What to Drink While Watching “L’Age d’Or”

Golden Age

An exhausted, injured soldier explains why he isn’t up to facing the enemy: “The rest of you, you have accordions, hippos, keys and hooks…” and his squadron leader accuses him of being a homosexual.

 

A girl lasciviously sucks the foot of a statue in the garden and says, “Isn’t it great to have killed our children?” to her lover whose face is splattered with blood.

 

Jesus Christ turns into a woman and his beard is grafted onto a crucifix.

 

A man throws a giraffe out of the window and his lover finds a cow in her bed.

 

The Golden Age isn’t the easiest film in the world to watch. In fact, I’d say it’s probably more difficult to watch in 2009 than it must have been in 1930, when it was made by Luis Buñuel and released to the Parisian public, no doubt raising a monocle or two.

 

Buñuel had already made his surrealist mark with “Un chien andalou” and obviously couldn’t let his cult following down. L’Age d’Or is definitely “tighter”; it’s easier to follow the plot (such as it is); there’s a beginning and an end; and there is an identifiable theme, which is something akin to l’amour fou, transcending the prevailing culture and all that is/was considered respectable. Salvador Dalí intervened in the screenplay, too, but apparently his contribution was far less important than in “Un chien andalou” – this is definitely the first real Buñuel film, and a lot of Buñuel’s favourite topics (the Catholic church, the army, revenge, animals-as-symbols, the aristocracy enjoying themselves) are lavishly laid out for the first time in this ground-breaking work of art, teasingly for those who could have dared to anticipate what this great Spanish director would come up with later on. 

 

Sound was just being incorporated into film when Buñuel made The Golden Age. There are one or two snatches of dialogues, but the narrative is mostly transmitted in the same way as it had been previously – we can see what is happening and what the characters are doing and thinking. We know that the boy that the gamekeeper shoots is his son even though we are never told that it’s his son, for instance. The soundlessness definitely makes the film more surrealist, and this is something I have to rant on about for a while, so bear with me:

 

I get infuriated when I hear the word “surrealist” being bandied about as a synonym for “weird” or “exceptional”. Anyone who is careless enough to employ this word without fully respecting it ought to be hanged, drawn and quartered. Surrealism is far too serious a term to serve as a reference to daily banality.

 

Buñuel relies on Wagner and Schubert for the soundtrack of L’Age d’Or. It’s confusing that he uses the same chunk from “Tristan und Isolde” as he did in “Un chien andalou”, and the bit from Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony” also features heavily in the Smurfs cartoons, which I find very disturbing. And he just can’t resist slipping in a burst of the drums of Calanda, can he.

 

Enough already. What about the beverage? Luis Buñuel was very partial to a Dry Martini, I’m told. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that he’d had a few before he shouted “Action!”, but this is definitely a film you can’t watch if you’ve been drinking. Contrary to what I used to believe, surrealism is not enhanced with alcohol. Take it from me. Soraya watched L’Age d’Or after drinking half a bottle of vodka and thought she was watching an episode of “Dawson’s Creek”.

 

The film is barely an hour long, so you don’t really need a glass of anything. If you get parched, water is fine, honest. Or you can just drink tea.  

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