Describe Buñuel and Dalí’s method of writing Un Chien Andalou. What is automatic writing, and how does their method of writing partake in features of it? How is automatic writing related to the “fundamental rule of psychoanalysis,” as well as to the major aspirations of the Surrealist movement?
Buñuel and Dalí began writing Un Chien Andalou, according to their own accounts, by sharing with each other images from their dreams: Buñuel’s dream of a sliced eyeball, and Dalí’s dream of ants crawling out of a hole in someone’s hand. Automatic writing is the process of writing without consciously aiming to produce anything intelligible. Since Buñuel and Dalí wrote the film by sharing with each other images that occurred to them while trying to avoid establishing rational connections between those images, their method was indeed one of automatic writing. In this practice Buñuel and Dalí abided by a rule similar to the fundamental rule of psychoanalysis: the rule, first formulated by Sigmund Freud, that the fundamental expectation of a patient in psychoanalysis is that they say whatever comes to their mind. This is in keeping with the ambition of the Surrealist movement to create art out of unconscious rather than conscious processes.
Describe either the first scene in Un Chien Andalou or its last shot. In what ways are these moments in the film ironic? How does the film use intertitles to create an ironic effect?
In the first scene, the intertitle “Once Upon a Time” has an ironic effect in that it is meant to suggest the beginning of a fairy tale, when in fact what we see is a scene of violent mutilation. In the last scene, the intertitle “In Springtime” also has an ironic effect in that it suggests a peaceful or happy ending, when in fact we see the main characters buried up to their torsos and in decay. A further ironic effect in the first scene is that, as Buñuel prepares to slice the woman’s eye, the film cuts to a shot of a cloud slicing across the moon, suggesting that we will be spared the actual violent scene. But the film upends that expectation by immediately following it with a close-up of the act.
Choose one filmmaking technique that Buñuel uses prominently in Un Chien Andalou: for example, slow-motion, soft-focus, dissolve, iris shot, point-of-view shot. In what context(s) in the film does Buñuel use that technique? What literary terms (for example, metaphor, irony, self-reflexivity) might we use to describe the effect that Buñuel creates with that technique?
Buñuel follows the shot of the ants crawling out of the hole in the man’s hand with a series of dissolves: first, a dissolve to a shot of a woman’s armpit on a beach, then a dissolve to a shot of a sea urchin, and then a dissolve to an iris shot of the gender non-conforming figure poking a severed hand with a stick. Since dissolves are slower than cuts they can suggest a closer imaginative association or resemblance between shots. Therefore, these dissolves have the effect of metaphor: the succeeding shots do not advance any kind of story, but rather advance a series of imaginative associations among images.
Un Chien Andalou contains a number of apparent continuity errors. Describe at least one of these. What is a continuity error, and how might the effect of such an error be different in Un Chien Andalou, in contrast with a more conventionally plotted film, especially in light of Buñuel and Dalí’s aspirations to avoid suggestions of rational connections between events in the film?
A continuity error is an inconsistency in the story, or in the mise-en-scène (for example, in the placement of objects) in a film. A continuity error occurs at the beginning of Un Chien Andalou, when the man with the razor (played by Buñuel) alternately appears without a watch and wearing a tie (in close-ups) and with a watch and without a tie. Since the film aims to abide more by the rules of a dream than those of the physical world, such “errors,” whether or not they are deliberate, can be understood as heightening, rather than diminishing, the film’s intended dream-like effects.
Un Chien Andalou contains a number of scenes showing trauma to the human body. Describe at least one of these scenes. Why might be it be significant that the film prominently features such trauma? In what ways might it be symbolic of the effect Buñuel aims to have on the audience? In what ways might it be symbolic of the act of filmmaking itself (i.e. the activity of cutting and editing a film)?
The first scene of the film shows a man (played by the director himself, Luis Buñuel) slicing open a woman’s eye with a razor. We might understand the trauma in the rest of the film (the appearance of a severed hand in the street, the man sexually assaulting the woman, the hole in the man’s hand with ants crawling out of it) as returns of the original trauma of the first scene, which has been repressed, much as in a dream repressed trauma can return through condensation and displacement. It is notable that Buñuel casts himself as the inflictor of trauma on the woman, thereby implicating the audience both as accomplices and as victims of the trauma he inflicts.