Luis Bunuel is most famous for making Un Chein Andalou with Salvador Dali. A shocker of a film, one of the first images is someone slicing open a woman’s eyeball. It scandalized Parisians when it debuted in 1929 and went on to be one of those essential films that you have to watch if you are into film history. Following the success of this film, Bunuel and Dali decided to team up again and with money a wealthy aristocrat gave them, decided to make The Golden Age or L’Age D’Or. Troubled from the start, the film destroyed Bunuel and Dali’s close relationship, derailed Bunuel’s career for several years, and scandalized even the more liberal of France’s intelligentsia. In fact after its week run, the film would not be seen again til some decades later.
The film starts out with a banal documentary sequence on scorpions. I started to think what this archive footage of the ways and attributes of scorpions had to do with the rest of the film in an angry fashion and then I realized that is exactly how Bunuel and Dali wanted the audience member who is seeing this for the first time to think. The philosophy of surrealism is complex and at the same time simple. They want you to look at a painting or listen to a piece of music or watch a film and wonder the whole time what each image or note or sequence has to do with the next image, note or sequence. They want to put in this state of intense thought and wonder. You may get it at the end of the film, but they don’t necessarily need you to. All that matters is that you watched it, you tried to figure it out and that you thought about how everything is interconnected. Sorry to go on a tangent but surrealism is crazy interesting to me. Yes I do own several posters of Dali’s paintings of clocks melting. I am one of those people.
So to continue with the film after the scorpion sequence, the main “story” begins. In Rome, a pompous religious dedication is interrupted by two lovers making it loudly in the mud. They are pulled apart and for the rest of they make several attempts to get back to each other. Making love is a messy and awkward thing which is shown in great detail when they finally get back together. They seem like they have never made love to each other before. They bite each other’s fingers, fall off of lawn furniture, and generally make a mess of things. They seem to want to bite each other’s faces off. When the male goes off to answer a phone call and the woman left by herself with a Roman statue, she begins to suck on the statue’s toes with such passion that you would think it was her lover’s toes. Although this animal lovemaking may be shocking to modern audiences, what shocked the Parisian movie going population was the overt images of religion’s (especially Christianity) ineptitude. Bishops sit on a ledge waiting and praying seemingly nothing and sit there til they die, the host shows up several times only to be shoved off to the side of the picture, Jesus Christ is invited to an orgy, and the cross is shown with the female victims of the orgy’s hair with jaunty music playing behind. People were so angered by these blasphemous images that they threw paint and slashed the one movie screen that it was playing on. It caused a major riot which led to the L’Age D’Or to be banned in France. This is a legitimate response to the film in the eyes of Bunuel.
L’Age D’Or is a good showcase of all the things Bunuel would develop in his later films. Sexual perversion, depictions of sacred images and figures in irreligious settings, and sequences don’t necessarily make sense until the end of the film are all present here. But more than just an interesting precursor to Bunuel’s more mature films, the film serves as an innovative art piece that takes awhile to fully digest. I love films that take me out of my element, show me images that I have difficulty deciphering. I only wish filmmakers would do it more often.