My obsession with short silent film continues! Here are two shorts that I watched recently, reviewed in paragraph form. Spoiler alert: these are both amazing films.
The Seashell and the Clergyman (1928)
Germaine Dulac, 41 minutes
The Seashell and the Clergyman follows the titular clergyman’s sexual obsession with a general’s wife, and his attempts to fight that obsession. This is one of the longer silent shorts that I’ve seen, but it makes excellent use of its time with an extended focus on the strangely beautiful visuals. The film is a surreal classic, and doesn’t follow any strict plot. But it does show its main themes (obsession, lust, self-hatred) in a way that seems logical. The symbolism can be pretty easily read throughout the film, even though it does entail looking beyond the surface of the film whilst watching it. The actor playing the clergyman shows jealousy and obsession in such a raw and unfiltered way that initially it’s slightly comical. But by the end, any sense of the comic is gone, and what’s left is a sense of captivation with the visuals and story. The special effects are also amazing and so inventive. One of my favourite moments was where the clergyman’s coat tails grow longer and longer, literally holding him back from the woman as he attempts to make his way toward her. The fact that this film was made by a woman, one of the first female surrealist filmmakers, also makes this a special film. While it does require some focus in the beginning, it is absolutely worth sticking with it until the end.
Un Chien Andalou (1929)
Luis Buñuel, 21 minutes
Where do you start with Un Chien Andalou? Luis Buñuel’s first film, in partnership with the visionary artist Salvador Dalí, is synonymous with the surrealist movement. It’s difficult to provide a summary of the film and its overall message, as every time I watch it, I seem to find a different meaning. The ‘plot’ consists of a number of different scenes with common characters, which are loosely related to one another, with a cut-up chronology. The themes of love, sex, religion/spirituality, and death confront the audience in every scene. The symbolism is pretty much constant and involves a number of symbols used in Dalí’s art, such as ants emerging from a stigmata-like hole in the hand. Un Chien Andalou is also famous for its iconic eye-cutting scene, which is an excellent setup to the rest of the film. This time, I caught a message about the development of gendered sexuality. With a film this surreal and open to interpretation, you don’t watch it, it watches you. It’s like a Rorschach test in cinematic form. Is that pretentious to say? Regardless, any meaning you discover in this film is more a reflection of your state of mind than the film itself. I love this short film and I think it’s a must-see for fans of all forms of art.