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Surrealism in cinema

Related: experimental film - surrealism - film

Directors: Ado Kyrou - Hans Richter - Alexandro Jodorowsky - Jan Švankmajer - David Lynch - the Marx brothers - Peter Greenaway - Luis Buñuel

"Above all else, the surrealists insisted that the relationship between film and spectator was primarily libidinal. That Paul Éluard discovered Peter Ibbetson (a 1935 Hollywood film that Breton considered comparable only to Luis Buñuel's L'Age d'or in its depiction of L'Amour fou) by impulsively trailing an attractive woman into a movie theater was seen as ultimate proof." --Midnight Movies (1983). page 36.

Connoisseurs: Robert Benayoun - Wayney of Chaotic Cinema - Ado Kyrou - Paul Hammond

Films with notable surrealist imagery: Ballet Mécanique (1924) - Glen or Glenda? (1953) - Ed Wood Jr.

Bibliography: Film As a Subversive Art (1974) by Amos Vogel has a good section on surrealist cinema titled Surrealism: The Cinema of Shock.

Le surréalisme au cinéma (1952|1963) - Ado Kyrou [Amazon.fr]

The Shadow and Its Shadow: Surrealist Writings on the Cinema (1978) - Paul Hammond (Editor) [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Dada and Surrealist Film (1987) - Rudolf E. Kuenzli (Editor) [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Surrealism and Cinema (2006) - Michael Richardson (Editor) [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Richardson points out that Hollywood would seem at odds with surrealism. At the same time, he shows that the Hollywood genre films, particularly those of the early thirties, were of value, if not fascinating, to the surrealists. The overwhelming amount of films made in Hollywood were seen to regulate the dreams it produced and destroy spontaneity; on the other hand, "the Hollywood system still left a place for the imagination" (61). Even if the films were unintentionally surrealist, the surrealists found in Hollywood an 'involuntary' surrealism - a disruption of narrative and an opening up of meaning other than the intended one (68). Films of particular value to the surrealists were the horror films between 1932-1935: the stories of Frankenstein, Dracula and King Kong. More surprising than the horror film, was the surrealist appeal to the idea of the couple and the treatment of 'love' in many Hollywood films from 1920-1950. The comedy genre was also highly regarded; this was mostly for its moral value and its "taste of anarchy". The Marx Brothers, Charles Chaplin, W.C.Fields, and especially Buster Keaton, are just some of those mentioned. June Werret via [1]

Le Fantôme de la liberté - (1974) Luis Buñuel

One of Luis Bunuel's most free-form and purely Surrealist films, consisting of a series of only vaguely related episodes - most famously, the dinner party scene where people sit on lavatories round a dinner table on, occasionally retiring to a little room to eat. - Michael Brooke

Un Chien Andalou (1928) - Luis Buñuel

Un Chien Andalou (1928) - Luis Buñuel [Amazon.com]

See also: Salvador Dali's backdrop for Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound, 1945.


Surrealist films include Un chien andalou and L'Âge d'Or by Luis Buñuel and Dalí; Buñuel went on to direct many more. There is also strong surrealist influence present in Alain Resnais's Last Year at Marienbad and James Kerwin's Yesterday Was a Lie.

Surrealist and film theorist Robert Benayoun has written books on Tex Avery, Woody Allen, Buster Keaton and the Marx Brothers.

Some have described David Lynch as a Surrealist filmmaker. Some aspects of many of his films are of Surrealist interest, although his work is not submersed in surrealism. For an example of his work, see Eraserhead or Mulholland Drive.

Czech surrealist Jan Svankmajer has also made a number of surrealist films.

The truest aspects of Surrealism in film are often found in passing frames of a larger film; the sudden emergence of the uncanny into the "normal" which may or may not be further explored in the rest of the film. The original group spent hours going from film to film, often not finishing one before seeking another, partly in hopes of catching just such ephemeral moments, and partly with the idea of "stitching together" a film in their own minds out of the disparate parts.

Jan Bucquoy with the movie Camping Cosmos (1996), André Delvaux (the latter in the tradition of the magic realism with the movie Un Soir, un Train (1968)) and Marcel Mariën with the controversial L'imitation du cinéma (1959), are representatives of the Belgian surrealist school in cinema. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surrealism#Surrealism_in_film [Aug 2006]

Assorted quotes

"Creation, to me, is to try to orchestrate the universe to understand what surrounds us. Even if, to accomplish that, we use all sorts of stratagems which in the end prove completely incapable of staving off chaos." - Peter Greenaway

"Fortunately, somewhere between chance and mystery lies imagination, the only thing that protects our freedom, despite the fact that people keep trying to reduce it or kill it off altogether." - Luis Buñuel

"A specter is haunting the cinema: the specter of narrative. If that apparition is an angel, we must embrace it; and if it is a devil, we must cast it out. But we cannot know what it is until we have met it face to face." - Hollis Frampton

"Everybody's a mad scientist, and life is their lab. We're all trying to experiment to find a way to live, to solve problems, to fend off madness and chaos." - David Cronenberg

"I don't think that people accept the fact that life doesn't make sense. I think it makes people terribly uncomfortable." - David Lynch

Wayney's top 10 films

  1. The Falls (Peter Greenaway, 1980)
  2. Drowning by Numbers (Peter Greenaway, 1988)
  3. A Zed & Two Noughts (Peter Greenaway, 1985)
  4. Eraserhead (David Lynch, 1976)
  5. Dawn of the Dead (George A. Romero, 1978)
  6. La Cabina (Antonio Mercero, 1972)
  7. The Phantom of Liberty (Luis Buñuel, 1974)
  8. The Holy Mountain (Alexandro Jodorowsky, 1973)
  9. Week-End (Jean-Luc Godard, 1967)
  10. The Exterminating Angel (Luis Buñuel, 1962)

Surrealism and Film (1971) - J.H. Matthews

Surrealism and Film (1971) - J.H. Matthews

A rather mediocre book, if I remember well. [Aug 2006]

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