#12 L’Age d’Or (dir: Luis Buñuel, 1930)
I might as well claim Luis Buñuel as my version of God if it wasn’t so slightly melodramatic and pointless, for he’s one of the true film artists that has helped reshape my understand of film, dreams, even reality. Luis also once said “I shit on God.” So there.
I saw Un Chien Andalou and L’Age d’Or (1930) as a seventeen year old student. This is when I first fell in love with the work of the surrealists and became fascinated with surrealism in general. One of my favourite books ever is Georges Bataille’s The Story of the Eye. That title really sums up the movement for me. Why else do you think the mad Spaniards opened their first film – the iconic short Un Chien Andalou – with the destruction of an eyeball? It was a revolutionary gesture and occular mutilation has been seen down the years in all sorts of horror films – most famously in Lucio Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979) and others. Fulci was very much influenced by surrealist principles in his own way and very much by Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty.
The finale of L’Age d’Or still shocks me to this day even though I’ve seen it countless times. The character, Duc de Blangis, is clearly meant to be Christ-like and this notion of the Church and its head figure as possessing libertine/sadist tendencies is a stunning provocation. The finishing off of a poor innocent girl is absolutely hilarious. No, it’s actually grim … but still somehow funny. No wonder critics went nuts and accused the Spanish surrealists of all sorts. Also, like Un chien andalou (1929), I’d call L’Age d’Or a romantic comedy – perhaps the most insane rom-com that’s ever been committed to screen. The general plot is, after all, about thwarted passion and desire in which various authority figures get in the way.
Luis Buñuel stated his intentions for the film:
“For me, it was a film about passion, l’amour fou, the irresistible force that thrusts two people together, and about the impossibility of their ever becoming one.”
As with Un chien andalou’s reception both Buñuel and his pal Salvador Dalí got into a spot of bother with critics and those with a political agenda. The second collaboration with Dalí didn’t end well, either. They became distant and never really spoke again. During the film’s premiere, an angry mob smashed up a cinema the movie was screened in and then – rather drastically – the picture was taken out of circulation for almost forty years. We could well say Buñuel made ‘better’ films (his comic masterpiece The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie has just been re-released) but I choose L’Age d’Or because of its incendiary impact on my seventeen year old brain.
Here’s what a right wing Spanish newspaper said of L’Age d’Or:
“. . . the most repulsive corruption of our age . . . the new poison which Judaism, Masonry, and rabid, revolutionary sectarianism want to use in order to corrupt the people.”
The film was financed by an aristocat, Vicomte Charles de Noailles, and this wasn’t so unusual at the time as Carl Th. Dreyer produced his masterpiece Vampyr with a rich gentleman he cast in the lead role. Everything about L’Age D’Or is excellent from its visual puns to the complete and utter weirdness. Art fans will also know that Max Ernst pops up in the film too. Finishing the finale segment with the repetitious Calanda drums is another great stylistic choice naking the 120 Days Of Sodom sequence very atmospheric. L’Age d’Or holds a very fond place in my heart. I also recommend the director’s autobiography, My Last Breath (also known as My Last Sigh). It is one of the best autobiographies ever written by a film artist.
The Top Twenty Films Challenge is an inter-blog daily feature between myself and Laurent di Alberti at FilmLand Empire blog. Each of us will reveal our Top 20 favourite films. For the other Cinemart entries click here: Top Twenty Films Challenge.