Dada came out of the craziness of World War One. "The birth of Dada was not the beginning of art but of disgust." Surrealism tried to systematize Dada's anarchy into an artistic blend of ... See full summary »
Dada came out of the craziness of World War One. "The birth of Dada was not the beginning of art but of disgust." Surrealism tried to systematize Dada's anarchy into an artistic blend of Freudian psychoanalysis and Marxist provocation. In the interests of conquering the irrational, Salvador Dali opened exhibitions dressed in a diving suit, Marcel Duchamp turned himself into woman, Benjamin Peret assaulted priests, and Yves Tanguy ate spiders. Andre Breton, nicknamed "the Pope of Surrealism", led an inspired gang of artists, lunatics and writers. By the 1950s they were denouncing each other for betraying the movement, but their ideas had infected Hollywood, advertising agencies and were turning up as TV humor and album covers. Written by
Barry Beckett's account of 'Europe after the Rain' is misleading. It remains one of the most compelling documentaries on modern art ever made. As a collage of Dada and Surrealist artifacts it is priceless. It unearths rare recordings of Tristan Tzara, Raoul Hausmann, Ernst, Duchamp and Schwitters. The film is more impressionistic than any book, but it is grounded in the conviction that Dada and Surrealism are more than a weird collection of images, that they tell a historical story. It does justice to the fraught relation between Surrealism and politics, dramatising Andre Breton's attempt to ally himself with the Communist Party. What is striking now is now topical this debate still seems. The Communists accused Breton and his friends of being the self-indulgent children of the bourgeoisie. Breton objected to the way the Communists wished to impose 'correct' modes of analysis on the imagination. The same arguments still recur today, because Breton was one of the first to address these issues.
It is easy to laugh at Breton's self-righteousness and his contempt for mass culture, but 'Europe after the Rain' affirms his majestic stature. He recruited a squad of brilliant poets and painters, and attempted to engage with the most progressive ideas in politics and psychology. We are reminded that Breton at the age of 20 was a medical student following in Freud's footsteps by writing down the dreams of shell-shocked soldiers on the battle fields of the Western Front. 'Europe after the Rain' gives Dada and Surrealism credit for rising to the challenge of rebuilding Europe's concept of culture after the First World War had unveiled a talent for self-destruction on an unprecedented scale.
The film cannot be called pompous because there is almost no commentary in it. The commentary is limited to very short linking sentences. Instead, the story is told by the artists' own words: aphorisms, manifestos, excerpts from poems and writing. Their imagination is contagious because the Surrealists were equally adept at words and images. There is humour in it too, perhaps at its wryest with Marcel Duchamp. You get a rare glimpse of his tombstone and the inscription he prepared for it, which provides a good twist to the perennial question about whether Surrealism is dead or not. As Duchamp says from his grave: 'Always, it's other people who die'.
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