Posted by Pablo Kjolseth on February 19, 2017
Luis Buñuel died in 1983 at 83 of cirrhosis of the liver in a hospital in Mexico City. The Spanish-born filmmaker was famous, in part, for being fearless in his critiques of organized religion and the bourgeoisie. His cinematic career started in 1929 with Un Chien Andalou (aka: An Andalusian Dog), a short film he made with Salvador Dali. Fans of The Pixies probably can’t hear that title without also hearing lead singer Black Francis (now Frank Black) barking out the words to the song “Debaser”: “Got me a movie, I want you to know, slicing up eyeballs, I want you to know, Girl so groovy, I want you to know, Don’t know about you, But I am Un chien andalusia.” This a nod to the famous scene where a cloud cuts across the moon and then a razor seems to cut a woman’s eyeball (it was actually that of a dead calf with bleached fur). Un Chien Andalou ran for eight months in Paris. Things like that happened almost a hundred years ago before Netflix and binge watching.
Buñuel’s second satire L’Age d’Or (aka: The Golden Age - and at this point I need to point out that Cracker has one album called The Golden Age and another one – a double CD set! – called Garage d’Or ) started out as another collaboration with Dali, but they went their separate ways before filming began. Dali, who had no problems causing scandals using surreal images, would go on to denounce L’Age d’Or as as attack on Catholicism, and also went on to support Franco. Buñuel, an unapologetic lefty who purposefully wanted to upend bourgeois institutions opened L’Age d’Or in 1930. It caused riots, was denounced by the right-wing, banned and all prints were confiscated. From there it would only get more complicated for Buñuel despite what might seem from the outside a quiet spell until his international resurgence decades later. This post jumps three decades past Un Chien Andalou and everything in-between to look at Viridiana, which won the Palme d’Or at the 1961 Cannes Film Festival.
The title character of Viridiana (Silvia Pinal) is a young postulant at a Spanish convent who is about about to take her final vows. Viridiana has a rich uncle, Don Jaime (Fernando Rey) who she has only met once before despite his having paid for her education. The mother superior convinces Viridiana to visit Don Jaime at his farm for an extended stay as it might be her last chance to see him before he dies and she takes up a life of solitude in the convent. Things get sticky when the widowed Don gets obsessed with Viridiana’s uncanny resemblance to his dead wife Elvira, calling to mind how Jimmy Stewart’s character in Vertigo (1958) becomes haunted by Kim Novak’s Madeleine. While both Hitchcock and Buñuel flirt with the idea of rape and necrophilia, Buñuel fuses elements of neo-realism with sacrilegious tropes that veer far from Hitchcock’s orderly and immaculate studio universe. They almost do the opposite by bringing to mind a muscular and misanthropic embrace of people on the fringe such as to make Freaks (1932) director Tod Browning proud.
At this point: an apology to readers who might be wondering why some film titles are in bold and others italicized. (ie: Vertigo vs Freaks. Why? It’s as if marketing trumps reality.) This is because months ago the edict came down from above that only film titles on FilmStruck get bolded and that we plug where they are streaming, in this case Viridiana is streaming under the Cinema Passport: Spain theme in FilmStruck until March 24, 2017 (after which point it will move over to The Criterion Channel). All other titles get italicized. Our overlords are showing their devotion to marketing rather than pure devotion to motion pictures with this call, imho. Anyway, onward and… normally I’d say upward but, no, it’s simply onward:
An excerpt from Jonathan Rosenbaum’s book Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia:
Viridiana is a Gothic tale with many twists along the way. Ernesto R. Acevedo-Muñoz, author of Buñuel and Mexico: The Crises of National Cinema, notes how in the director’s version of Wuthering Heights (1953), which also had Gothic elements, Buñuel was self-conscious about telling Gothic tales with Mexican actors, adding:
Acevedo-Muñoz adds an important note in the conclusion of his book, which is this:
With issues revolving around nationalities and borders once again being so prominent in the headlines, perhaps it could comfort readers to know how melting pots not only make for delicious fondue, but also make for stronger characters and more interesting stories. Masterpieces in cinema (such as Viridiana) based on convictions by real artists of principle, continue to attest and provide witness to this wonderful idea.
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