"L'Age D'Or" carries one simple, yet extremely frustrating paradox, if we use our intelligence to extract from the images' symbolism some depth and substance, we're among the privileged ones, those who 'got' the film, who understand it's powerful diatribe against religion, bourgeoisie, patriotism, an ode to freedom, anarchy, whatever ... but if the same process generates a more critical opinion, we are reminded that it's a surrealist film and that we shouldn't pay too much attention to the 'story' but rather focus on its dream-like escapist value..
Now, I'm puzzled, if the film has a point to make - I believe it has- then it should encourage some criticism that wouldn't deny the gutsy approach of Bunuel and Dali and the political significance of their second feature. Speaking of the first, I loved "Un Chien Andalou" for what it was, a brilliant piece of surrealist film-making, granted the images had no connection whatsoever, each one was powerfully defying all our preconceived ideas about what Cinema should stand for. "Un Chien Andalou" was the standby of concept, the exhilaration of Cinema as a rule-less art-form relying on the basic premise of hypnotic images, pleasing or shocking to the eyes, but ultimately fascinating, Cinema, like music and dancing, a hymn for human's quest for liberty and new forms of expressions.
Yet there's a major difference between "Un Chien Andalou" and "L'Age d'Or": length. "Un Chien Andalou" has a dream-format, it's short but rich, and even if the original intent was that ""No idea or image that might lend itself to a rational explanation of any kind would be accepted.", the film allowed us to transcend our capabilities to judge a film on a rational basis, and discover the inner poetry and craftsmanship of Bunuel as director and storyteller, which is even less surprising when you know that he was influenced by a poet named Garcia Lorca, and a painter (man of images) named Dali. "Un Chien Andalou" is the kind of 'experiences' that gets richer and subtler after each viewing, and in its own way, it's an enjoyable film, if not 'entertaining'.
The irony is that the film was intended to shock, to be a cinematic slap addressed to all the establishment, but actually met with a fair success. Both Bunuel and Dali didn't expect such recognition and probably thought they missed their point, since even the upper-class audience applauded the film, why couldn't they, after all, embrace its dream-like poetry? Aren't people with more free time in their hands the most likely to enjoy the artistic freedom superbly displayed? As a result, I believe Bunuel and Dali wanted to make a film with much more explicit anti-establishment messages, with the closest structure to a plot. I respect that new approach, but with this mindset, it's difficult to sit through the whole hour without noticing some "perplexing random bits of creativity".
I'm not judging them negatively, but 'random' seems to me the right word, while it was fitting for "Un Chien Andalou", "L'Age d'Or" featured many moments that seemed totally out-of-place even from surrealistic standards : a cow in a bed, a blind man violently kicked, a documentary sequence about scorpions, not to mention the ending's Biblical undertones
I'm aware that these parts carry some symbolism and are not gratuitous, but then again, who had to read 'Wikipedia' to understand what the film was about? Who had to make some researches before jumping to the conclusion that even the craziest stuff made sense? The film only works when you know exactly what was its first intent whereas for "Un Chien Andalou", only being familiar with the notion of surrealism was enough, and even then!
I guess what I'm trying to say is that the intent of "L'Age d'Or" is laudable and the film is never more powerful as when it doesn't try to be a second opus of "Un Chien d'Andalou", the whole film starting with the Majorcans until the party, would have been better, but it's just as if Dali and Bunuel wanted to shock for the sake of it, and used 'surrealism' for their slap-in-the-face moments, while it was more than symbolism, than open for interpretations, therefore criticism. I remember I said about "Ingmar Bergman's "Persona" that the film "rises above rationality with such beauty and self-confidence that if there ever was one word intelligible enough to translate the power of its images, the film would have failed." The same sentence could have applied for "Un Chien Andalou", but "L'Age d'Or" is not a disinterested film, it's not art for art, it's art with a point and the criticism only consists to question whether the film succeeds to make its point, or not.
Why the scorpions? Why that ending? Why oh why, did they make the actors talk, since the delivery was so laconic and obvious bad acting? Why not keeping the film silent, relying on its powerful message? I have the feeling that by trying to make a political pamphlet in one side, and remain faithful to their surrealistic agenda, the two effects canceled each another
and the political core of the film is undermined by these random bits of absurdity. Maybe this is why I can't truly enjoy "L'Age d'Or", not as much as "Un Chien d'Andalou" anyway. This is why I couldn't wait for the film to end
I started my discovery of Bunuel from his later works "The Discreet Charm of Bourgeoisie", "This Obscure Object of Desire" and "The Diary of a Maid" so I'm aware that being a man of creative genius isn't incompatible with making movies with relative consistence or let's say, coherence.
"L'Age d'Or" might be victim of its own ambitions, but shouldn't be above criticism just because it's a surrealistic film; otherwise, it shouldn't even be applauded for its intelligent subversion. I think it's fair to say that it's an important film, powerful, historically and culturally significant
but certainly not flawless.
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