Un Chien Andalou

Un Chien Andalou Un Chien Andalou's Influence on Art and Culture

Un Chien Andalou was an immediate success upon its first screening at the Studio des Ursulines in Paris, despite Buñuel’s expectations of a negative reception. (According to his later claims, he carried rocks in his pockets to throw in case the film started a riot.) As a result of its successful first screening, the film was bought by Studio 28 in Paris, where it played for eight months. In his 1929 preface to the film’s script Buñuel expressed frustration (sincere or not) with the film’s success: “But what can I do about those who seek every novelty, even if that novelty outrages their most profoundly held convictions, about a sold-out or insincere press, about which this imbecilic crowd that has found beautiful or poetic that which, at heart, is nothing but a desperate, impassioned call for murder?” He also later recalled that, despite the film’s positive reception, “many people complained to the police about its ‘cruelty’ and ‘obscenity’” (My Last Sigh Chapter 10).

Based on this success, Buñuel and Dalí were commissioned to make a sequel by a wealthy couple, Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles, who gave Buñuel and Dalí considerable artistic license. The film was to be called La Bête Andalouse (The Andalusian Female Beast), and was to run for the same length as Un Chien Andalou. However, Buñuel and Dalí had a falling-out during the making of the film, and the resulting film, L’Age d’Or (1930), was quite different from the earlier one, was considerably longer, and was mostly completed by Buñuel. It was also one of the earliest synchronized-sound films in French cinema. Moreover, the film was much more controversial, being banned by the Prefecture of Police of Paris—a fact that Buñuel satirized much later in his film Diary of a Chambermaid (1964), which ends with right-wing marchers shouting “Vive Chiappe!” in a reference to the police chief responsible for the banning of L’Age d’Or. The relationship between Buñuel and Dalí never recovered from its strains during the making of L’Age d’Or, and they never collaborated again. Dalí’s labeling Buñuel an atheist in his book The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí may have played a role in Buñuel’s being fired from his job as an editor at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, a fact which particularly frustrated Buñuel. In 1966 Dalí proposed that they collaborate again on a proper sequel to Un Chien Andalou, a proposal that Buñuel curtly declined.

The film attracted admirers well beyond the narrow Paris Surrealist circle, including important filmmakers such as Sergei Eisenstein, whose own experiments with montage (a way of conveying meaning by the editing together of images) invite comparison with the experiments conducted in Un Chien Andalou. In fact, in his recent film essay Sergei/Sir Gay—Examining Homoerotic References in Eisenstein’s Film (2017), the filmmaker Mark Rapport has noted similarities between shots in Eisenstein’s unfinished film ¡Que Viva México! (begun in 1930) and the last shot on the desert in Un Chien Andalou.

The film has also had an influence on other avant-garde films made according to principles of free association: i.e. films aiming to mimic the structure of a dream rather than a rational narrative. A significant example of such a film made in the decade-and-a-half after Un Chien Andalou is Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), a film also made by two collaborators (Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid), and also featuring doppelgängers and edits with dissociative effects. P. Adams Sitney, the scholar of American avant-garde film, has compared Un Chien Andalou and Meshes of the Afternoon in his book Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde 1943-2000 (Sitney 3-15).

Un Chien Andalou has also enjoyed direct homages: for example, a film by the Italian avant-garde filmmaker Paolo Gioli, When the Eye Quakes (Quando l’occhio trema, 1988) is explicitly an homage to Buñuel and includes shots from both Un Chien Andalou and L’Age d’Or. It also, like Un Chien Andalou, insists on analogies between the eye and the moon, as well as other visual metaphors involving circular items (as when, in Un Chien Andalou, an image of a hole in a hand with ants crawling out it dissolves into an image of a woman’s armpit, which dissolves into an image of a sea urchin, which dissolves into an iris shot). The Gioli film also includes several instances of things being poked into people’s eyes, albeit typically more gently than in the original Buñuel film.

Gioli’s homage to Buñuel is typical of Gioli’s work in its insisting on analogies between filmmaking and bodily processes, and it is from this interest that it takes away from Un Chien Andalou a connection between cutting a film (as in editing) and cutting an eye. This example helps us see one avenue for Un Chien Andalou's broader influence: namely, the association between editing in film and various kinds of trauma (including trauma to the body). We can find these connections explored by the late American experimental filmmaker Paul Sharits, whose films—for example, Razor Blades (1965-68)—often involve apparent self-harm. More recently we see explorations of these connections in the work of the contemporary American experimental filmmaker Luther Price, who—in found-footage work that draws on, among much else, films of surgery—is directly concerned with film as a medium for exploring both emotional and bodily trauma.

Of course, the physical trauma in Un Chien Andalou is not limited to the slicing of an eyeball, but also includes the hole in the man’s hand (with ants crawling out of it) and the severed hand encountered in the middle of the street. We can see a consonance between these images and certain images in the work of David Lynch, most notably the boy’s discovery of the decapitated head of Henry Spencer in Eraserhead (1977) and Jeffrey Beaumont’s discovery of a severed ear in a field in Blue Velvet (1986). The recurrence of doppelgängers in Lynch’s work—most recently in Twin Peaks: The Return (2017)—also suggests a debt to Buñuel and to the significance of the doppelgänger in Un Chien Andalou.

The film has had a pronounced influence on the aesthetic of rock music, especially the rock music video. This has also involved explicit homages to the film on the part of rock musicians. For example, David Bowie screened the entire film in lieu of an opening act in his 1976 Isolar Tour. Also, the song “Debaser” by the rock band The Pixies boasts references to the film, including references to several of its iconic images (such as the sliced eyeball).

At the same time, the film critic Adrian Martin has warned against reducing the film to some of its shocking images as a result of its influence on rock video: “Too often—because of its heavy influence on rock video—Un Chien andalou has been reduced to, and recycled as, a collection of disconnected, striking, incongruous images: dead horse [sic] on a piano, ants in a hand. But this overlooks what gives the work its cohering force: the fact that, in many ways, Buñuel scrupulously respects certain conventions of classical continuity and linkage, creating a certain, disquieting sense among these fragments from the unconscious. This amounts to a dialectic of surface rationality versus deep, churning forces from the Id—a dialectic that Buñuel will explore to the very end of his career” (Martin).

Indeed, this dialectic between rationality and forces from the Id would mark not only Buñuel’s career, but also many art filmmakers working under his influence: from his own protégé, the Mexican filmmaker Arturo Ripstein, to the works of such contemporary filmmakers as Yorgis Lanthimos from Greece, João Pedro Rodrigues from Portugal, and Apichatpong Weerasethakul from Thailand.