Get out of the bed this instant!
You tranny!
Take those off!
He turns to the patio door.
It’s curtains for you!
He throws the coif
out the window.
He throws the striped box
out the window.
The man hides the strap
in his pocket.
Hey, what do you got there?
What thing?
Okay, here.
You’re such a pansy!
Well, if you put it that way…
The man throws the strap
out the window.
Now, stand in the corner.
Stand in the corner!
Oh, all right.
Sheesh, I can’t believe this.
Put your hands up.
All right, all right!
The man takes off his fedora
and throws it to the side.
He starts to walk away.

“Sixteen years before.”
The man turns
in slow motion.
What have I done?
A dusty desk with
grimy books
and a pen.
Oh no!  What have I done?
He picks up the books.
He holds them close.
He speeds up.
He returns to the man.
What now?
I apologize.
Here, take these books.
He takes one into each hand.
He shakes his head.
Where have I gone wrong?
I’m such a failure.
He steps away
in slow motion.
Now’s my chance.
He walks to the door.
He holds two pistols.
He turns around.
Stick ‘em up!
He holds up his hands.
I promise to pay off the loan.
He flips him off.
Just gimme two days.
Take these, you dirty rat!
He pumps him full of lead.
He reacts
in slow motion.
Pew, pew!
Oh, that feels strangely…

He falls forward
in a sylvan pasture.
He falls upon a woman
with a bare back
sitting on a stump.
He strokes her spine
with the back of
his left hand.
He dies.
Thanks for the massage.
She disappears.
Men in suits and fedoras
Two undercover agents stroll
beside a bush.
Detectives examine
the dead body.
The agents stroll
No heartbeat.
One detective
accosts the two agents.
He returns.
The two agents
supervise the transportation
of the body.
The two agents stroll leisurely—
one before, one behind
—overseeing the four detectives
and the body.
They go away.

The woman opens the door
and enters.
She closes the door
and sees a moth on the wall.
The moth wiggles gently.
She stares.
The moth appears bigger.
It’s a death’s-head hawkmoth.
She focuses on the image
of the skull.
She stares concernedly.
The man stares back.
She gets worried.
He covers his mouth
as though about to vomit.
He removes his hand.
There is no mouth.
That’s gross!  Let me put it back on.
She takes out lipstick
from her purse and
applies the lipstick to her own lips
while keeping her eye
on the man.
The man’s face
where the mouth used to be
grows armpit hair.
She gets shocked.
She looks under her own
It’s bare.
She rubs it, but no stubble.
You sicko!  You stole my
pubic hair!
She wraps a striped scarf
around her neck.
He stands there.
Bleh!  Hmph!
She steps out the door.
She opens it again and
sticks out her tongue.
Neh!  Neh!
She slams the door.

The wind blows.
She sees a guy
in a horizontally
patterned sweater on a
rocky beach.
He turns around.
She waves at him
and runs to him.
She flirts, but he
looks away.
He holds up his wrist and
shows her the time.
She pulls down his wrist.
She cajoles him.
She kisses his lips.
He throws down his hat
and reciprocates.
They walk down the rocky beach
side by side.
He supports her
while they stumble
on the rocks.
They come upon
a soiled nun’s habit
and a broken striped box
in a muddy spot.
He kicks the box away.
She picks up the clothes
and hands it to him.
He examines the items
and tosses each away.
They continue their frolic.
They kiss.

“In spring…”
Both she and he,
buried up to their stomachs in the sand,
are dead.


Un chien andalou has the ability to shock the audience with graphic images and provocative action.  Parents should think twice before showing young audiences this film.  I would feel comfortable showing this work only to adults and in college classrooms.  Even I have squirmed the first time upon seeing an eye getting sliced open by a razor.

However, the extras on the DVD provide valuable information related to this film, to Buñuel, and to Dalí.  In “A Slice of Buñuel,” the director’s son, Juan-Luis Buñuel, recounts his father’s experiences with the drums of Calanda, his stay at la Residencia, pranks he and Federico García Lorca would do with a girl on a trolley, and moments with Charlie Chaplin.  He also tells how ridiculous critics try to analyze Un chien andalou, stating that Buñuel and Dalí intended the film to have no symbolic interpretations at all.

In “Epilogue: Dali & Buñuel,” Buñuel’s son tells of a tragic fallout between the two collaborators.  Dali and Buñuel try to collaborate again in L’Âge d’or, but artistic differences prevent them from continuing their professional relationship.  According to Juan-Luis Buñuel, Dalí changes when he meets Gala.  After that, Dalí denounces Buñuel “as a Communist and an Atheist.”  Doing so causes Buñuel to seek employment elsewhere.  (I wonder if Buñuel could have sued Dalí for libel had they lived in a later time period.)  Dalí even refuses to lend fifty dollars to Buñuel when the latter has to pay the rent.  In the end, Buñuel’s son states that “Dalí was surrounded by vultures” on his deathbed.

Stephen Barber’s audio commentary takes some effort to listen to.  Barber’s speech is very choppy and he repeats the title annoyingly.  He rambles more on Antonin Artaud’s The Seashell and the Clergyman than on Un chien andalou, even though he awards the latter as being the “culmination” of surrealist French film experiments of the 1920s.  He then stutters about the movements obsessions with sex and death.  I would have preferred Barber reading from a script than trying to improvise his commentary of the film.

Last, but not least, Dave McKean provides a gallery of two beautiful prints depicting forearms in surrealist environments.  I like the one showing a hand turning on a light bulb while the forearm transforms into moths that flitter around the light bulb.  It has a magical simplicity to it.

Un chien andalou is a quintessential example of surrealist film.  It is not for the general public, but those who study or like film will eventually come across it.  If I were to focus on an element of the film, it would have to be the discontinuity between the doors when the man gets his hand caught.  On his side, the door closes from behind him.  On the woman’s side, the door closes on the hand from the opposite direction.  The discontinuity actually accentuates the surrealist element in this case.  Once the woman stops trying to shut the door, I imagine that she has closed it, severing the hand off-screen in the process.  In the surrealist timeline, the severed hand that the androgynous woman pokes in the street may be the same hand that the man loses after his sexual assault on the woman.  But in any case, the amputation serves to cure the man’s ant infestation in his hand.

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