Tag Archives: surrealism

Surrealism, symbols and sexuality in Un Chien Andalou (1929) and L’Age d’Or (1930)

This is a guest post for Silent London by Sabina Stent. Sabina has a PhD in French studies from the University of Birmingham and is a regular contributor to Zero magazine. Her PhD thesis was on Women Surrealists: sexuality, fetish, femininity and female surrealism – and you can read it in full here. This article is an edited extract from her thesis, focusing on the early cinema of Luis Buñuel.

Sabina Stent
Sabina Stent

There are particular images that were central to the Surrealist movement. The human hand, for example, became a frequent Surrealist motif and can be seen in the movement’s films, paintings and photography. Why were these motifs so important to Surrealism and why do we continue to discuss them as part of the movement’s history? To understand why we must look to the Surrealist films of the 1920s, specifically Un chien andalou (Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel, 1928) and L’Age d’Or (Buñuel, 1930) and how key scenes emphasised the reoccurring themes that were so central to this movement.

The repetition of hands in Un chien andalou is, to put it simply, a symbol of fetish: what hands can do and how they can generate both intense pleasure and intolerable pain. Williams has commented that ‘the function of the fetish arises from the fear of castration’ and can only be preserved through making the object in question a symbol of fetish.[1] The repetition of wounded and severed hands in the film represents castration fear, and more specifically, a disembodied phallus. This is emphasised when we realise that all the hands, whether injured or exuding ants, are male.
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Win tickets for The Seashell and the Clergyman and silent shorts at the Prince Charles Cinema

Symphonie Diagonale (1924)
Symphonie Diagonale (1924)

If your tastes run to the outer fringes of silent cinema – to the surreal, the avant-garde and the experimental – no doubt you already have your eyes on the Prince Charles Cinema’s next silent film screening. The west end cinema has collaborated with the band Minima to put on a night of short films, The Seashell and the Clergyman, Symphonie Diagonale and H2O, on Thursday 30 June. Full details here. Here’s a little taster of what you can expect:

The really, really good news is that I have a pair of tickets for this show to give away to one of the readers of this blog. Just take a look at this simple question:

  • Who directed The Seashell and the Clergyman?

Email your answer to silentlondontickets@gmail.com by Tuesday 28 June. The winner will be picked at random from the correct entries and emailed with the good news. Best of luck!

Silent films at the Prince Charles Cinema: The Seashell and the Clergyman with Minima, 30 June 2011

Prince Charles Cinema Silent Season
Prince Charles Cinema Silent Season

Yes, you can watch silent films outside the arthouse circuit – in a West End cinema, with a packet of popcorn and a cold beer. That’s just how cool London is. And I much as I love a good retrospective, it’s a top night out. Which is why I’m excited to announce this very exciting film screening on The Prince Charles Cinema‘s silent slate.

In June, the hugely popular and accomplished rock band Minima will accompany a selection of experimental shorts at the Prince Charles Cinema – this won’t be your common-or-garden night at the flicks. Topping the bill is The Seashell and the Clergyman (1928), a pioneering surreal film directed by Germaine Dulac and written by Antonin Artaud. The writer apparently loathed the film and called the director a “cow”, when he saw it. The British censors were none-too-impressed either, saying famously: “The film is so cryptic as to be almost meaningless. If there is a meaning, it is doubtless objectionable.”  You want to see it now, don’t you?

We can also expect to see Viking Eggeling’s 1924 avant-garde geometric film Symphonie Diagonale and Ralph Steiner’s H20, an experimental “tone poem” on the theme of water, from 1929. It’s great that this cinema is showing something a little out of the ordinary on its big screen – there’s far more to silent cinema than the Hollywood hits, and this is a fantastic way to celebrate that.

The Seashell and the Clergyman screens at 8.30m on 30 June 2011. Tickets cost £11 or £7 for members and they’re available here. Check out the Facebook page here. You can buy Minima’s Seashell soundtrack CD on their website, and no doubt it will be available on the night too.