Combustible Celluloid
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With: Gaston Modot, Lya Lys, Caridad de Laberdesque, Max Ernst, Joseph Llorens Artigas, Lionel Salem, Germaine Noizet
Written by: Luis Bunuel, Salvador Dali
Directed by: Luis Bunuel
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 63
Date: 10/28/1930

L'Age d'Or (1930)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Scorpions and Bishops

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Director Luis Bunuel scored a smashing success with his first film, thefourteen-minute Un Chien Andalou (1928), but pushed a little toofar with his follow-up feature L'Age d'Or (1930). Within weeks ofits opening, the church began making noises about banning it.

While Un Chien Andalou (1928) deliberately avoided making any kind of sense, L'Age d'Or very nearly develops specific themes, but each individual viewer will no doubt come away with different ideas.

The film begins with a documentary-like look at scorpions, paying special attention to the five sections of its tail, topped by a sixth section -- a sac full of poison. Scholars could easily delineate the film itself into six sections, and equate the final section -- a kind of recreation of Sade's "Ten Thousand Days of Sodom," with a Christ-like figure wearily emerging from an orgy -- as the final sting.

It's more likely, however, that Bunuel simply strung a bunch of shocking images together, which would explain why the main character kicks a blind man in the stomach, or why a woman finds a cow in her bed. Many of the images attack religion specifically: a series of Bishops turn into skeletons and the hero tosses more Bishops out a window. The scene of a woman sucking the toe of a statue was also probably designed to provoke.

Though artist Salvador Dali and Bunuel collaborated on Un Chien Andalou, and Dali is credited again here as a co-writer, Bunuel claimed in his autobiography that Dali only wrote one scene, or image, for L'Age d'Or, a man with a rock on his head walking near a statue that also has a rock on its head.

I first saw L'Age d'Or years ago on a terrible VHS tape, and it nearly put me to sleep. Now after a brief theatrical run, Kino has given us a clean, restored transfer on their essential new DVD. Certainly this film will baffle, astound and infuriate all at once.

Though I can't recommend this classic highly enough, I have a few small quibbles with Kino's DVD. The film itself is above reproach, but a commentary track by Robert Short (author of The Age of Gold: Surrealist Cinema) is very nearly the most monotone and uninteresting I have ever heard. Additionally, it would have made sense to include Un Chien Andalou -- which has never been released on DVD -- as an extra, not to mention a third Bunuel film from the same period, the short "documentary" Land Without Bread (1932).

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