L’Age d’Or Luis Bunuel (1930; Fr) Gaston Modot, Lya Lys.
Viewed Star and Shadow shared screening 12 April 2020 during the plague.
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Un Chien Andalou and L’Age d’Or were both privately financed, and like Un Chien Andalou, L’Age d’Or was originally meant to be a collaboration between Dali and Bunuel. But some time along the way they fell out, and Bunuel went solo, though I am sure I spotted the ghost of Dali lurking between the sprockets.
What impresses me with Bunuel’s scripting and direction is his certainty and confidence as he assembles juxtaposes incorporates the disparate and extraordinary chain of images that make up the film.
Bunuel’s produces his effects of psychic dislocation both by using editing and montage techniques, and also employing devices or actions built into the flow of particular scenes. In the latter case scenes are sabotaged by strategic interpolations that bring things to a stop, challenging the viewer’s framing of what they are watching. But before the brain has completely adjusted frame, the scene moves on or shifts as if nothing has happened. In L’Age d’Or a large cow is discovered in the bed, a little dog is kicked out of frame, a ox cart travels across a drawing room party. These acts of ‘framing’ sabotage are witty disruptive but ultimately swallowed whole, like Desperate Dan and his Cow Pies. This type of scene sabotage was certainly a feature of silent comedy, Max Sennett et al and also would feature in the cameo’s of TV shows such as Monty Python. Comedy’s golden age in Hollywood specialised in short vignettes in which the whole purpose of an absurd intrusion is to get a laugh. Something more happens in Bunuel’s scenario, as indeed it does in the Monte Python series. Bunuel’s surreal interposed images of course have wit and invention but the interpolations with which Bunuel blocks out L’Age d’Or are an integral part of the film, if not the whole point of the film: that we live in the world in a state of psychic suppression. And this state is under continuous threat of being overwhelmed by the raging and sometimes murderous forces of the psyche. L’Age d’Or is a state of mind.
As per montage, L’Age d’Or is bookended by two completely contrasting and dis-associative sequences. An introductory section comprising a brief documentary about scorpions; a final sequence, shot on a set representing the exterior of the Chateau de Silling (the fictional location de Sade’s 100 Days of Sodom) with a Christ like figure in attendance. L’Age d’Or as a thing itself absorbs the invasion of rogue elements erupting into film. Montage is of course the perfect filmic device to enable scorpions, bishops, bourgeois gatherings, mass urban riots and Christ to become a part of the flow of consciousness.
Bunuel’s cornerstone is of course frustrated desire. Natural desire frustrated by the artifice of society. In this case it the desire of lovers wonderfully played by Modot and Lya Lys, to make compulsive all encompasing love. The theme of frustration, of the particular frustration generated by Bourgeois hypocrisy and false propriety, is a recurring concern of Bunuel’s. It is evident in his last film, That Obscure Object of Desire as well as other films such as The Exterminating Angel and the Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz.
In L’Age d’Or as well of these other films, Bunuel is able to employ his mordent uncompromising humour against the lifeless dead people that he observes around him. Dressed up in their ridiculous constumes sustained by obscene belief systems they present themselves as: ‘society’. ‘Society’ that has abandoned life for safety in sartorial conformity and the stifling postures of conventional behaviour.
Of course today the herd conformity of Bunuel’s age dictated to by social conventions, has been superseded by the dictates of self image. But there are few film makers around of Bunuel’s ability to point with effect to the absurdity of enslavement of the self by the self.