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Âge d'or, L' (1930) * Weird & Wacky *

 

BUn
Yummy hands make for laughable film

Genre: Avant-Garde Short (France)

Starring: Gaston Modot, Lya Lys

Directed By: Luis Buñuel (Un Chien Andalou; Belle De Jour)

Overview: A man's individuality struggles against society's crushing tides of class and religious dogmas.

There's the kind of film that deserves the highest of praise, and there's the kind that needs to be strung up and beat like a piñata until its guts give its treasures. I know you enjoy the rage I put into those kinds of reviews... but sadly this movie isn't worth any of these intense emotions.

Surrealism is the sort of game that is played to shake up the brain, sometimes even to disturb it, and Buñuel's L'Âge D'Or is no different. In 1930, this 62-minute film caused such an uproar that a riot broke out, with Dali's paintings suffering slashing retribution, given that he co-wrote this sacrilegious piece of symbolic art that rebelled against class differences and the church's established dictates, most notably marriage and Christ.

L'Âge D'Or is often considered a masterpiece, yet my opinion wavered between "The Emperor's New Clothes" and "sloppy". In honour of the Contrarian Blog-A-Thon, let me take you through the many reasons why this 'masterpiece' is anything but.

Technical Failing: To begin with the most basic argument, any artistic medium, whether it be sculpture, painting or post-modern dance, all falls under the category of 'art', defined as 'the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects'. As I watched the jostling camera movements and atrocious framing, I was reminded of Maya Deren's works and her cinematographer's technical ineptitude, as well as how others considered her works genius. To call a film that ignores basic concepts of capturing an image 'a masterpiece' is simply ridiculous. Defences like '1930's filmmaking was limiting as cameras were mostly immovable objects so loud they had to be put in sound-proof boxes to allow sound-recording to take place' or 'it was Buñuel's first feature' are poor excuses for constantly cut-off heads, shaky camera motion or not capturing the moment in the first place, as was the case with a fight between a rat and a scorpion: the battle took place 3/4 out of frame. There is art without skill, but a masterpiece should be made by masters, those with the technical expertise to allow their imagination unbidden expression.

Talentless: To a lesser extent, those oblivious to the above will most likely note how unskilled the actors are. Granted the main character, The Man, was the best this film had to offer, and the actor who played him went on to have parts in many important films, but everyone else with a speaking role hammered out their lines as though they were reading them out loud for the first time. If a director is good enough to instruct his talent to act like they're reading, then he should be equally good at convincing the audience that this was done on purpose. Buñuel fails to do this, most likely because it was not his intention.

The Film Has Ceased to be Relevant: Most importantly, those who can forgive nit-picky aspects of film such as visuals and acting (?) and allow the surreal message to be the truth may appreciate the relevant context this holds. In 1930, Buñuel and Dali were going against the grain, telling it like it is, raging against class differences and religious dictates. Perhaps they've succeeded, given that everything they fought against has moderated, at least in the western world. People in this day and age certainly don't find it a forbidden taboo to make love without marriage, for example.

And so, for that reason, L'Âge D'Or's message is no longer an important enough statement to warrant this film its status. What timeless classics do for film, this film simply does not. As I watched, I learned and understood what made people mad, rather than getting mad myself. Charlie' Chaplin's City Lights and Lang's Metropolis are far more important films telling of the eternal class struggles that still exist in our world.

My conclusion is therefore that people today who love this film either have forgotten the meaning of the word 'masterpiece', or are so appreciative of surrealism and the waves Buñuel made in his time that they have put blinders on and choose instead to focus in on one single aspect of this film - Surrealism.

Avant-Garde art forms including Surrealism should not ignore its medium. It needs to include and embrace craftsmanship and skill as well as the artistic message, and those who tout the praises of L'Âge D'Or are warranted as it is indeed very forward thinking, but don't sell me this masterpiece crap.

Anyone can buy archive footage of two scorpions fighting and make a movie out of it.

D'or
Don't even get me started on the statue toe sucking, ugh, ick, puh-tooey.

Overall Rating: 52% (Fool's Gold)
Aftertaste:

I'll give them this much, the message is there and occasionally the images are streaked with enjoyable surrealism, as is the case with the cow in the bed, or that moment where The Man and his lover devour each other, and yes indeed this films is definitely vanguard, but there are far more important films from the early talkies and the Silent Era that are far more relevant and enjoyable today.

This post is part of the Contrarianism Blog-A-Thon. For a complete listing, visit Scanners.

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Squish, when you talk about "basic concepts of capturing an image," you're talking about one set of "basic concepts." There are other grammars of film that permit "jostling camera movements and atrocious framing" precisely because they subvert a style of filmmaking that places an emphasis on invisibility. The point might be that these are constant disruptions that render us unable to simply "surrender" to the film, or it might be that such considerations are unimportant. Calling Deren's cinematographer "inept" (and this is entirely incidental, but sometimes Deren was her own cinematographer so that looks funny to me, what I just said) because she's taking a different approach to telling a story isn't enough. I think, and this is only my opinion, that in order to make that argument you'd have to establish that her approach is inappropriate for her subject. Ditto for Bunuel and L'Age d'Or. And in order to make that point you have to consider why the filmmaker made these decisions.


I certainly understand the use of technical imperfection to make a film 'sharper' or 'more distuptive', and it's one of the reasons I love the works of Lars von Trier.  The difference for me though is that I know for a fact that Lars knows the ins and outs of his technical craft, mostly because I've studied him almost as much as his works.  What I notice with Bunuel and Deren is that, at best, they're doing it on purpose without illustrating that it was intentional, and at worst, a low-budget inability to reshoot or understand the technical craft, and this is what I meant by "Emperor's New Clothes": 'using the accident' as Jackson Pollock would say with distain.

It would also help to explain that my background is photography, and though I went into school hoping to learn far more art than craft (and was sorely disappointed when I came out with the opposite), I am glad that I learned so much of the technical, because now I can break the rules rather than learn the mistakes as I'm forced to use them in my film.

I know there's beauty in chaos, but when I'm left to ponder far too much on camera and acting rather than the message, it leaves me wondering, and hence lessens the joy of my experience, glad as I was to have it.

1


That's absolutely fair enough and I really, truly hope that my comment didn't sound like a pretentious rebuke: You just don't get experimental cinema because you don't understand film!

Reviewing films one doesn't like is not the most fun or rewarding task in my experience, and it's difficult to deal with the question of why a filmmaker used a technique that so obviously doesn't work. But it has also been my experience that it's always worth spending space on precisely that question, on in what way does this work?

Anyway, I'm spending an awful lot of time in the comments section of a review of a film I haven't seen yet! Maybe we can talk more about L'Age d'Or after I've finally watched it myself...

Cheers!


I've been reading your stuff long enough to know you were engaging in discourse rather than 'letting me have it', and I loved your comments.  In fact I hoped someone would discuss it a little more with me.  Additional context that my cursory research didn't cover is always good.  As for me I love reviewing films I don't like, hence the name of the site :P  

Have you seen Un Chien Andalou? I liked it a lot more.  Do yourself a favour and watch it alongside if you haven't. And one more thing, L'Age D'Or didn't turn me off Bunuel as director.  There's many more of his films on my list, and I'm looking forward to following his evolution.


Squish,

 As a history teacher of mine was fond of saying: "I hate to disagree with you, but you're wrong."

But seriously: To what extent must something be relevant in the present for it to retain its masterpiece status? This criterion would seem to disqualify a shitload of art that was highly specific to its time. Just askin'. 


Let's just say I differentiate a modern classic from a timeless classic.  This is not timeless. 


I simply don't see how this film has more than passing merit, for its unusual images. Most of the film is boring and symbolic without a cause. I read Squish's review, and the elements he drew from the story I just never felt, maybe I'd have to watch it again to get some sort of message, but I don't think I'll bother. Masterpieces should inspire thought or wonder, or some other valuable response, but this film inspires confusion and disgust.

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