Copyright © Jim Loter, 1995
...what a film I'll make!–With crazy cars, you know the kind, collapsing bridges, and massive hands crawling across the screen towards some document or other! ... Useless and invaluable! –Jacques Vaché
The poets and painters of the post-war Parisian avant-garde immediately recognized the cinema as a medium well-suited to their artistic goals. The effects of the lyrical and poetic elements of the moving images on the screen were praised by those who were to become Surrealists in the mid-1920s; the cinema's famed "impression of reality" especially garnered interest and attention from these artists who sought an imaginative transformation of ordinary reality. In the early years of the movement the cinemagoing Surrealists were quite content to employ Louis Aragon's technique of "synthetic criticism" — reading to produce an alternative text — to obtain a subversive and deconstructive critique of a film. In the late 1920s, the Surrealists became increasingly interested with using the medium of film. Yet by the time of the movement's virtual demise in the mid-1930s, the Surrealists had generally failed to produce even a handful of completed film projects. I maintain that it was more than simply a lack of technical competence or capital that prevented Surrealist film from proliferating. Despite cinema's seeming congruity to Surrealist motives, essentially the medium satisfied only one face of the inherently two-faced movement.
In his book The Surrealist Revolution in France, Herbert Gershman, on the subject of cinema, ponders: "Are there then two types of surrealist production, one automatic, aiming at REPRODUCING le merveilleux, the other highly controlled and endeavoring to ELICIT it?" This distinction of two sides of Surrealism corresponds to what I see as the aesthetic and the analytic (or contemplative critical) faces of Surrealism — a distinction also noted at least by poet Paul Eluard, who favors the former when he wrote: "the poet is he who inspires more than the one who is inspired." I maintain, however, that both the "inspiring" and the "inspired" are necessary and constitute a vital creative tension within the Surrealist movement itself. The Surrealists were originally "inspired" by the cinema and were "inspiring" through their contemplation and critical reviews of films. The cinema was the perfect example of a mainstream commodity that was, in effect, already Surreal. The Surrealists enjoyed mainstream cinema's dual role as art object and consumer product without much need to experiment in the medium themselves.
Many factors prevented a large canon of Surrealist films from seeing the light of a projector, but it is primarily this inherent paradox within the movement that precluded filmmaking attempts. I would like to demonstrate also that it is not a coincidence that the only two films universally accepted as "Surrealist" — Luis Buñuel's Un Chien andalou (1929, with Salvador Dalí) and L'age d'Or (1930) — were produced in the years immediately after the group's initial contact with the Communist Party. During this period, the Surrealists had a stake in conformity and in compromising their aesthetic face to their critical. The success of these films broadcast their willingness to (briefly) place "Surréalisme au service de la Révolution." Though their Communist affiliation was tumultuous and brief, this period of politization drew the paradoxical faces of Surrealism into a conflict that would contribute more than any other factor to the demise of the movement's influence by the early 1930s and, ironically, allowed for the realization of the only two Surrealist films. The two faces of Surrealism inherent in the movement from its inception and the explosive consequences that resulted from the attempted fusion of these faces as catalyzed by dealings with Communist Party are clearly apparent in this study of the Surrealists' interests in cinema.
Watch a thousand imperfect films ..., then, and only then, seek to extract beauty from them, these synthetic elements for a better mise-en-scène. — Louis Aragon
Surrealism's birth from the ashes of Dadaism in 1921-22 resulted in the division of the fledgling literary movement's purpose into both an experimental aesthetic school that sought unmediated contact with the unconscious, and a critical machine dedicated to exposing the absurd elements of everyday life. Surrealism thus joined a growing Modernist struggle against Realism in art. The aesthetic face of Surrealism inspired its initiates to create experimental forms of poetry through automatic writing (in particular) to attain personal liberty by escaping from the bonds of illusionary and logical Realism. This aesthetic practice constituted only half, however, of the ultimate goal of Surrealism to transcend the ideological parameters set in place by Realism. The critical face of Surrealism addressed the status quo "synthetically" to expose the fetters of the Realist ideology, but identified even in mainstream cinema a certain inherent Sur-realism.
Many of the future Surrealists — in particular, André Breton himself — associated through Dadaism and inherited the movement's attitudes, albeit in altered form. Conflicts within the group and, importantly, with the various avant-garde movements burgeoning in Paris, led to Dada's demise. In 1922, Breton and head-Dadaist Tristen Tzara broke relations over differences in principle and, essentially, Surrealism was formed in the wake. The new movement inherited many of Dada's derogatory and oppositional attitudes toward art, the avant-garde, and mainstream culture, but developed a complicated aesthetic to counter "stupid conditions of existence in general." In retrospect, it can be said that Dada represented the destruction of traditional notions of art, and Surrealism signified the search for a new aesthetic consciousness transcending previous assumptions. Hence, the Surrealists sought not the Dadaist nihilistic destruction of art nor did they sink into abstraction (as was later epitomized by so-called High Modernism). Rather, the movement sought to explore the depths and limits of human subjectivity through reformulation of the mysticism native to aesthetics. In so seeking, they discovered that the ontology of the cinematic image is not Realistic, and avant-gardeists who distorted the already-Surrealist imagery of films were destroying the cinema's revelatory potential. Therefore, while the Surrealists were complicit with the general arguments the avant-garde made against Realism, cinema was not Realist, and hence to Surrealist aesthetics an avant-garde film practice seemed redundant and ineffective.
Surrealism, then, found itself grappling with two goals: the creation of a new aesthetic aimed at self-awareness and transcendence, and the continued criticism and contemplation of traditional or popular aesthetics. The former goal was primarily literary in form and derived inspiration especially from poets Charles Baudelaire and Guillaume Apollinaire (it was Apollinaire, in fact, who coined the term "surrealism" in 1917 in a reference to his play Les Mamelles de tirésias). As described by Gershman:
Surrealism is essentially a multi-faceted method for eliciting revelations, and as such it is indeed the prehensile tail of romanticism that Breton once termed it.
According to its aesthetic, Surrealism sought personal, intimate revelation through its experiments in automatic writing and via its fascination with love (l'amour fou). In this respect, Surrealism was a creative force guided by spontaneity, passion, and poetry.
Surrealism's other task, then, was related: criticism and contemplation of all that which is not directly in the service of Surrealist revelation. Hand-in-hand with the poetry, the paintings, and the artistic games played by the initiates was a driving passion to reveal the inherent vapidity in mainstream life and analyze the potential usefulness of everyday trite to the movement. The cinema inspired much of this contemplation and criticism and, indeed, the majority of Surrealist writings on film was quite positive. In the popular, mainstream cinema of France in the 1920's, the Surrealists saw subversive elements worthy of their praise in that the disorienting and fantastic dream-like images of cinema were already Surrealist aesthetic objects for contemplation. In 1951, André Breton recalled:
We saw in the cinema then, such as it was, a lyrical substance simply begging to be hauled in en masse, with the aid of chance. I think that what we valued most in it ... was its power to disorient [emphasis Breton's].
Despite the highly personal environment of Surrealist aesthetic production, the members of the movement could find inspiration in Fantômas, Chaplin, and the Marx Brothers. "We demand," wrote Robert Desnos in 1927, "a cinema of beautiful heroines, action that does not pale into insignificance, an orchestra you don't notice, comfortable, unpretentious auditoria."
... the cinema, that form of expression one has been able to believe in to a degree greater than any other called upon to promote "real life". — André Breton
Many historians and critics of the Surrealist movement have acknowledged the discrepancy between the apparent suitability of the cinematic medium to Surrealist aesthetic expression and the small number of films actually produced, but few have offered adequate explanations. For the most part, these writers have approached Surrealism reverentially with an idealist notion that the history of the movement is a history of its struggle to understand the medium, and that the creation of Buñuel's films somehow represents "The Fulfillment of Surrealist Hopes". Gershman notes that "It has recently become stylish to see in the motion picture the ideal means of surrealist expression.... To the surrealists the film is ... a moving-picture-poem resembling the dream state." It is indeed true that a completed film, projected and viewed by the Surrealist, is potentially revelatory; and many writings by the Surrealists themselves have indicated that the experience of watching a film can be itself Surrealistic. Cinema is particularly ill-suited for Surrealist aesthetic expression but is an exemplary medium for inspiration and criticism. Many historians, however, generally ascribe the reason so few films were actually produced by its members mainly to material and economical concerns.
In From Enchantment to Rage, Steven Kovács notes that, among other factors, "the Surrealists who expressed an interest in the cinema were not especially committed to working in such a different medium." This is indeed true, but in itself it hardly accounts for why filmmakers were not attracted to Surrealism. This concern is particularly justified since, after all, Breton's original definition of Surrealism in his 1924 "Manifestes du surréalisme" does not even allow for the painters who were to so prominently figure in the movement. According to Breton, Surrealism is:
Pure psychic automatism by means of which it is proposed to express verbally, in writing or in some other manner, the real functioning of thought. Dictation given by the thought in the absence of all rational control and divorced from all aesthetic or moral preoccupation.
Despite such an emphasis on verbal expression, Breton's "inner circle" was not hermetically sealed to artists working in other, non-verbal media–painters were admitted to Surrealism as early as 1925. Apart from Buñuel in 1929, however, Surrealism attracted no filmmakers during its period of highest prominence.
This discrepancy has more to do with the dual function of cinema as popular discourse and artistic medium in relation to the dual nature of Surrealism rather than to any apathy of the Surrealists or a cliquish resistance to new members. Cinema as a medium already provided the aesthetic "inspiration" and allowed for critical responses to be "inspiring". Using film as a form of Surrealist aesthetic expression was essentially unnecessary because of cinema's perceived innate quality to be disorienting, and, arguably, impossible because the tremendous technical knowledge needed and lack of spontaneity in the labor of production precluded the almost meditative conditions of automatism and artistic play.
A more popular explanation for Surrealist cinema's poor output is economically focused. In an interview published in 1965, Phillipe Soupault, one of the earliest practitioners of synthetic criticism in poem form, mentions, "From the beginnings of Surrealism, we felt that commercial problems would be obstacles." The few films made by Surrealists (Buñuel's L'Äge d'Or; and L'Étoile de mer and Le Mystére du château de Dés by Man Ray — the least Dada of his films) were financed by the Vicomte de Noailles. Projects designed to provide funding for independent films (one outlined by Antonin Artaud in 1930, another proposed by luminaries such as Eisenstein, Balázs, Ruttmann and others in 1929-30) were killed with the advent of (expensive) sound movies. Though the economic factors played a decidedly major role in preventing Surrealists exploring the medium, little argument can be made to support the notion that the Surrealists would have run out and made a great deal of films even if they had a truckload of francs. The nature of cinema as both public spectacle and dreamlike representation could only appeal to the Surrealists as contemplative, critical cinema-goers, not as aesthetes.
Jean Goudal, in 1925, indicates issues related to the economic woes in cinematic production that are also obstacles to a Cinéma Surréaliste. "In the actual process of cinema," he writes,
a film does not have one creator, it has 2, 3, 10, 50.... Doesn't the work risk losing the singular quality it owed to the individu ality of the author, the singularity of its first conception?
Goudal describes perhaps the most major incongruity cinema has with aesthetic Surrealism. The automatism so essential to Surrealist poetry is lost after the hands of so many skilled technicians have handled the author's idea. Goudal suggests, in support of the potential of Surrealist cinema, that eventually the cinéaste will have total control of a film and this problem will be eliminated.
Also in 1925, René Clair writes that it is the cinematic technique itself that disallows proper Surrealist use.
To translate the purest Surrealist concept into images means submitting it to cinematic technique, which runs the risk of making that "pure psychic automatism" lose a large part of its purity.
Clair later notes that
though the cinema can never be a perfect medium of expression for surrealism, it is an incomparable field of surrealist activity within the spectator's mind.
Clair, perhaps unknowingly, has alluded to the dual nature of Surrealism as indicated by the cinema. The cinema cannot serve the aesthetic goals of the movement as defined by Breton in 1924, but it can serve as inspiration in providing a wholly Surreal experience in the practice of active spectating. The writings of these two critics in 1925 point clearly not only to the division inherent in Surrealism, but to the importance of cinema as an indicator of that division.
Interestingly, in 1954, Jacques Brunius directly responds to Clair and declares "I myself believe one cannot subscribe to [Clair's reservations] without calling into question the part inspiration plays in all arts." The remainder of his criticism is of tremendous benefit in that it not only explicitly states the Surrealist's belief that cinema is "the least realistic of the arts [emphasis Brunius']," but implicitly emphasizes the important function of cinema to serve only Surrealism's contemplative critical ends. "Film enjoys," he concludes, "an incomparable facility ... thanks to the extraordinary and sumptuous solidity it attributes to the mind's creations." In short, Brunius' attempt to counter Clair's claims against Surrealist filmmaking only addresses and serves to bolster Clair's latter statement, as quoted above. Film, far from being an ideal medium for Surrealist expression, inherently "can reign supreme in that enlargement of reality which is the marvelous," or, in my terms, Surrealist critical contemplation.
I prefer the permanent immobility of a static work which allows me to make my decisions at my leisure, without being distracted by attending circumstances. — Man Ray
During the 1920s, a few Surrealist artists tried their hands in filmmaking and met with little success. Cinema's appeal to the artists as critics piqued their curiosity in the medium's ability to disorient the viewer. "The temptation is so great to make this disorientation last...," writes Breton, "that it has been able to tempt my friends and me along the path to paradoxical attitudes." The closest any of the poets came to realizing a cinematic project was writing scenarios. In 1925, for example, Phillipe Soupault published "Rage" and "Glory", two short works of prose-poetry constructed as a screenplay of images. These works of poetry, however, were inspired by the cinema and were never intended to be filmed. Antonin Artaud's scenario, La Coquille et la clergyman, became an Impressionist avant-garde film directed by Germaine Dulac (in 1928) and was loudly scorned by the Surrealists and Artaud himself as "feminized", Modernist, and sorely misunderstood. "Film language" served mainly as a metaphor, "an analogue of oneiric thinking" to the early Surrealists.
A case for Surrealism in cinema is usually made for the films of Man Ray, an expatriate American photographer living in Paris during the Dada and Surrealist years. Man Ray was certainly one of the few artists associated with the group who had any technical knowledge of the camera and his interest in filmmaking dates back to the height of the Dada movement wherein he and Marcel Duchamp attempted some never-realized cinematic projects. Man Ray's completed films, however, are, for the most part, abstract visual experiments and photographic exercises in the new medium of cinema. Over time, he resented being labeled a cinéaste and, in 1930, he refused a sizable offer from the Vicomte de Noailles after making Le Mystère du château de Dés (1929) under the Vicomte's patronage.
Man Ray's first surviving film project is the Dadaist piece Le Retour à la raison (1923), "a real melange of artistic camerawork, animated rayographs, shots of some of his created objects, and Dada pranks." It was first screened during Le Coeur à barbe, a Dada program which erupted into riot after the film broke twice. Emak Bakia (1927) was funded by a patron and "is undoubtedly Man Ray's most successful film and closest to the ideas of a Dada cinema that refuses recuperation." This film represents the closest effort towards an "automatic cinema" in that its images were chosen, photographed, and arranged solely by chance. The abstract and aestheticized nature of the images of both films, however, indicated to the Surrealists "a dangerous concession to the Impressionists" whom they despised along with the rest of the avant-garde. Man Ray describes the reactions of the Surrealists after the first screening of Emak Bakia:
My Surrealist friends whom I had invited to the showing were not very enthusiastic, although I thought I had complied with all the principles of Surrealism: irrationality, automatism, psychological and dreamlike sequences without apparent logic, and complete disregard of conventional storytelling.
It was not Man Ray who was ill-suited to Surrealism, but the medium he chose.
Man Ray's third film, L'Étoile de Mer (1928), based on a poem by Robert Desnos, is not abstract like Man Ray's previous two films and has recognizable narrative segments which never add up to any dramatic action. The film concerns one female and two male characters and their various sexual vignettes of anticipation, frustration, and violence built around a central recurring image of a starfish. In L'Étoile de Mer, Man Ray eliminated the various aesthetic devices and lighting distortions found in his previous films, and used occassional gelatin covered lenses not for Impressionistic effect, but to disguise nudity in certain shots "with the purpose of pursuading the censors to pass a film in which he refused to resort to the usual devices by which nudity was made acceptable."
The film is concerned with exploring the various emotions and moods present throughout a typical love story but it works against narrative coherence and seeks to call into question the assumptions made about love and sex in mainstream representation. In her article on the film, Inez Hedges notes that in one scene in which the woman lies nude on the bed and a man sits uncomfortably on the edge, "the humor ... comes from the clash between the spectator's willingness to read eroticism into the scene where there is none." The director assigned popular, contemporary French music to accompany the film in exhibition to further underscore the irony he infused into the film.
J.H. Matthews writes,
Man Ray's experiments with film were never intended to do anything more than express dissatisfaction with the cinema as an art form and curiosity to see how difficult it might be to resist the influence of art on movies.
L'Étoile de mer may have been filmed under the heavy influence of Surrealism and inspired by a Surrealist poet, but Man Ray's own disavowals of cinema's suitability for Surrealist aesthetic expression and the absence of any reported responses of the Surrealists to this film indicate clearly that the movement's two faces were still polar and that Surrealism was not yet ready for a "fecund shuttle between synthetic-critical text and film."
We insist with all our strengths that we have never dreamed of asserting ourselves as surrealists. — The Surrealists
The 1927 entry of the Surrealists into the Communist Party and the subsequent backlash by the artists against the Party's hard-line policies concerning artistic representation in the service of the Revolution prompted the necessity for the movement to justify its integrity and political obligations to changing the world in the name of Leftism. The appearance in 1929 of Buñuel and Dalí's Un Chien andalou provoked a sudden and brief interest in filmmaking in the Surrealists who realized that maintenance of their personal critical stance in the wake of their new political function may be achieved at the expense of their aesthetic commitments. In cinema's popular and, more importantly, populist appeal, the Surrealist's now believed that their hitherto intimate aesthetic experiments in self-actualization could find an audience via the cinema screens of Paris and, eventually, the world. Buñuel's violent, disconcerting, and unsettling first film was hailed by the Surrealists not only for its "Surrealism" or its potential to aid in the Revolution, but mainly to aid the Surrealists in establishing a respected position among the Revolutionaries.
Michel Carrouges states that, "Surrealism is above all a movement of revolt," and this is indeed true in the sense that all Modernist movements are artistically revolutionary. From 1924 to 1929, in fact, the Surrealists entitled their journal of articles, poetry, and criticism La Révolution surréaliste. In reality, however, the Surrealists were about as well-suited for Communism as they were for filmmaking. Again, the two distinct faces of Surrealism — the personal, intimate aesthetic; and the public, universal criticism — clashed when confronted with the monolithic project of the Communist Party. The history of these "part-time revolutionaries" and their efforts in the service of the Revolution reads like a comedy-of-errors. The Surrealists hoped the successes of Un Chien andalou and L'Äge d'Or would signify to the Communists their seriousness to the cause and demonstrate the movement's political efficacy.
In May of 1927, the Surrealists published five letters in a brochure entitled Au Grand jour which explained and justified their collective decision to join the French Communist Party. Breton, however, never conceded his artistic project to the Party. He wrote "Légitime défense" in the 1 December 1926 issue of La Révolution surréaliste expressing his intent to remain Surrealist first and Communist second:
While waiting for the Revolution to succeed, it is imperative that the [Surrealist] experiments dealing with mental activity be permitted, and with no outside control, even Marxist control.
It is the aesthetic face of Surrealism that even Breton acknowledges in antithetical to Communism. His feistiness and the general lack of concordance of the individual members of Surrealism to the Party line resulted in Breton's pulling out of the Party in November of 1927. Over the next decade, the Surrealists travelled down what Gershman describes as "a lonely path: intellectual Trotskyites obliged to avoid references to the fallen idol ... lest they permanently close the door to collaboration with the Party...."
A faint glimmer of hope in the form of Un Chien andalou's flickering images on the screen of Studio 28 in Paris in October, 1929 promised to articulate the need for the Surrealists to maintain some connection with politics and the Party, and preserve the personal Surrealist aesthetic project. Buñuel and Dalí's film was decidedly anti-avant-garde in form and explicitly destroyed internal coherence and continuity. It is a film that actively represents disorientation through the process of "synthetic criticism". It is doubtful that Un Chien andalou would have been so praised by the Surrealists of 1925, or '26, or '27 for as an aesthetic expression it is NOT Surrealist by the very definition of the movement. "To the surrealists," writes Gershman, "their method was their miracle," and Un Chien andalou definitely was not produced by Surrealist method. The Surrealists of 1929 hailed Un Chien andalou as a film that successfully combined both aesthetic and critical faces of Surrealism, but hailed it only rhetorically. Above all, the film could demonstrate to the Communists that Surrealism was not an elitist movement of "flighty, romantic attitude" as they had assumed.
What can I do ... against the idiotic multitude which has pronounced as "beautiful" or "poetic" what is in essence only a desperate, a passionate appeal to murder? — Buñuel
Shortly after the premiére of Un Chien andalou, Buñuel and Dalí — previously unknown to the Parisian Surrealists — were welcomed into the fold. Buñuel's initial unfamiliarity with Surrealist practice is apparent in his decision to publish the scenario of Un Chien andalou in the 15 November 1929 issue of the popular cinema journal La revue du cinéma. After Breton reportedly reprimanded him for publishing in the bourgeois periodical, Buñuel broke into the office of La revue and broke the printing plates for the issue albeit after the magazine had been printed. The scenario appeared also a few weeks later in the final issue of La Révolution surréaliste with a preface by Buñuel that identified this version as "the only one that I authorize." An important rhetorical move, the publication of this preface at once implicitly denounced La Revue and expressed Buñuel's alleged dismay at his film's being appreciated as an artistic expression instead of a call for violent Revolution. This articulation of aesthetics and political goals was nothing less than an attempt to convince the French Communists that the two were not contradictory. Un Chien andalou, thus, stood as a manifesto proclaiming Surrealism's commitment in its art and criticism to the Revolution. The medium of cinema grabbed the attention of the Leftists and promised a popular, widespread, perhaps even worldwide range more than could the relatively limited appeal of poetry and the plastic arts.
In July, 1930, the Surrealists effected another, more obvious strategic move as an apparent concession to Communism. The Surrealist journal La Révolution surréaliste changed title becoming Surréalisme au service de la révolution. The fragmentation of the group, which began in 1927 with the loss of political virginity, accelerated, however, around this time. In the new journal's first issue, Breton published another list of "accepted" Surrealists in his Second manifeste du surréalisme with personal attacks on those who were no longer recognized (a group which included Robert Desnos and Jacques Prévert, among others). Politically, the Surrealists maintained a dedication to Trotsky which precluded their acceptance by the French Communist Party heavily under the thumb of Stalin. The two paradoxical faces of Surrealism mirror the predicament of the movement in 1929-1930: the aesthetic face demanded autonomy and the critical face craved recognition. Un Chien andalou was offered to the Party as an indicator that film could perhaps be a solution to this dilemma.
The reactions from both Buñuel and Dalí to the public response of Un Chien andalou cannot be taken at face value, but from a rhetorical standpoint their diametrically opposed comments point both to the division in Surrealism between its two faces, and to the movement's new agenda to follow Trotskyism but keep the door open to Stalinism. Buñuel's disillusionment with the appreciative enthusiasm granted his film was obviously designed to acquiesce to the Party's demand that Surrealism use its art in the service of the Revolution, not to entertain intellectuals. His co-director Dalí, however, mockingly reported:
The film produced the effect that I wanted, and it plunged like a dagger into the heart of Paris as I had foretold. Our film ruined in a single evening ten years of pseudo-intellectual postwar avant-gardeism.
The film effectively exposed the hypocrisy of Parisian intellectuals who did not understand that they were being taunted, he believed. Dalí's explosive personality never gelled with the Surrealists, however, and later, his political stance would drift increasingly farther to the Right. His influence on Buñuel's second film, L'Äge d'Or, was significantly limited and again the comments on the film by both artists is telling.
With L'Äge d'Or, Buñuel sought to add a moral message and social facet to his Surrealist structure and imagery. These elements, notably missing from his previous film, would provide, he believed, L'Äge d'Or with the context necessary to provoke the violent reaction he failed to incite with Un Chien andalou. Dalí, however, reacted against the morality Buñuel had injected into the film project and stated: "I was terribly disappointed, for it was but a caricature of my idea ... without the biological poetry that I had desired." Dalí recognized the tension that operated in Surrealism between autonomous aesthetic expression and social criticism even if he was a neophyte. In his disapproval of L'Äge d'Or is an implicit understanding of the need to maintain this tension between Surrealism's two faces if the movement's original project were to survive as self-sufficiently revolutionary.
The shift in Surrealism's loyalties as signified by the title change of their journal was recognized finally by the French Communist Party as a direct result of the exhibition of L'Äge d'Or. The film premiéred on 3 December 1930 at Studio 28 but was interrupted by Right-wing agitators who provoked a violent riot that resulted in the destruction of several Surrealist paintings and the cinema's projection equipment. Unexpectedly, the 7 December 1930 issue of the French Communist party publication L'Humanité praised the film for "it serves the revolutionary purposes of the working class." The next week, the official French censor, after ordering a few scenes to be cut, banned the entire film and began legal action against the owners of Studio 28. In denouncing the censorship, The Party responded again and lavished even higher praise on L'Äge d'Or and the Surrealists. As a result of the violence that greeted Buñuel's film and the subsequent recognition of the Surrealists by the French Communists, Helena Lewis writes, "[the Surrealists] could now have the satisfaction of knowing that they were no longer considered harmlessly eccentric, but had gone far toward achieving the status of enemies of the state...."
"Transform the world," said Marx: "Change Life," said Rimbaud; for us, these two commands are the same. — Breton
A month after the screening of L'Äge d'Or, the French Communist Party through L'Humanité resumed its harsh criticisms of the Surrealists' decadence and, especially, their internal contradictions. The Surrealists were particularly not suited for the Revolution because "one cannot remain a littérateur when one denounces literature; and one does not become a revolutionary while living cut off from the revolutionary class." A similar contradiction inherent in Surrealism also indicates the movement's general incompatibility with cinema. Though filmic form seems completely complicit with the dream-like and symbolic imagery found in Surrealist poetry, the medium attracted very little interest on the aesthetic level by the Surrealists who rather admired the inherent power of cinema to disorient even in popular — or "found" — movies. The responses to their various cinema-going experiences produced an oeuvre of criticism dedicated to seek and identify the Surreal elements of actual existence.
Hence, the appearances on the scene in 1929-30 of Un Chien andalou and L'Äge d'Or represented not a long-awaited wish fulfillment of Surrealism in the field of filmmaking, but rather it indicated a momentary rupture in the movement in which the volatile elements of Surrealist aesthetics and criticism were briefly mixed for the ostensible service of the Revolution. Un Chien andalou and L'Äge d'Or, then, serve mainly as rhetorical devices proclaiming Surreal-ism's potential ability to broadcast the revelatory and revolutionary effects of its aesthetic experimentation to a mass audience. If Un Chien andalou attempted to prove Surrealism could exist in film, L'Äge d'Or demonstrated the fear it could inspire in the bourgeois. But even the success of these two works could not keep Surrealism from repeatedly polarizing. The hybridization of Surrealism's two elements was demanded by the Communists, and was achieved by Buñuel. This success, however, disillusioned many of the movement's purists who clung to the dual and distinct promises of aesthetics to revolutionize the spirit, and the contemplation of art to revolutionize the world. To the aesthetes of the movement who thrived on this paradox, Surrealist expression in the popular form of cinema was unnecessary.
Only during the exceptional and brief period in which the Surrealists agreed to compromise their aesthetics to their criticism for Communist acceptance could Buñuel's filmmaking talents successfully combine both Surrealist faces and, importantly, win Surrealist and Party praise. The creation of Buñuel's films at an earlier point would have more than likely elicited the same apathetic response as did Man Ray's experiments. After film served its momentary function to the movement in the specific context of 1929-30, it ceased to be an effective means of expression and the artists renewed their struggle for aesthetic autonomy.
The constant incompatible desires of the Surrealists to maintain their internal paradox and to ally with the Communists contributed to the quick decline of Surrealist influence in intellectual Paris and the even quicker denouncement of Surrealism by the Communist Party. It is ironic that an aesthetic concession made by Surrealism to their political aspirations resulted in both the production of two brilliant and successful films and led to the internal conflict that would eventually scatter the movement and accelerate its demise. Cinema can thus be seen as both an indicator of the internal division of Surrealism along the lines of aesthetics and contemplative criticism, and a harbinger of the doom that was to follow from the attempted combination of the inherently fragmented movement with the monolithic Communist Party.
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