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L'Age d'Or (Blu-ray + DVD)
Member Name: hogsflesh
L'Age d'Or (Blu-ray + DVD)
Advantages: Classic surrealist films, decent Blu-Ray transfer
Disadvantages: Annoying dual format, boring extras
This is another of the BFI's irritating dual-format releases, in which you have to buy both DVD and Blu-Ray, and can't choose one or the other. It will set you back £13ish on amazon.
L'Age d'Or was made by Luis Buñuel in 1930, from a script on which he collaborated with Salvador Dali. Both men were involved with the surrealist movement in the arts, and had collaborated in 1929 on a much shorter film, Un Chien Andalou, also included in this release. They are probably the most famous avant garde, 'underground' films ever made, but don't let that put you off. Surrealism, with its dream (or nightmare) like visual juxtapositions is probably the most accessible of the modernist movements, and while it might be a terribly low-brow comparison to make, the films are occasionally Pythonesque in their imagery.
Un Chien Andalou
The shorter film is probably the most famous of the two. It opens with one of the most savage and confrontational images in film history. A man is seen sharpening a razor blade. A woman sits staring calmly at the camera. The man slices the woman's eyeball open with the razor, in unflinching closeup. (It was a pig's eye that actually got cut, but still...).
The film is silent, and only 16 minutes long. What plot there is concerns the relationship between a man and a woman, but that doesn't matter. What's important is the imagery - the ants crawling out of a hole in the man's hand, the rotting donkeys on top of a piano, the bit where the man erases his own mouth and replaces it with the woman's armpit hair.
It's an odd and rather sinister little film, and bits of it don't seem as shocking now as they doubtless did in the late 1920s. But bits of it still work, especially that opening. The film is presented with two different soundtracks, the Wagner one being the best.
The second film offers more of the same, except this one's an hour long and may have had less input from Dali (this is no bad thing, I find Dali's painting irritating next to those of the other surrealists). L'Age d'Or is more overtly comic, with the bizarre juxtapositions frequently intended to amuse as much as shock (or perhaps to shock the squares and amuse the surrealists). It's also more obviously satirical.
Again, it's sort-of held together through the story of a man trying to find the object of his lust, a wealthy woman. But as in the earlier film, that's not really what you remember. The documentary footage of scorpions, the lethargic army of cripples, the bishops on the rocks and other such oddness, that's what will stay with you.
There isn't really a lot to be said about this film, except that it is a little too long to sustain its mood successfully. Although a few scenes have what seems to be synchronised sound, most of the film was obviously shot silent with sound effects dubbed on afterwards, as required. The soundtrack is taken from various well known classical pieces. It's less brutal than Un Chien Andalou, and funnier. The scene where the woman enters her bedroom to find a cow on her bed is hilarious, and any film in which a burning Christmas tree falls from a window for no reason is surely worthy of your attention.
It was controversial at the time, being banned in this country for ages. There's some blatantly sexual stuff in it, although no nudity. The scene where the woman sucks the toes of a statue is pretty famous. Probably most contentious was the ending, which explicitly references the Marquis de Sade's 120 Days of Sodom and rather shockingly has one of Sade's libertines dressed as Christ. The film ends with a shot of women's wigs (or possibly scalps) nailed to a cross. And if you think that's a spoiler you're rather missing the point.
Not that there's necessarily a point to miss. There's a self-conscious 'anti-art' swagger to these films, and while they're essential viewing, you don't necessarily need to worry what, if anything, Buñuel meant by them. Just enjoy the surreal comedy.
L'Age d'Or looks better than I've seen it anywhere else. It's too old to look completely pristine, with scratches visible most of the time, but the detail is good nevertheless. Silent film has a different visual texture to later film; it looks richer somehow, and darker (it has the peculiar effect of making everyone's teeth look like they're stained). It doesn't look pristine, but never will, and a comparison with the DVD version shows immediately how much better it is. The HD Chien Andalou is less impressive, but there's a lot more damage to the print, so I daresay there's not much more that could be done.
The DVD and extras
The picture quality on the DVD, although not as good as the Blu-Ray is still perfectly acceptable.
It's strange that the extras are only available on the DVD - is this an attempt to persuade us that the DVD serves a purpose? I assume this is the same version of the DVD that the BFI released a few years ago, and that maybe they couldn't get the rights to the main documentary for the Blu-Ray as well.
Anyway, the main feature is a 90-minute documentary about Buñuel. It's longer than both films put together, and frankly is rather hard going. Buñuel was a major director who lived an interesting life, but somehow the documentary didn't really fire me with enthusiasm. Although there are clips from his films, the bulk of it is made up of talking heads, all of whom are speaking either French or Spanish with subtitles. It just feels like a curiously un-cinematic way of celebrating the life of one of the greatest of all directors.
The other extras are an introduction and commentaries by academic Robert Short. The introduction is 25 minutes long, and I didn't get through it all. The commentaries (which are also on the Blu-Ray version) are quite dry. Although these films have very definitely been taken into the domain of academic film studies, it feels like Dali and Buñuel would sneer at the very idea. If you're looking for things to say in an essay about the films, this will no doubt be useful. For a more general viewer such as myself, they are not. There's also a short booklet with some similar material in it.
Of course, I'm not slagging off academia. Without organisations like the BFI we wouldn't even have films like this anymore. These films are fascinating and surprisingly entertaining, and everyone should watch them at least once. Even if you absolutely hate them, you'll remember them.
Summary: Classic oddball films in HD
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