One of many celebrity portraits that Man Ray photographed during his career. As well as being one of the most beautiful actress to ever grace the screen Catherine Deneuve starred in two Bunuel movies, most notably as the housewife who turns prostitute by day to satisfy her masochistic impulses in Belle Du Jour. Her cool and aloof screen persona in the 60’s seemed to bring out a sadistic streak in her directors, especially Polanski’s Repulsion. It surprising that Hitchcock never cast her as in many ways she was the ideal Hitchcockian heroine, icy, inaccessible and above all blonde.
Catherine Deneuve remains active in movies after five decades in the business; other noteworthy movies is the trashy but enjoyable lesbian vampire flick The Hunger and Lars Von Triers Dancer in the Dark.
A notorious image of the early cinema, the eye-ball slicing scene at the beginning of Un Chien Andalou (The Andalusian Dog) is a shocking example of Golden Age Surrealist provocation. This short film opens with a man (the master of Surrealist shock tactics himself, Luis Bunuel) lazily sharpening a cut-throat razor, with a cigarette stuck in his mouth. He steps out onto the balcony where he stares at the full moon. In a stunning visual rhyme Bunuel slices a woman’s eye-ball and then we witness clouds dissecting and momentarily obscuring the moon. Then the movie proper starts.
Eyes, as I previously noted in Chance Encounters 2, play an important part in Surrealist symbolism. Sight is undoubtedly the primary of all senses, however for the Surrealists vision is not merely a matter of perceiving external phenomena , the visionary experience that transforms reality springs from the unconscious mind and manifests itself most markedly in dreams and madness. Only by completely abandoning ourselves to the dictates of the unconscious and following our deepest hidden impulses, not matter how perverse, can such a transformation be achieved.
If Oscar Dominguez premonitory self portrait of his suicide can be rationalized as the result of a long standing death wish, Victor Brauner arresting and prophetic Self Portait with Eye Extract from 1931 is rather harder to explain. Continue reading →
The son of a tailor and rabbi, Pierre Unik was one the most militant Communists of the Surrealist group and edited the Party’s journal for children. The author of two collections of poetry he also wrote the screenplay for Bunuel’s Las Hurdes: Tierra Sin Pan (Land Without Bread). Bunuel in his autobiography My Last Sigh describes Unik ‘as a marvellous young man, brilliant and fiery.’
In February 1945 Unik escaped from a concentration camp to avoid a forced march and to meet the advancing Russian troops. After avoiding re-capture Pierre Unik disappears completely.
The Manless Society
Morning trickles over the bruised vegetables like a drop of sweat over the lines of my hand I crawl over the ground with stem and wrinkled mouth the sun swells into the canals of monstrous leaves which recover cemeteries harbours houses with the same sticky green zeal then with disturbing intensity there passes through my mind the absurdity of human groupings in these lines of closely packed houses like the pores of the skin in the poignant void of terrestrial space I hear the crying of birds of whom it used to be said that they sang and implacable resembled stones I see flocks of houses munching the pith of the air factories which sing as birds once sang roads which lose themselves in harvests of salt pieces of sky which become dry on verdigris moss a pulley’s creaking tells us that a bucket rises in a well it is full of limpid blood which evaporates in the sun nothing else will trouble this circuit on the ground until evening which trembles under the form of an immense pinned butterfly at the entrance of a motionless station.
Spain produced some of the finest surrealist visual artists, all of whom gravitated to Paris in the twenties. Picasso, although assiduously courted by Andre Breton was never officially part of the movement, however he remained a sympathetic fellow traveller, contributing to Surrealist periodicals and drawing inspiration from Surrealist techniques. Other heavyweights more directly involved were Joan Miro, an important innovator in pictorial automatism; the Surrealist film-maker par excellence Luis Bunuel, and of course the most outrageous Surrealist of them, Salvador Dali. Continue reading →