The Golden Age (Luis Buñuel, 1930)

Well, the “Man” and “Young Girl” (this IS an early Buñuel, after all, so names mean nothing 😛 ) had nice chemistry, and crap like a cow in a master bed, shooting a kid in the back and a swank party bursting into flames are all attention-grabbing (whether that’s a positive thing or not…).  Otherwise “The Golden Age” was pure rubbish.  It’s a shame, really, because I was looking forward to returning to Luis Buñuel’s surrealist roots after I began his filmography with the early complete mindfuck “Un chien andalou,” followed by the contemporary, “conventional” (at least in Buñuel’s terms) “The Exterminating Angel” and “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.”  I suppose “The Golden Age” is supposed to be a middle ground between them: slightly more plot-driven than “Un chien andalou,” but far more visually surreal than the later films.  Well, Buñuel was quite the extreme filmmaker, and turns out his films are better the more extreme they are in terms of the direction he takes them in.  “Un chien andalou” was so wonderful because it made absolutely no sense, except for the simple fact that your mind makes sense out of the random images coherently put together through match cuts.  It combined simple images of cloud slicing moon / knife slicing eye, and a man pining for a woman, and the utter bizarre like ants crawling out of a hand and dead cows on a piano being pulled by the man, and Buñuel absolutely nailed the dream aesthetic and the scary world of the subconscious.

But now comes “The Golden Age,” and the ultimate irony comes when you compare it to Buñuel’s later films.  You’d think the later films, complete with distinct characters and situations (albeit bizarre, dream-like situations that only Buñuel could think of, but still coherent in a film as a whole), would have a message that’s obvious as hell compared to something much more in the vein of surrealism.  Turns out, the opposite is true.  “The Exterminating Angel” and “Discreet Charm” are brilliantly clever satires criticizing the hoity-toity middle class: a message that’s obvious, but also as subtle as the little “what the fuck” moments that Buñuel intersperses throughout.  “The Golden Age,” though?  The poor little movie can’t win either way.  When it’s utterly bizarre, with nonsensical images like the cow on the bed or the long National Geographic-like introduction about scorpions or the Girl basically fellating a statue’s big toe, sure it grabbed my attention, but my eyes were rolling far more than they were bugging out. 

And on the other side of the spectrum, when Buñuel’s trying to painstakingly show you his negative views of how religion and the bourgeoisie drown out freedom of expression, the results are even worse.  It got to the point where the end was basically Let’s Make a Deal, where Door # 1 and Door # 2 contained Jesus and, well, the middle class themselves, acting like buffoons.  Buñuel doesn’t just hit you over the head with his anti-establishment message here, he peckerslaps you with it (for lack of a better term 😛 ).  I mean c’mon, this had the makings of a cute little story of lustful, unrefined starcrossed lovers hopelessly separated by the humorless powers that be, what with the nice chemistry between the lead actors (their scenes together are bizarre, but unusually sensual, and even a little innocent and touching), but instead that basic framework of a “plot” is surrounded by random crap like cows, explosions, Jesus, scorpions, a suddenly-bleeding face, and our anti-hero kicking a little dog and a blind man.  It’s funny how stuff like that grabbed my attention on the spot, but at this very moment, not even a half hour – 45 minutes after the movie’s over, I have to rack my brain like I never have to remember any of it.  “Un chien andalou” tapped into the frightening purety of man’s subconscious, and Buñuel’s later films made their surrealism more subtle, and thereby possibly more relevant to our everyday experiences.  “The Golden Age’s” random surreal shit, though?  On-the-spot shock value that pretty much fails to shock anyway, in a film where that anti-establishment message could have been, and eventually was, handled better by this growing, experimental filmmaker.


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