Saturday, August 15, 2009

Bunuel: Passion, black humor, the call of the abyss


I just returned from two weeks in Ghana, where we buried my wife's father, Kpakpo Mensah. It wasn't convenient (or necessarily desired) for me to be online consistently or for long periods of time, so this blog and the Poetry Scores blog have fallen fallow for the first time since I started them last summer. Now I'll spend the next couple of weeks writing about my experiences in Ghana.

I'll build up to the funeral itself, an amazing four-day affair attended by thousands that taught me a lot about how traditional African ideas of the ancestors and the spirits are being maintained in a now largely Christian and commercial culture. But, first, books.

This was my fourth visit to the West African nation where my wife was born. Each time we have stayed with my wife's sister and spent almost all of our time in the bosom of extended family. They have in common two (sometimes, more) local languages and mostly communicate in those languages, which I can't understand. So, I am content to leave the extended family to sort out its problems in their own languages while I read my way through a small library I have packed for the journey.

First up, on this excursion: My Last Sigh: The Autobiography of Luis Bunuel. This winter I intend to make my second silent feature film, so I wanted to do some reading about some pioneers in the art, including Bunuel, a Spaniard who was intimates with the Andalusian poet Federico Garcia Lorca and the core original Surrealists in Paris.

His autobiography is a romp of bravado creativity and insider takes on a large cast of major cultural fugures from the 20th century.

Bunuel is joined on set by Salvador Dali, who spends "most of his time pouring wax into the eyes of stuffed donkeys".

He helps Pablo Picasso to hang Guernica, though Bunuel couldn't stand the piece itself.

He attempts to join Charles Chaplin in an orgy, but the young women from Pasadena leave before it gets going when they can't agree who gets to start off with Chaplin.

He defeats American boxing legend Jack Johnson in arm wrestling.

He hears from Andre Breton of his visit with Trotsky in Mexico City, where the Surrealist leader was offended when the Russian revolutionary remarked that his dog has "a human look" - "Can you imgine how someone like Trotsky could possibly say such a stupid thing?" Breton sputters.

Woody Allen asks him to play himself in Annie Hall, and resorts to Marshall McCluhan playing himself when Bunuel declines.

What stays closest with me, though, are his observations about Surrealism. Bunuel and the Surrealists would have a bitter falling out (as the early Surrealists also would have with each other), but as an old, dying man, Bunuel remembered the movement and its ideals with enthusiasm and affection.

"It was an aggressive morality based on the complete rejection of all existing values," Bunuel told Jean-Claude Carriere, who assembled the book for him. "We had other criteria: we exalted passion, mystification, black humor, the insult, and the call of the abyss."
Passion, mystification, black humor, the insult, and the call of the abyss ... where do I sign up? Better ask Andrew Torch if the contemporary Surrealist movement can use another warm body!

*

Bunuel image from Tomas Sutpen's PhotoBucket.

4 comments:

Richard Selman said...

Hey Bro Dog,

Just checking in from the abysmal Birmingham. Going up to Asheville, NC next week to see Newton Gwara on the last leg of his first visit to the USA. Chartwell introduced him to me in Zimbabwe and I saw him perform many times. He is well represented in the DAT recordings Adam distilled. He appears on a recording dated 16/01/94 with mbira and on a later recording with his marimba band the Nheravauya Brothers dated 24/01/94.

What was Trotsky thinking!?!?!

Richard Selman said...

Hey Bro Dog,

Just checking in from the abysmal Birmingham. Going up to Asheville, NC next week to see Newton Gwara on the last leg of his first visit to the USA. Chartwell introduced him to me in Zimbabwe and I saw him perform many times. He is well represented in the DAT recordings Adam distilled. He appears on a recording dated 16/01/94 with mbira and on a later recording with his marimba band the Nheravauya Brothers dated 24/01/94.

What was Trotsky thinking!?!?!

Richard Selman said...

Hey Bro Dog,

Just checking in from the abysmal Birmingham. Going up to Asheville, NC next week to see Newton Gwara on the last leg of his first visit to the USA. Chartwell introduced him to me in Zimbabwe and I saw him perform many times. He is well represented in the DAT recordings Adam distilled. He appears on a recording dated 16/01/94 with mbira and on a later recording with his marimba band the Nheravauya Brothers dated 24/01/94.

What was Trotsky thinking!?!?!

Confluence City said...

Give him my best. We must revisit those field recordings!