February 22, 2014
If someone delights in flipping off authority at the age of 17, we may call it a phase; if they’re still flipping at 77, we must finally recognize a worldview and assess the damage. LUIS BUÑUEL (1900–83) was that age when he directed his last picture; and though That Obscure Object of Desire (1977) wasn’t his best work, it drew a crooked line from the obsessions projected nearly a half-century before in Un Chien Andalou (1929) and L’age d’Or (1930), his collaborations with Dalí. Defining dream form for the screen, Buñuel employed döppelgangers and recurrences; dressed sexy beasts in evening wear; equated the shaven armpit and the pubic mound; and highlighted the erotic potential of Catholic statuary. While he was sufficiently masterful to impart grandeur to a literary adaptation (Wuthering Heights, Robinson Crusoe), his purest zones of inspiration were sociology colonized by surrealism (Los Olvidados) and manner devoured by hunger (The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie). On one level, Buñuel’s career is crystallized, and justified, by a line in perhaps his greatest film, The Exterminating Angel (1962): “It is amusing. And strange.” On another, we square up before the components of his worldview — fathers, mothers, meat, feet, blood, dreams, death — and feel profoundly grateful to the artist who spent his life burrowing closer to the poetic basics of body and brain than most of us will ever be quite comfortable with. Buñuel gave Surrealism its smell.
READ MORE about members of the Hardboiled Generation (1894-1903).