I am by no means an expert on the work of Luis Buñuel, but I know what I like. Having plowed my way through roughly half a dozen of his films, I can say that his debut feature, L'age d'or
, is a clear sign of things to come.
Buñuel was always a man eager to challenge not only the political authority in whatever country he happened to be working in, but also to mock the intellectual authority of which he was very much a part. As one of the founding fathers of the surrealist movement, Buñuel found great joy in pointing out to others just how ridiculous their actions were. This first shot in the war against pomposity is a gorgeous reminder of the way intellectuals used to act; thank heavens for film restoration.
There is a plot to L'age d'or (The Golden Age), I suppose. However, its narrative is completely unimportant; it is instead the structure that carries the most weight here. Shot as a series of surrealist vignettes, the story, co-written by Salvador Dali, is a complete slap in the face to not only aristocratic civility, but also the entrenched religious community who had so much power in France (and Europe in general) at the time.
Buñuel and Dali, both Spanish artists living and working in France, were convinced of the ridiculousness of religious dogmatism, however, they weren't of identical minds on everything. During the production, the two infamously split up when Buñuel wanted to poke more fun at rich people, and Dali basically bailed in order to protect his own livelihood. Kind of a lame move, if I understand the story properly, but it bade well for cinema history as Buñuel went on to become one of the greats.
Also included on the disc is Un chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog), the first silent work by the pair. This is probably the more notorious of the two features, if for no other reason than it includes the infamous eyeball slicing (later mimicked with less success in Lucio Fulci's New York Ripper). That image, which smacks you across the face less than three minutes into the short, is easily the most indelible of the entire piece, but by no means the strangest. Un chien Andalou is a masterpiece of surrealism, a genre-defining piece of work that artists in the field chased for years before basically giving up and going in different directions.
The pairing of these two films is very obvious, though I think that's the way the artists would want them. Both are simultaneously high class satirical art and complete bullshit. People like me who find ulterior motives for the on-screen action become the very thing I hate, shoegazing intellectual blowhards. Thankfully, I'm also able to enjoy this on a purely visceral level as the cinematic originator of weirdness for weirdness' sake (even though I see connections). An essential piece of any collection.
BFI released L'age d'or on Blu-ray a long time ago, but it took a while to get to me, so I apologize for the lateness of the review. This film, transferred from a restored negative, looks pretty darned spectacular on Blu-ray. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's as good as Kino's The General or Masters of Cinema's Sunrise/Coeur Fidele (my high water marks for silents on Blu-ray), but it's pretty amazing, nonetheless. The image is very chunky and grainy, in a good way, and fine detail is very impressive. The 1.19:1 aspect ratio is a lovely thing that we don't see enough of on Blu; hopefully more silents will make the jump soon. The audio for the feature is fine, but not spectacular. However, the audio for Un chien Andalou is more impressive and includes a pair of score selections. Both films look better than I would have expected, and certainly a big jump over anything possible with DVD.
In terms of extras, I'm sad to report that I was not provided with the DVD part of the package, which houses most of the significant extras (as is usually the case with BFI, unfortunately). What I am privy to is the UBER pretentious commentary track by Robert Short on Un chien Andalou, and the amazing booklet. The commentary kind of make my skin crawl with its insistence on deconstruction and its verbosity -- Short continues talking well after the credits have rolled -- but the booklet is among the best I've seen from BFI, and well worth paging through. I'm sad I missed out on the video intro, but mostly sad that the included documentary, A Proposito de Buñuel, wasn't included for review. I hear great things about it, and I guess you'll have to buy it for yourselves to see.
Overall, this is an essential REGION FREE release for cinephiles out there. Highly recommended.
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