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.
Wow! I’m so watching The Seashell and the Clergyman tomorrow. I’m big on surreal cinema! Thanks for the recommendation, it sounds excellent from your review. Although I found it on youtube and it says it’s 31 min…?
Awesome! Hope you like it, it really is excellent. The one I watched was a 2004 restoration by the Amsterdam Filmmuseum, if that helps in sourcing the full version. I think the one on Youtube might have cut out a sequence with a bit of nudity in it!
Oh that would suck, I hope I can find the full version a torrent or something 🙂
You know – I watched “Un Chien” about a year ago and I just didn’t get it – it was just too much for a dumb guy like me….
It’s definitely one of the more overwhelming short films I’ve ever seen!
Great write up! I show both of these in class – to illustrate “Impressionism” and “Surrealism” respectively.
Thanks! 🙂 It’s films like these that make me wish I studied film at university, if even for a couple of basic units. I’d love to listen in on lectures about them to see whether I really ‘get’ them or not.
Of course you “get” them. Analyzing art is subjective and your opinion is never wrong!
Totally right! See, that’s what I’m missing out on by not studying this stuff properly.
I love that you watch these! I’ll have to reserve time to watch both. Perhaps after I finish washing the huge pile of dishes that IS my kitchen at the moment.
They’re definitely both essential viewing! I don’t mind watching films whilst washing the dishes. I watched the majority of Ordet whilst washing the dishes and cleaning the kitchen. Good multitasking!
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[…] to figure him out. Parallels are drawn between Dali and Buñuel’s eye cutting scene in Un Chien Andalou (1929) as some big scissors cut apart curtains adorned with eyes in the dream sequence. For further […]