L’ Age d’Or / The Golden Age directed by Luis Buñuel (France, 1930)
This movie begins with stock footage of scorpions as if it were a natural history film. Captions give details about these predatory creatures, such as to tell us that “their pincers are instruments of aggression and information”. The desire to convey “aggressive information” could also be said to be a strong motivating factor for the two surrealists. Although serious targets were in their sights, there is plenty of evidence of a deliberately perverse sense of humour. An instinctive sense of the ridiculous and a defiance of logic mean that the movie could be viewed as a forerunner to the comic sketches of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
For example, some captioned links like ” some hours later” and “sometimes on Sundays”, have the same contrived quality as the Python catchphrase ‘…and now for something completely different’. In addition, incongruous details like a cow in a bedroom or a horse and cart driving through a room full of well-heeled party goers take an almost childlike pleasure in mocking the sanitized politeness of bourgeois society. And there is also something John Cleese-like about the exaggerated anti-social behaviour of Gaston Modot as ‘the man’. This includes kicking a dog and a blind man, hurling abuse at passers-by and slapping the face of a countess for spilling his drink. His frustration appears to stem from thwarted attempts to make love to Lya Lys as The Young Girl. The impossibility of satisfying a simple desire would later become the central theme to Buñuel’s classic The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. Though the couple remain fully clothed, their love scenes seem designed to provoke censors. for instance, the girl licking the toes of a statue blatantly suggests the act of fellatio.
Any doubt that religion is the prime target is dispelled by the closing sequences where we see a Christ-like figure leaving a sadistic orgy to the sound of tribal drumming and an image of a crucifix decorated with women’s scalps as jolly music plays. If ever there was a film that was made to be banned, then this is it. Salvador Dali and Buñuel could not realistically have expected official endorsement for the manner in which they show such wanton disrespect for bastions of the establishment and the catholic church in particular. It was made in 1930 and it was not until 1979 that it received formal premiere in the U.S. Better late than never.