Eighty years ago today, on December 3, 1930, at a screening of the new, provocative feature film by surrealists Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel, L' Age D'Or (A.K.A. The Golden Age), members of the pro-fascist organization The League Of Patriots went on the offensive, attacking members of the audience and hurling ink at the screen. As if merely breaking up the screening and beating up attendees were insufficient, the brownshirts also destroyed art works on display in the lobby by Dalí, Joan Miró, Man Ray, Yves Tanguy and others.
The first question that comes to mind would be just what Dalí and Buñuel's dadaist epic, did to make the bluenoses in 1930 go berserk, at least two years before goose-stepping fascist groups truly became the rage throughout Western Europe.
Well, for starters, there's the ol' subject (referred to by one of this blogger's favorite movie director-writers, Preston Sturges, as "Topic A") of sex. The kind of kinky seen in L' Age D'Or and strongly implied in Josef von Sternberg's The Blue Angel and G.W. Pabst's films, never quite hit the silver screen on Main Street U.S.A., but unabashed sexiness reigned in commercial movie theatres via the popular pre-code romps starring Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer diva Norma Shearer, Jean Harlow and other early 1930's favorites.
L'Age D'Or, yes indeedy do, was the first of many Buñuel "love letters" to the Roman Catholic Church, calculated to offend, thumbing its cinematic nose at convention every step of the way; it was less overtly violent than its predecessor, Dalí and Buñuel's short surrealist film Un Chien Andalou (The Andalusion Dog), but demonstrated quite a bit more interest in fetishes and obsessive sexual urges. In both films, all societal, moral and religious taboos were fair game. Of course, the snotty, Pavlovian response from present-day movie buffs, brandishing Criterion Collection and Kino International DVDs is. . . WTF do you expect from a Luis Buñuel flick - freakin' Mary Pollyanna Poppins Of Green Gables On The Prairie?
The following excerpt from L' Age D'Or is, without a doubt, beloved by sculptors and shoe salesmen alike.
L' Age D'Or was officially banned a week later. Save for one unpublicized screening at New York City's Museum Of Modern Art in 1933, it did not have its official U.S. premiere until November 1, 1979 at the Roxie Cinema in San Francisco. Buñuel would, with the exception of the 1932 documentary Land Without Bread, not make another film until Los Olvidados in 1950.
Now one can see Dalí and Buñuel's anarchic opus, complete with further background info, in its entirety on YouTube. In evidence throughout the dadaist, finger and toe-sucking extravaganza: pungent irony, revulsion for upper-crust decadence, and the creative, striking uses of the camera, framing and editing that would be notable throughout Buñuel's filmmaking career.
Keep in mind just who was offended by L'Age D'Or, modern art in general, and just about anything threatening the social order (except - inevitably - wars, always regarded as not just A-OK but peachy by zealots, censors, hypocrites, would-be moralists, corrupt politicians and especially weapons profiteers).
Want something offensive? Hmmmmm - let's see. How about the craven cowardice of those who protected priests who committed molestations? How about the treatment of women in Moslem nations? How about suicide bombers and jihadists of all denominations? Now that's offensive!
And for the rest of this year, I promise to return to levity on this blog. Please forgive me, readers!