Spanish film director and original member of the Surrealist movement, Luis Buñuel, directed this version of Daniel Defoe’s ‘Robinson Crusoe‘ in 1954. It’s a very good and straightforward telling of the story with a totally convincing island locale. The Defoe novel is now more important reading than it’s ever been. That’s because it is the greatest story ever told about being alone with one’s self. All you have to do is live in Los Angeles for a while with your eyes open to understand how few people want to ever be alone with themselves. You see this problem with people very clearly when they break up with significant others and immediately slide into whatever relationship presents itself. It signifies a profound weakness of mind and character. Defoe wrote about the intricate workings of a mind alone with itself and the unexpected joys and truths one discovers in one’s self. So, read the book. It’s a tough book, full of very fine sentences and very subtle thought. Give it a try.
If you are so inclined, you can listen to the entire book right here because I sat down and read the whole thing into a microphone several years ago. But I suggest you listen now and then while making your way through the book on your own.
Luis Buñuel was the great Spanish film director who made ‘Un Chien Andalou’ and ‘L’Age d’Or,’ two of the original surrealist films. This documentary, directed by Robert Valey, was made in 1964. The director talks freely and with a certain charming guile about his influences, friends, paranoias, enjoyments and his impressions of various countries. He once smacked Salvadore Dali down on 5th Avenue in New York city!
I enjoy listening to people like him talk about their work because they talk about how they see things – how they interpret the world. Compare the way he talks in this film to what you normally see coming from people like Steven Spielberg or Martin Scorsese. Those people don’t seem real. They don’t seem to have any point of view. Notice how people in the film consistently associate Buñuel’s filmmaking with the work of painters. It is the continual grinding down of art into business that destroys real culture. One should immerse one’s self in better ideas and more subtle things if one wants to avoid the dullness that permeates most film work currently going on in the United States. I have found it to be a general rule that people with real talent who are artists answer questions in a slightly confusing manner. Clarity is another word for fake. Buñuel appears to me to fit this general principal.
Buñuel wrote a short and very beautiful autobiography called ‘My Last Sigh.’ I recommend it very highly if you want to know more about the mind behind Surrealist film.
And of course, here is the great Surrealist short film, ‘Un Chien Andalou,’ made by Buñuel in 1929.
Here’s an extremely rare underground Halloween treat for anyone who loves film. Ah, but only the very fewest of you will actually watch this all the way through! Give it a try. Not only is this film underground… it’s underhanded. Pere Portabella made ‘Cuadecuc, Vampir’ in 1970 by filming on the set of a Christopher Lee film called ‘Count Dracula’ that was being directed by Jesus Franco. Portabella’s underground classic is on its surface a silent horror film. But it’s also a documentary about the making of the Dracula film. It tells its story by stealing scenes from the feature being shot around it, almost as if the film were a mashup of existing footage! The high-contrast black and white photography evokes such cinema greats as Carl Theodor Dreyer’s ‘Vampyr’ and F.W. Murnau’s ‘Nosferatu.’ We see typical horror scenes like a stagecoach racing through the wilderness, or a dusty crypt, interrupted by the arm of a prop person using a fan to blow fake spiderwebs or a cameraman shooting from behind furniture. These slippages from horror into documentary actually produce a weird terror when you realize that the film was being shot under the watchful eyes of Spain’s dictator, General Francisco Franco. What the film really is underneath all the fantastic and disturbing imagery is a vicious attack on Franco and the false media manipulation that keeps all dictators in power. The portrait it paints of Franco himself is one of a sad, disturbed and largely ineffective vampire who lives inside a mental construction based on the past. The other characters in the film seem to be wandering through this psychotic realm, trying to find a way out.
The soundtrack incorporates jet engines, muzak, electronic music, opera singing, jackhammers, stuck records and various other electronic sounds. Don’t let this throw you because the soundtrack is one of the most eerie and unsettling that you will ever hear.
And I’m thinking that Criterion needs to jump on this and make a nice blu-ray release out of it.
This 2008 film was written, produced and directed by Javier Chillon of Madrid, Spain. The director of photography was Luis Fuentes. Artistic direction by Ángel Boyano. In the fifties, a Soviet cosmonaut chimpanzee crash-lands in West Germany. Within weeks, a deadly virus has spread across the country and confounds all the scientific experts. The film is composed of entirely original footage made to look like a fifties documentary or newsreel. The very first shots with the camera tilting down through the trees to show us the crash site at long range is a nearly prefect rendition of old documentary style right down to how the camera would move. You have to really know what you are doing to come up with shots like that. Very fine work.
This is science fiction that is a deadly accurate portrayal of the calm, governmental, ponderous yet urgent, carefully-framed and full-of-import quality found in mid-century documentary films. The humor is sly and builds its effect gradually. It’s also somewhat frightening.