Thank you to
Naamah Hill, Teacher at Thurston Community College
for this amazing resource
Inspiration and help for A-Level Film and Media Studies students.
It’s Alice’s first day at her new school, but when she takes a wrong turn into the Sixth Form center things get weird.
A short film by Jessica O’Neill and Holly Connell-Wallace. It was made as their final creative piece for A2 Film Studies.
Mermaids are Real
a short film by Sabina Miclaus
edited by Conor Ponsford
cinematography by Lizzie Matthews
sound by Leanne Jackson
This is a film made by some my students as their final creative project in Film Studies.
I am very proud of them and think it ranks as one of the best student films to come out of the school where I teach.
Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali –
Un Chien Andalou (1929)
L’Age d’Or (1930)
We’ve discussed these films in great detail and watched them several times.
But let me add some things for you to think about:
The single most important thing that Bunuel contributed when he combined surrealist art and filmmaking was his use of “narrative scaffolding” to tease audiences with the illusion of a rational narrative that they could identify with, while at the same time creating something utterly irrational and strange that defied all narrative logic. It was this paradox, this merging of reality (as expressed in conventional narrative storytelling) and dream logic that make his films with Dali (and many of the films he went on to make on his own) so strange, so funny and so utterly surreal.
At times he employs very clever match cuts like in Un Chien Andalou when he cuts from an image of a woman’s underarm hair to that of a sea urchin. Which is then later referenced when Pierre Batcheff suddenly grows a mound of hair over his mouth, and Simone Mareuil’s immediate reaction is to check under her arm to see if her hair is still there. (Of course there is the infamous match cut of the clouds moving across the face of the moon, which is then rhymed with the razor slitting a woman’s eyeball.)
Or in the sexually suggestive match cuts in L’Age d’Or when Gaston Modot longingly looks at a perfume advert which features a woman’s hand and a perfume atomiser, which then transform into a woman’s hand moving frantically in a circular pattern next to a hunk of hair, which clearly seems to suggest masturbation. A motif continued soon after when we see Lydia Lys lounging with her hand close to her lower half and a conspicuous bandage on her finger.
This technique of match cutting between different images to create a visual rhyme between two seemingly unrelated images reminds me of the surrealistic practice of The Exquisite Corpse, where random words are strung together to make a nonsensical and yet somehow understandable sentence.
And yet for the most part there is plainness, almost invisibility to Bunuel’s directing style. He avoids the exaggerated camera angles that Man Ray uses. Bunuel would never need to shoot a film through thick glass to bestow it with a surrealist feel. For Bunuel the dream logic, the strangeness comes from the fact that everything on the surface appears so normal.
But Bunuel does some very interesting things with sound in L’age d’Or. He uses sound very effectively to create a seamless bond between two different spaces. Another way of saying this: overlapping sounds link separate geographical spaces. The scene where Lydia Lys sits before a mirror and pines for Gaston Modot is an excellent example. Bunuel crosscuts between Lys at the mirror and Modot on a pavement next to a park. Though separated geographically, the lovers are united through a shared soundscape of wind, a cowbell clanging and a barking dog. The wind starts with Modot on the pavement, but we continue to hear it as we cut back to Lys at the mirror. The cowbell we assume belongs to Lys’s geographical space, as she in the previous scene somewhat absurdly finds a cow standing atop of her bed, which she ten shoos away like a naughty house pet. And when Modot encounters a barking dog through a gate that separates the pavement from the park, the barking continues on the soundtrack even when we move back to Lys at the mirror. All of these overlapping sounds, which defy spatial reality, suggest a lyrical and passionate connection between the two would be lovers. These aural disturbances are paired with a couple of powerfully unreal visual effects in Lys’s bedroom. For one thing Lys’s mirror doesn’t cast back her own reflection but instead reveals an image of trees and sky. The mirror is acting as a portal to Modot’s location. We see a close up of Lys as she relishes a cool breeze coming from the mirror, rustling her hair, the very same wind we assume that is with Modot and the barking dog. The mirror reflects not her image but her longing for Modot’s character. Of course there is a strange detail to be noticed with the mirror. Though she is not reflected in it, her toiletries STILL are. This image of a mirror that selectively chooses what to reflect reminds me of the Empire of Light, a painting by the Surrealist Rene Magritte. A perfect example of a realistic image that upon closer inspection reveals a strange unreal quality.
Bunuel also crosses spatial boundaries in the way that he subverts the rules which govern continuity editing.
In continuity editing actions that begin in one shot are often finished in the next but from a different angle, using what we call a match on action (slightly different from the previously described match cut ).
But in Bunuel’s world actions that begin in one setting can often finish in a completely new location. For instance think of the scene where the younger, more idealistic version of Batcheff’s character in Un Chien Andalou is shot by his double. His character begins to fall in the bedroom of the apartment and the film then cuts to …
… Batcheff falling to the ground. Only he is no longer in the bedroom, but in a clearing in a forest, his hand brushing against the naked back of a unknown woman who is seated, faced away from his falling corpse.
Here the editing has created a fragmentary illusion of continuity by giving us a temporally continuous action, while the space has suddenly changed, causing a sense of disorientation in the viewer.
It is a visual technique that very much replicates the sudden shifts of geography one might experience in a dream. It was also inspired by the work of American filmmaker Buster Keaton, especially his comic masterpiece Sherlock Jr (1924).
Continuity Editing is a system of cutting to maintain continuous and clear narrative action. Continuity editing relies upon matching screen direction, position, and temporal relations from shot to shot. The film supports the viewer’s assumption that space and time are connected between successive shots.
Continuity editing is the conventional method of editing in narrative films, using techniques like eye-line matches or matching on action to maintain the temporal and spatial logic of a scene. As audiences of conventional narrative films we have been conditioned to read the use of continuity editing as a realistic method of telling the story. It also has the effect of making the cuts somewhat invisible as we are wholly engrossed in the action of the story.
Now this is exactly the style of editing that Bunuel employs throughout large sections of the two films. He uses conventional Hollywood storytelling strategies to lull us into a false sense of security before springing his devilish subversions.
Can you think of other moments from Un Chien Andalou thatbreak the rules of continuity editing to create something unexpected and/or disorienting?
In L’Age d’Or he uses false eye line matches in the aforementioned mirror scene to create the impression that Modot and Lys can actually see one another.
Don’t forget his use of music, especially the different ways he uses the Love Death theme for the opera Tristan and Isolde. Interesting in the way he juxtaposes this music with the visuals, especially in the scene where the hermaphrodite gets run over in Un Chien Andalou.
Les Mysteres du Chateau de De – (The Mysterious House of Dice, 1929). This was the film that premiered on the same evening as Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali’s Un Chien Andalou. It was produced by the Le Vicomte de Noailles, who would later produce L’Age d’Or for Bunuel and Dali.
Once again there is a suggestion of narrative about two travellers exploring a very modern mansion in the hills, but Man Ray deliberately keeps his characters obscured from us by having them wear nylon stockings over their faces. And the two travellers quickly fade from the story and are replaced with other masked figures. So narrative in any conventional sense (identifiable characters with concrete goals and desires) is never really present.
He also indulges in a lot of expressionistic camera work. Lots of canted (tilted) angles, even having the camera rotate 360 degrees to reveal the grounds of the mansion. He employs very loose hand held framing, and focuses on things like the textures of a sculpture and the abstract shadowy patterns on a ceiling caused by light bouncing off the surface of a swimming pool. He uses high angle moving shots to survey the interior of the house. He uses slow motion and reverse motion in the scenes of the masked bathers in the swimming pool. In other words he uses an array of cinematic tricks to create a strange, dreamlike and disorienting mood.
Very different for the most part to Bunuel’s use of cinematography and mise en scene.