Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Un Chien Andalou & L’Age d’Or



aka An Andalucian Dog / An Andalusian Dog : France 1928 : Luis BUNUEL : 16 mins

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aka The Golden Age / The Age of Gold : France 1930 : Luis BUNUEL : 63 mins

Bunuel reportedly intended his mid-length follow-up to Un Chien Andalou to be “a militant film aimed at raping clear consciences.” The exact meaning of that phrase – like the ‘exact meaning’ of L’Age d’Or itself – is a matter of debate. But it seems safe to say that, whatever Bunuel’s intentions were, he pulled them all off in style. More than seven decades after its scandalous Paris premiere – it was banned in many countries and barely shown anywhere until 1980 – the film retains its power to perplex, shock, intrigue and, most of all, amuse. Don’t be fooled by its “classic” reputation: L’Age d’Or may be studded with deliberately tedious passages, but it’s also one of the most hilarious of movies – prefiguring a strain of surreal/anarchic humour that stretches from the Marx Brothers and The League of Gentlemen, taking in The Goons, Spike Milligan, Monty Python and The Young Ones.

the not-so golden age of Gaston Modot For this kind of unclassifiable work, synopsis is a dangerous and perhaps pointless exercise. The film begins, brilliantly, with a disarmingly lengthy David Attenborough-style study of scorpions. These ‘arachnoids’ live in a rocky environment near a coastline. As do a group of torpid shepherds, who are roused to “action” by the arrival of “the Majorcans” – a huge crowd of folk (including several dressed-up dignitaries), we see arriving by boat to lay the foundation stone for what is to become the city of Rome. This ceremony is interrupted by the discovery of a couple noisily enjoying an amorous clinch, writhing fully clothed on a mud-bank. The man (Gaston Modot) – an arrogant, misanthropic, anti-social sort – is hauled off by the police. The woman (Lya Lys) returns home to her aristocratic parents. Complications ensue.

L’Age d’Or is a freewheeling, anything-goes grab-bag – deliberately, deliriously irrational, all the way to its ostentatiously non-sequitur “climax” (in which a quartet of Sadean debauchees emerge from their mountaintop ‘castle’, led by a figure who looks suspiciously like none other than Jesus H Christ himself.) Despite this, there is the framework of a ‘plot’ here – though it often spirals off into crazy tangents, L’Age d’Or essentially relates the spectacularly sociopathic escapades of the nameless character played (brilliantly) by Modot.

He delights in going out of his way to attack a beetle (crushed underfoot), a small dog (hoofed into the air), a blind man (felled with a Cantona-style kick to the chest) and even his lover’s elderly mama (punched in the face after she accidentally spills some drink onto his hand). His antics are all the more amusing when we discover that he’s been selected by the government as a “goodwill ambassador” – we see the catastrophic wider consequences of this ill-advised appointment via stock footage featuring apocalyptic disasters which engulf the hapless populace.

Of course, worrying about the ‘story’ is to miss the point of L’Age d’Or. Bunuel attacks his usual targets – the church, the government, the church, pretentious artists, the church, aristocratic snobs, and the church – with his usual hardcore flair, an intoxicating and inspirational gusto that, it now seems safe to predict, will never lose any of its surrealist swagger.

18th April, 2004
(seen 17th April :
Cornerhouse, Manchester : public show)

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by Neil Young