Do you ever get that eerie feeling that something is not quite right?
The time is out of joint, unsynced, slowing right down,
Woozy with inertial entropy, cackling and hissing with static,
A soundtrack of ghosts residing in obsolete machinery
That reveals in the memory troubling gaps, the lacuna
Of shifting, impermanent assembled identities,
Assumed from random incidences, baroque notions
Jumbled together with jump-cuts, replays and glitches
Washed out and bleached of colour by false recollections,
Subject to the drifting haze of hypnagogic hallucinations,
The reverb and sinister echo of malevolent technologies,
That transforms all that is most tender and unique
Into a single freeze-framed image of absolute, stock fear.
But I always miss a beat…
Just that fraction off,
Forever misreading my cues
Carelessly crashing through
The most unforgiving hours
Wandering through the rooms
In the house of sleep
With eyes growing larger,
Shining warningly bright,
Constantly changing colour
Like all the creatures
That come alive in the dark,
So alert and predatory,
Naturally scorning company
For our own being overflows.
Then when the night is over,
Done with, burrow deep away
From that searchlight in the sky,
The unwanted intrusion of the sun.
Rhythm is rhythm and I am what I am,
I know that I always get it wrong,
But not for a moment did I want to be right.
Lee Miller’s haunting Portrait of Space qualifies as one of the most enigmatic of Surrealist images. While married to her wealthy Egyptian husband in Cairo in the mid 1930’s Miller felt the need to escape to the desert where the photograph was taken. It is not a portrait of a person but the desert landscape, however in true Surrealist fashion parts of the landscape bear a resemblance to facial features. Uncannily the clouds look like the floating lips in Man Rays painting The Lovers (see Dreams of Desire 12 (The Lovers)) from 1934 which are of course modelled on Miller’s own lips. The hillock on the right could be the Eye atop the pyramid on the dollar bill and the gaping hole in the fly screen is the eye that reveals and illuminates the scene for us.
In 1929 the young Spaniard Luis Bunuel, who was working in Paris as assistant director to Jean Epstein met with his compatriot and Madrid University friend, the painter Salvador Dali. Over lunch Luis Bunuel recounted a dream he had about a cloud slicing through the moon like a razor blade slicing through an eye. Dali in turn told about his dream of a hand crawling with ants. Instantly inspired Bunuel stated to Dali, “There’s the film, let’s go make it.”
While they worked on the script, Bunuel and Dali had only one rule: “No idea or image that might lend itself to a rational explanation of any kind would be accepted.” The resulting film Un Chien Andalou (The Andalusian Dog) has been called the most famous silent movie ever by Roger Ebert. Its influence upon music videos and low budget independent films is immeasurable.
UnChien Andalou was immediately successful, (though it led to an irreparable break with their friend, the poet Federico Garcia Lorca, who took the title and the movie as a personal affront). Both Bunuel and Dali were admitted to the Surrealist movement who enthusiastically welcomed the film’s Sadean shock tactics and unfettered automatism, which were in keeping with the stated aims of the movement. Georges Bataille unsurprisingly, given his own obsession with the symbolism of eyes recounted at length in the elegantly horrific L’histoire de l’oeil (The Story of the Eye), mentioned the controversial opening scene in his article on Eyes in Documents, under the subtitle Cannibal Delicacy. On a more practical level Bunuel and Dali gained the financing for their next movie from the Vicomte and Vicomtesse De Noailles, two of the most important avant garde art patrons of the interwar period. The resulting film L’Age D’or was even more of a succès de scandale, leading to right wing riots in protest and its withdrawal from commercial distribution and public exhibition for over forty years. Most of the shocked reaction was to the infamous coda featuring Jesus Christ as one of the four libertines of the Chateau de Silling, the setting of the Marquis De Sade darkest novel, 120 Days in Sodom. Incidentally the Vicomtesse De Noailles was a descendant of the Marquis and the couple possessed the original manuscript of 120 Days which they kept in a specially designed phallus shaped box.
Here is a link to the complete movie with the original score featuring two tangos and Wagner’s Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde. Interpretations are always welcome.
One of only three drawings that can definitely be attributed to the Dutch master who so influenced the Surrealists, The forest that hears and the field that sees is an excellent example of the strangeness of the late medieval genius that produced the stunning and baffling The Garden of Earthly Delights