Week 4 Reading Response

“Surrealism and Un Chien Andalou” from Malcolm Turvey’s The Filming of Modern Life explored the philosophies of Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel along with their fusing of machinism and surrealism in making Un Chien Andalou. I was fascinated by Dali’s arguments against art and for anti-art. From my understanding of Dali’s ideas, art encompasses something that only people with education or technical training can properly understand, whereas anti-art has no educational prerequisites and can have an impact on anyone. Anti-art also frees us from having to look at something with preconceived notions or artistic prejudices, instead allowing us to see the “extraordinary nature of the ordinary world around us” (Turvey 109). While I understand Dali’s overall views of art versus anti-art, I struggle to fully grasp the contrasts between the two. Does all art fail to show the beauty of our objective world? One could argue that Un Chien Andalou benefits from education or knowledge of the filmmakers’ intentions to be truly understood, so can it be considered anti-art?

The section of the chapter discussing the process of creating Un Chien Andalou and the film’s toying with continuity/discontinuity helped me better understand my feelings towards the film itself. When creating the script, Dali and Buñuel went into it with the idea that nothing symbolizes anything. They used images from their dreams but excluded anything that could be understood through rational means of thinking. Furthermore, they utilized conventions of mainstream cinema along with a mix of continuity and discontinuity to create expectations in the viewer only to later subvert them. For example, while there is temporal continuity between the first and second scenes (through the intertitle stating that eight years have passed), there is essentially no narrative continuity. Another example would be that there is often continuity between individual shots (the woman walking from her apartment into the hallway and then outside), but there are many spatial discontinuities such as the pianos randomly appearing and then disappearing. Knowing that Dali and Buñuel’s intentions were to create and then subvert audience expectations made me feel better about my own viewing experience. When watching Un Chien Andalou, I found that I constantly tried to grasp what was happening narratively because the filmmakers introduced just enough continuity to make it seem like there might be a clear narrative throughline/meaning.

A lot of the information presented in “Luis Bunuel: Notes on the Making of Un Chien Andalou” was discussed in “Surrealism and Un Chien Andalou”, but one line that stood out to me was that the film had no intention of pleasing the spectator and instead sought to attack them. I find this interesting because the film was critically acclaimed and loved by much of its audience. What does it mean if a film that seeks to attack its audience and reject conventions of dominant culture is embraced by dominant culture? Is the film deemed a failure if it is universally loved/brought into this dominant culture?

One Reply to “Week 4 Reading Response”

  1. Wenxin Yan

    I do not believe there is a clear distinction between what is art and what is not art. Marcel Duchamp already proved this point by his “Fountain”. He bought a random, ordinary urinal, which was not even his own work, and signed the name “R. Mutt”, as artists always sign their names on their arts. You can piss on this “art” if you think of it as just an ordinary urinal. The nature of this urinal and the film Un Chien Andalou have the same aim: to piss audiences off. They are both arts in my opinion. Everything can be art if you explain it in plausible way to yourself. There is no anti-art from my perspective. However, speaking of Dali’s idea of “anti-art”, his reasoning behind that was to make “art” more accessible to everyone, not just the bourgeoise, which was basically what happened at the time.

    I agree with your analyzation of the idea “nothing symbolizes anything”. Although Dali and Buñuel utilized the conventions of mainstream cinema like providing a timeline and using the most common shots to establish the story, they built up a film that is filled with dream sequence and irrational reasoning, typical of surrealism. Since the first scene of this film and the sequence of eight years later, no connections can be made. You can even swap the order of these two scenes. It will not add any more sense nor decrease. In that case, any viewers should abandon the idea of trying to understand the narrative as a linear plot.

    As the readings mentioned, the film set out to challenge audiences, but ended up becoming popular. It does not necessarily mean the directors failed. When audiences unexpectedly embrace a film which is supposed to be offensive, future opportunities of more challenging and unconventional filmmaking increase. Aesthetics would also be renewed and revalued when these phenomena occur.

    Finally, I insist that the film has a larger historical value than intrinsic artistic value. It got viral largely because of the time it was produced and the social context it was born into.


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