L'Âge d'Or (Luis Buñuel / France, 1930):

The bliss of full-frontal subversion, cinema’s most exultant cattle prod, the best Marx Bothers comedy the Marx Brothers never made. Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí are once more the grenade-lobbers behind the silver screen, yet this dilation of Un Chien Andalou distinctly reveals Don Luis as the sublime agitator ready to hurl even the school of surrealism itself into the bonfire. In the beginning were arachnids... Twin parodies of wild life documentaries (a scorpion hits a bull’s eye on a rat’s nose) and symphony-of-a-great-city guided tours (a solemn cathedral with an eviction notice taped to the window) bracket the discovery of the New World, or is it the founding of Imperial Rome? Underclass impotence is exposed on burning rocks, Max Ernst and his crooked-legged comrades are no match for the invading forces of church and country. The pillar is laid over papal skeletons, though not before the ceremony is interrupted by a pair of lip-biting fuckers writhing noisily in the dirt. He’s a delegate for the International Goodwill Society (Gaston Modot) and she’s a high-society heiress (Lya Lis), they’re separated at the beachfront and reunited at the Marquise of X’s gathering of bejeweled swells. The cow on the bed (McCarey’s Wrong Again), Chaplin’s nonsensical orator, Magritte’s mirror. Subterranean desires keep bubbling up, ballooning, morphing—dogs and violins are kicked, a whirlpool of mud/shit fills the screen, flames shoot out of the kitchen. The party guests’ nonreactions to the bugs crawling over the host’s face and the gamekeeper twice shooting the little brat are gags to rattle and enchant Lubitsch. "Quelle joie de massacrer nos enfants" (cf. Pasolini’s Pigsty). Lovers fumbling to Tristan and Isolde, bloody-faced and sprinkled with old-age dust, until Modot is called away and Lis has to console herself with a statue’s marble toes. The wicked punchline is in the look of exhausted debauchery as J. Christ materializes like a De Mille figure stumbling out of De Sade’s chalet. Buñuel’s furies burn more richly in subsequent films, but they rarely geysered more freely. With Caridad de Laberdesque, Josep Llorens Artigas, Lionel Salem, and Germaine Noizet. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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