Un Chien Andalou
Director: Luis Bunel
This short, 15-minute film is a collaboration between then-amatuer filmmaker Luis Bunel and artist Salvador Dali and its probably one of the oddest things I’ve seen. This is how the movie is described on imdb:
In a dream-like sequence, a woman’s eye is slit open–juxtaposed with a similarly shaped cloud obsucuring the moon moving in the same direction as the knife through the eye–to grab the audience’s attention. The French phrase “ants in the palms,” (which means that someone is “itching” to kill) is shown literally. A man pulls a piano along with the tablets of the Ten Commandments and a dead donkey towards the woman he’s itching to kill. A shot of differently striped objects is repeatedly used to connect scenes.
Now, like the work of Salvador Dali. Take any painting of his, like this one for instance:
I like this painting, it’s garish, its well done and it is certainly interesting, to say the least. Now what does this mean? I don’t know. I’m sure art critics have debated amongst themselves for years about the meaning behind a lot of Dali’s artwork but really, only Salvador Dali knows what he meant when he painted this. I believe that art should appreciated if not always understood. Take the films of David Lynch, for instance. In an interview once, David Lynch said that nobody has every correctly interpreted what he was trying to say with Eraserhead. The interpretation I’ve derived from Eraserhead and what it means to me may not be what David Lynch was trying to say – but that’s the goal of an artist, to create a work of art that means something to people, regardless of what that something is. David Lynch’s more recent film Inland Empire for instance – I still have NO idea what’s going on in that movie after watching it several times. It’s got a lot of powerful scenes and intense visual moments – but what’s the intent behind these? It’s only for the viewer to decide.
Now, as for Un Chien Andalou… It was Sergei Eisenstein who once said “A film is a juxtaposition of images in order to evoke a theme.” Okay, that’s paraphrased, how Eisenstein actually explains the concept of montage is:
“Representation A and representation B must be so selected from all the possible features within the theme that is being developed, must be so sought for, that their juxtaposition – the juxtaposition of those very elements, and not of alternative ones – shall evoke in the perception and feelings of the spectator the most complete image of the theme itself”
Un Chien Andalou is, essentially a 15 minute juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated shots. It is what Eisenstein referred to as a polyphonic montage, which brings to bear multiple images in which correspondence is to be sought. What are the images offered up in Un Chien Andalou? Well there’s a razor slicing open a girl’s eye, a memorable shot in itself, ants crawling from a hole in a man’s hand, shots of striped objects, an androgynous woman poking at a severed hand in the street, a man dragging a piano loaded with dead donkeys, the Ten Commandments and two priests. All of this is accompanied by the music of Richard Wagner. Assembled together they don’t tell a story as much as they express a theme. What is this theme? Well, it’s surrealism – it only means what the viewer would like it to mean, if anything at all. While working on the script, Bunel and Dali set a rule that “no idea or image that might lead itself to a rationale explanation of any kind would be accepted.” Bunel also explained that “Nothing, in the film, symbolizes anything. The only method of investigation of the symbols would be, perhaps, psychoanalysis.”
A film like Un Chien Andalou needs to be watched, not for the quality of the work or the story it tells but because it is such an interesting and historically significant piece of art. It’s film making style is present in most modern music videos, it has been cited as inspiration for a variety of different songs, books and movies. The eye cutting scene alone has been re-used or paid homage to in a variety of different cultural facets, pop culture tropes and even an episode of The Simpsons. So, watch Un Chien Andalou for the history but beyond that take whatever meaning from it you want.