Art, in any form has sometimes been viewed as strange and mysterious. Its origins, background and concepts often baffle people while bringing out a distinct interest in a particular piece. Every era through human history has brought along different forms of art and with it, different styles. When film was first introduced it baffled, amazed and frighted people. It was a new form of art that people did not quite understand and even as time went on film still did not receive its due accreditation to being a distinct form of art. Yet deep in the shadows of filmmaking arose a niche trend that moved from simple experimentation with philosophical concepts and bizarre visual aesthetics to a fully formed art movement and later a style of its own. Surrealism, most noted in painting reached far into the film form. Beginning with the early surrealist movement which brought forth Luis Buñuel and coming all the way to bizarre contemporary works of filmmakers such as David Lynch. Films and their makers have redefined creativity and originality with surrealism, shinning a light on film as a unique art form. Regardless of its “Art” status, surrealism has changed the very scope of film and how films have been made over the past 100 years. From the early surrealist movement to the new cinema art house wave, science fiction and the current contemporary film climate and beyond. Film as an art form is an ever changing landscape with a limitless scope. Even in the age of remakes and reboots, original ideas still seem to surface. Much of these ideas are bold and experimental, taking their cues from those who have experimented before them. Those ideas, those experiments and those surreal philosophical insights all contributed to the progression and advancement of film and surrealism in film. It inspired creators to keep reaching even if what they were reaching for seemed like unrealistic. This was not realism and hence these filmmakers did not and still don't bend to reality. Though film has changed, much of the tactics used in surrealism are not only present today but have been used in many different types of films through different eras.
The Early Surrealist Film Movement And Its Impact
Every artwork has roots that begin somewhere. For surrealism in film it began exactly when film in general began. Surrealism in films takes its roots from surrealism in art, more specifically paintings. Noted painter and film collaborator Salvador Dali created many iconic surreal painting but he also worked closely with filmmaker Luis Buñuel and made a number of films with him. Buñuel was considered a key figure in the surrealist film movement and continued to use his keen surreal style long after the era had ended. One of the most noted films that Buñuel and Dali made together was “L’Age d’Or” not only is it regarded as the pairs biggest achievement, it is regarded as one of the most significant works in surrealist film. The film acts as a compelling example of the ideology behind certain surrealist attributes.
Depicting a modern world in which sexual desire rules the lives of its two main characters, it promotes deviant social and sexual behavior as a way to reject the forces that André Breton named as the most important elements of social conservation at the time: family, nation, and religion (Lyford, 27).
Sexuality is a key aspect in not only Buñuel’s work but many other surrealist film works it was a key subject of one of Buñuel’s biggest films “Belle De Jour”. This, and in many other ways shows how Surrealist films tend to go against societal norms, often bordering on the offensive. If you look at surrealist film from any era you would see that its concepts, structure and ideology are typically a criticism of the era the film was made in, often making these films controversial.
Controversy is a commonality in the surrealist film movement and some of the earlier works are no exception to this. It was widely regarded as a movement filled with disagreements and controversy, which also brought forth critics such as Dali who criticized film as a “poorer art form” that was more limited (Harper, Stone 3). Ironically Dali had his own hand in the filmmaking industry, working closely with iconic surrealism filmmaker Luis Buñuel. Dali was not so much being critical of surrealism in film, rather films in the traditional narrative, seeing that many filmmakers used and still use the same linear template. Nevertheless, Buñuel was a stand out filmmaker who truly made his mark as a unique auteur Thus, bringing on the partnership between him and Dali. Creatively Buñuel’s films were seen as exuberantly unique, this at a time when cinema was still fairly young and experimentation was leading the genre. Considering the ever growing cinema landscape it seems easy to agree with Dali at the time, there was simply nothing unique enough even for a medium that was just starting out. Dali and Buñuel were arguably two of the key figures that helped shape surrealism in film as its own entity. With Buñuel work in film spanning from the 1920s to the 1980s, working in multiple eras of film, this helped shaped the surrealist reach in the later years of film.
Controversy aside, film and surrealism in film was simply about innovation at time. From a visual aspect filmmakers saw an opportunity to apply certain techniques that can convey their story and/or message. Most films of the aforementioned linear style identify its images based on rudimentary concepts such as; space, time and characters. In surrealist film this identification is different; with surreal image the illusion of the film image focuses on creating fictive unity of the human subject, thus bringing in the central human mind to the conceptual make up of surrealist film (Williams, xvi). This is where we began to see a focus on human nature. The key difference from traditional film and surrealist film is its main or central focus. Surrealism has always been about the visualization of unreal or dream like dystopia, this is where the obsession with the human mind comes in and with it, film that draws from philosophy and psychology. Many surrealist have accepted the freudian concept of the unconscious which is derived from dreams. This could be an explanation to the use of dreams in their films almost as a means to understand their own sub conscience and portray it on film (Williams 33). That being said many surrealist filmmakers have stated the direct impact that their dreams have on their work. As Federico Fellini began to experimentation with dreams he kept a dream journal. The unconscious may be a more adverse explanation for the binding use of dreams in surrealist film considering that these films go far deeper than just dreams.
Sergei Eisenstein wrote a number of essays on film form outlining various visual aspects of filmmaking. Eisenstein himself was a noted filmmaker and pioneer of montage in film. Many of his essays dealt with montage as well as a categorization of different forms of montage. The essay focuses on a range of topics revolving mostly around the visual and creative aspects of filmmaking, bringing up points about the relevance and importance of giving more attention to how visuals are used. Much of the theories in his essays directly relate to the deep visuals within surrealist film. In his essay “A dialectic approach to film” Eisenstein discusses key elements that make up not only film, but all forms of art. A key factor he discusses is conflict. Coming in many different forms conflict is the fundamental principal fo the existence of every art work and art form (Eisenstein 46). This principal, according to Eisenstein could bring about conflict through things such as; a social mission, nature or methodology. Many surrealist films draw on a social mission or a social conflict. This being an intellectual issue or premise that the Spector must decode themselves throughout the film. Buñuel has been iconically know for this in his surrealist works. Nearing the end of the surrealist era Buñuel made the film “The exterminating angel” a film where guests at a dinner party find themselves unable to leave the party after it has end. In the film, there is no physical force preventing them from leaving, rather an invisible force of nature. From this Buñuel asks the sectors to determine for themselves what is happening and what it all means. Even after the film has concluded the viewer is still left wondering the true meaning and purpose behind the film. While many theories about the film circulate Buñuel himself has never given an explanation about the film. Many have commented that the film is a commentary on classism, showing a situation where the upper class has no control over a situation (Jackson 140). This exemplifies the idea of social conflict in film. Much of Buñuels work has been a commentary on social class, this acted as Buñuel driving force or conflict within his film making the structure of his films sustainable and memorable. Another example of Buñuel’s commentary on classism was present in his film “The discreet charm of the bourgeois”. “Bourgeois” being a term referring to stuck up middle class individuals.
Moving back to the visual, Eisenstein discusses how the visual aspect of film is equally important to dialectics and philosophy in film. Surrealism on film often draws heavily from philosophical and visual aesthetics. Although Eisenstein does not particularly discuss surrealism he does discuss principals that have been utilized by surrealist film makers to enhance the visual aesthetic of their films. In his essay “Methods of Montage” Eisenstein breaks down in his own terms; what makes up a montage and what the different forms of a montage are. This varies from metrics, rhythm, tone and intellect. He outlines how particular shots and transition can convey a particular emotion or alter the scenes atmosphere thus, having the Spector engage in the film in the way the director wants (Eisenstein 72-83). With surrealist film, intellectual montage is most often used. This, involving the visual contrast with the aforementioned social conflict therefore, creating a complete experience for the Spector to analyze along with a film intellectual message.
All of this gives way to a mode of filmmaking that sets a unique precedent. Surrealism in film creates a more complex, well thought out film viewing experience one that can stir up a conversation long after the movie has ended. Fifty years later “the Exterminating angle” is still talked about as it continues to baffle people. When the early surrealist movement came to an end surrealism in film continued to flourish with a plethora of filmmakers offering their new perspectives, utilizing their dreams, thoughts and fears and desires to create a completely captivating and bafflingly unforgettable experience.
Art Film And Its Evolution: Inspired By Surrealism
Film Critics and film theorists alike have long debated when the surrealist film movement ended. Many have said it never ended, rather it has continued on in some form. A more common option Is that it ended some time in the 1950s. Following the surrealist film movement (Or early surrealist film movement), art film and an era of experimental film came about. This movement brought in a wave of innovative ideas in regards to story telling and visual technique. Many film makers whose focus was realism and Neo-realism slowly began to move away from these motifs. Instead they opted for film making which, at the time was considered for more fantastic and magical. A prime example of this is Federico Fellini, whose film making career began as somewhat of a realist film maker. As the 1950s departed Fellini become obsessed with dreams and fantasies which translated to his work. In 1992 Peter Bondanella conducted a study of Fellini and his work. He focused mainly on the psychological aspects of his work, specifically Fellini's interest in Jungian Psychology. This led Fellini to further explore dreams and fantasies even keeping notes detailing his dreams (Bondanella 1992, pp. 150-163). This may very well be what inspired Fellini to create such films as La Dolce Vita and 8 1/2. Although 8 1/2 specifically was not necessarily influenced by early surrealist film, it does act as a gate way to Fellini’s future films and his move away from realism in films. A criticism of Fellini’s films into the 1960s and beyond was their personal nature to their author. In drawing inspiration from his dreams Fellini’s films distanced themselves from relativity. Although it is criticized it is an aspect of his later films that made his work far more unique than any other film maker.
Bergman, a contemporary of Fellini was more focused on philosophy in his films. Much of Bergman's work in the 1950s was considerably grounded work. Similar to Fellini, Bergman's early work focused on realism, Although Bergman's work is arguably far more complex in terms of the depth in themes and Philosophy. Bergman, like Fellini did draw inspiration from his own life including; the use of religious symbolism in his films which was heavily influenced by his father when he was growing up. In his book Ingmar Bergman: The Life and Films of the Last Great European Director, Geoffrey Macnab in part looked at Bergman's many inspirations many regarding his upbringing and early life. The significant influence of concepts such as religion have greatly influenced Bergman’s Cinema (Macnab 43-96). Although a lot of his films deals with concepts that may seem anti-religious Bergman, has developed his beliefs and ideology within his films from a combination of things including his up-bringing. It’s easy to brush off personal inspiration as a sidetone to the influence of a film, but these very personal inspirations of both Fellini and Bergman could arguably be what pushed these film makers slowly away from realism and into a surreal fantasy world built from their own memories and thoughts.
In regards to Fellini’s personal connection in his films, there are films of his that can be considered relatable to its audience. Although, this reliability is limited to a niche audience, but Fellini's films are not necessarily designed to be relatable. it would be almost impossible to say for certainty what his intentions with many of his films were nevertheless, his films are simply there to be admired and studied. Instead of trying to relate to his audience Fellini often tries to show life for what it is (this being the realist filmmaking style). There is often a message, even a lesson, or a goal for the films characters. Simple enough as it is the structure of most films, the difference in Fellini’s films is its tendency to draw the audiences focus to a particular aspect this is particularly true is Fellini’s “Satyricon”. Containing repugnant characters and technical flaws intended to make the audience feel uncomfortable, and force them to look at history as an objective reality. Fellini states that Satyricon is a “sci-fi movie about the past’; it should be as if the audience had emerged, surprised, from a time machine to observe the ancient romans” (Kezich, pp.287). With this Film Fellini created an experience that changed the viewers perspective of the film and in turn changed they way they thought about and viewed the film. “Satyricon” is an example of Fellini using his personal dreams and fantasies and can easily represent Fellini at the hight of his surreal, stylistic measure. Like in Satyricon, it was Fellini’s dreams that made his films personal and surreal. This dream state was first present in his films “La Dolce Vita” and “8 1/2”. Both these films came from a time were Fellini was beginning to focus more on his dreams, thus compelling him to make films that had even more personal touches to them. It was the personal nature of his films that gave viewer unique insight into his film and even his dreams, fantasies and fears. This level of personal connection within his films distanced his work from a filmmaker such as Bergman.
Fellini's dreams and fantasies not only influenced his own films but they also inspired a generation of forth coming film makers, most notably David Lynch. Lynch has received much praise throughout his career for his surreal dream like films. Although his films should more appropriately be labeled nightmares rather than dreams, their unique story telling modes have given audiences some of the most unique and original films of the past 30 years. One of Lynches most ambitious films, “Mulholland Dr.” Includes extensive aspects of dreams and duality. “Mulholland Dr.” Paints of portrait of a young aspiring actress through her dreams/nightmares though this is not apparent to the viewer until roughly halfway through the film. This is not so dissimilar the 8 1/2 which feature the protagonist Guido delving into his dreams to find inspiration for his next film. In all irony David Lynch has cited 8 1/2 as one of his favorite films. While Both 8 1/2 centre around the art world, there are many aspects to each film that both deal with the struggles of being an artist. Both films make an attempt to centralize struggle, though in different aspects of the creative world they tend to bend to the duality of dreams versus reality. The duality in “Mulholland Dr.” Is often compared to the duality in Bergman's “Persona”. On the surface, Bergman's “Persona” revolves around a developing emotional relationship between two women in a setting meant to be rehabilitating. Similarly in Lynch’s “Mulholland Dr.” We see two women with a perceived emotional connection, one having just suffered a traumatic event. In a particular scene Lynch seems to emulate a technique used by Bergman in “Persona”. We see the women’s faces merge together while they are sleeping to allude to the emotional and physical connection between the two. In “Persona” Bergman uses a similar technique for a similar purpose, cutting the two women faces together to signal a connection. Bergman, although not the first to use Duality in a film created one of the most memorable examples of it one that would inspire many films and filmmakers that followed.
Bergman's “Persona” focused on the fusing of two personalities into one; its focus has also been linked to a metaphor for the subconscious. It’s arguable that as film became more modern with the world around it so did its ideas. While Bergman presents a philosophical story Lynch provided us with a messy journey into the mind one that is complex, metaphysical and open to a number of possibilities.
In the Lynchian universe, Rita and Betty are able to be both dead and alive because of the phenomenon of superposition (the ability of an element to occupy two different states simultaneously), which is possible in quantum physics, in a world of probability, chance, and duality. (Laine pp.331-332).
Even though his film employs a different technique of duality, the influence of Bergman's duality is still there, that being the emotional joining of two characters. Duality became a key piece to the puzzle that is David Lynch’s films; this is because duality in all its vague nature can bring on and enhance surreal events.
Following Bergman's “Persona”, ideas regarding duality and surrealism began to emerge more frequently, although not heavily until the late 20th century. Spanish film maker Julio Medem is famously know for his blending of concepts such as Duality, Surrealism, Existentialism and Metaphysics. With the 21 century fast approaching modern surrealist and Art filmmakers began to focus on dreams and duality from a scientific stand point as evident with the metaphysical films of David Lynch, Julio Medem and even Andrei Tarkovsky. This had film makers structuring their films as though they were mazes for the viewer to solve . Medem drew much of his inspiration from the early and post surrealist movement. The metaphysical nature of his films made for a surreal atmosphere that was amicable to other Spanish surrealist film makers such as Luis Buñuel. Buñuel’s films, being largely anti religious, were considered some of the best early work of surrealist filmmaking. Much of the duality and surrealism that Medem puts in his films correlates more so with Buñuel’s work rather than Bergman’s. Julio Medem's “Los amantes del círculo polar” is a film about desire, a desire that its protagonists try unsuccessfully to control. It can also be viewed as a film about achieving inner knowledge. Constructed from beginning to end like a labyrinth, Medem tries to hide the labyrinth of the film's structure under a supposed circularity. The film opens with its final images, showing two parallel endings intertwined as if they were part of the same reality, disorienting the viewer. (RIvera 205). Medem’s structuring is not so dissimilar to his contemporary, David Lynch, keeping in mind the sporadic nature of the directors films.
Aside from duality, Medem’s key inspiration draws largely from Buñuel. Various concepts of female sexuality are explored in the films of both Buñuel and Medem; another link that connects the two generations of film makers. Medem’s 2010 film “Room In Rome” is an example, dealing with a sexual relationship between two women. Although this concept would draw more similarities to Bergman’s “Persona", the sexual nature of the film shares a more common link with Buñuel “Belle De Jour”. Both films draw their main focus to female identity and sexual identity. Even though the stories and central ideas are vastly different there is a clear relation on the focus of identity of the female leads in the two films.
Though the 50s, 60s and 70s, many new techniques and concepts where brought forth after moving away from the early surrealist movement. As film technologies developed so did its concepts. this brought on a generation of film makers that aimed to make complex films by changing them structurally and conceptually. This developed concepts that brought on simple ideas such as dreams, fantasies, duality and opting out of realism. In the later era of the 70s and onward we saw metaphysical, existential and simply bizarre contemporary films. This inspired some of the first science fiction films which later changed the future of film.
Science Fiction And Surrealism
From Tarkovsky to Kubrick there are many celebrated Sci-Fi film makers and films in the surrealist Genre. these films have often blended the standard elements of science fiction films with horror and surreal imagery making them truly memorable films. “2001: A Space Odyssey” is one of the most noted Sci-Fi films of all time. An amazing achievement of sound and color for 1968, today the film is still visually stunning and relevant. Kubrick was considered a pioneer with this work, which changed the genre of science fiction forever. The film mainly focuses on evolution and human nature, a common link which can be found in many genre blending surrealist films. Human nature is also heavily present in Tarkovsky’s “Solaris”. Although compared to 2001, solaris draws on more complex themes of human nature, focusing on aspects such as companionship and its purpose. Both films do draw to one specific point, that being the meaning of life. This idea is heavily looked at in many modern Sci Fi film such as Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus”. Sci-fi films and literature often tend to pose a rudimentary question; What is the meaning of life? Early sci-fi film makers saw this as an opportunity to impose surrealist imagery as the question itself can garner some bizarre answers.
Film makers such as Tarkovsky brought us films that were a philosophical, metaphysical journey. Tarkovksky’s films, while often slow and cerebral presented pertinent and unique film making techniques that were praised by the likes of fellow directors such as Bergman and Kurosawa. Tarkovskys style and techniques have often been seen by audiences as emotional captivation with a sense of confusion.
“The phenomenological signification of Tarkovsky’s oneiric vision rets on an interaction between the representational and the surreal: the viewer feels that something is 'wrong' with the way things appear on the screen, but is incapable of detecting sufficient 'proof to discredit presented events on the basis of everyday logic.” (Petric, Vlada, 1989-90,32).
Furthermore, much of Tarkovsky’s work frequently deals with human nature. Much like many other surrealist films Tarkovsky’s work looks at human nature from a philosophical point rather than a political one. Tarkovsky’s films are structured like journeys. Take two of his most noted films; Solaris and Stalker, both films involve the characters on a journey, of sorts to understand themselves. Both solaris and stalker are considered Sci-Fi films because; either they're based in the paranormal (Stalker) or scientific maters themselves (Solaris). The film “Solaris” centers around Psychologist Kris Kelvin going to investigate strange occurrences abroad the Solaris space station, located on an oceanic planet. At its face the narrative of the film seem fairly standard for a space adventure film, aside from the ocean having its own brain that can transmit projections of people abroad the space station. The films outer shell displays an intriguing story about and bizarrely intelligent body of water, but at its core the film is far more complex. This space journey becomes a metaphysical journey when Kelvin encounters a projection of his dead wife and is forced to confront his inner most thoughts and emotions. Thus, the space journey becomes a metaphysical one. Notably, the film “2001” uses a similar technique of a metaphysical journey masked by a tradition space journey. When astronauts begin witnessing strange occurrences from a monolith discovered on the moon they travel to Jupiter to gain more knowledge. In contrast, this film does not necessarily have a metaphysical journey, in the same sense as Tarkovsky’s film, but it does heavily question human existence and the cycle of life. From the surrealist stand point, many Sci-Fi films have used “strange occurrences” as a backdrop to the story. By doing this these films ended up using surrealist techniques.
2001 became a staple for the burgeoning future of Sci-Fi. It opened the mind to possibilities beyond the limits of this planet. In the decades to come many films were made where the films central characters attempted to find answers out in the universe (often ending badly). Many of these films take cues from films and novels from early Sci-fi, specifically those adapted by surrealist film makers. As previously stated, much of the surrealism following the surrealist movement was built on dreams. Following events like the moon landing many of those dreams that reach beyond earth began to look more like a reality and filmmakers began to capture this opportunity.
Many of the surrealist films such as 2001, Stalker and Solaris have taken a strange place and an even stranger situation to add meaning and insight to it, therefore making a Sci-Fi surrealist film. It was almost as though the surrealist style was hidden in these films. Although they still differed heavily from traditional sci-fi they were still sci fi films. They are still regarded purely as either art or surrealist films with sci fi elements, but it was those very sci fi elements that inspired modern space films such as the Alien film series and films like; event horizon, interstellar and gravity.
Much of the innovations in modern films have come from experimentation within film. These “experiments” start out as something small, almost to test the waters to find its optimal audience. Often times these ideas would have a very niche audience typically because of their bizarre “far out” nature which most people don’t find relatable or even interesting. Regardless these films create a frame work for the generations of film makers that follow while aiding to create a new style of film. Many iconic points in the history of film came from experimentation with various visual and written techniques, much of which was in the form of short pieces. The non linear film movement can be seen as one of the biggest and most unique advancements of film. DW Griffith's intolerance is widely regarded as one of the first (and best) examples of non-linear filmmaking. Apart from that, his filmmaking and editing style in general was regarded as some of the most influential on modern Hollywood. His use of the extreme long shot, the close-up, the cutaway, and the tracking shot; parallel editing; and variations in pace have all translated through many generations of filmmaking (Dancyger 5).
One of the more iconic non-linear films that more heavily held surrealist elements was Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali’s “Un Chien Andalou” (An Andalusian Dog). Much of the aesthetics used in the various shots has been employed in many film that followed it, leading up to modern films. Often described by critiques as visually assaulting, the not-so-negative sentiments have been used to praise the striking visual technique of both Dali and Buñuel. In “An Andalusian Dog”, much like many other early non-line and surrealist film the use of extreme close ups typically on human anatomy create a bizarre and often uneasy feeling for the viewer. Buñuel and Dali use the close up of an eye to achieve this and various other surreal effects. The significance can arguable take to the literal understanding of and eye opening effect on the viewer, a tactic which has been used by Bergman, Lynch, Fellini, and many more (Rosen, 314-320). Throughout time filmmakers have used this type of eye shot to express something different. It may be used to indicated the physical and/or spiritual awakening of the character in the shot. Thus, filmmaking, to this point has evolved into what it is because of experimentations; giving us a generation of film makers who have followed the lead from the previous generation.
Contemporary filmmaker Quentin Tarantino is among the many modern film makers who have used non-linear style. A highly regarded example of his work as a non-linear filmmaker is Pulp fiction. This film takes on non-linear style from its basic construct; editing. Editing is the basic foundation of non-linear filmmaking this can simply mean that the film is edited out of chronological order (which is the case for Pulp Fiction). This tactic can be used to emphasize a certain aspect of the story or character. Pulp fiction intertwines multiple stories into one, at times almost blurring the overall narrative. This can often create confusion as to where the story begins and ends, therefore placing emphasis on the story and characters rather than how it ends or its chronological narrative. Any non-linear form of media including film is more heavily reliant on the viewer to decipher the work. This is where non-linear filmmaking is separated from other genres and film modes; Often blurring the line between multiple genres (Torben, et al. 200). Tarantino’s films have been praised for their unique genre blurring qualities though not always associated with a non-linear style, his film blending style is reminiscent of what many other filmmakers have done in the process of genre blurring. Film makers such as Wes Anderson have been known to blur the line between genres. Although often quite different from Tarantino, Anderson combines his uniques style with aspects of light hearted comedy in bizarre situations with depth filled drama mainly focused on the films characters. Much like Tarantino, Anderson has his own distinct visual style that is, to say the least, completely different from Tarantino’s. Andersons wide angle, pastel filled scenes create a weird feeling in the viewer; scenes that don’t invoke traditional laughter but rather a tonal change that can effect how funny or serious something may appear.
Many directors who make color films have used this to their advantage, including Anderson and Tarantino. Tarantino’s films often very bloody and violent and may often place an emphasis and the color of the blood, being a specific aspect of the scene. Whereas Anderson focus of color is different, involving scenes which are mostly mades up of pastel colors. Earlier filmmakers as well as contemporary filmmakers have used color to create surrealist elements such as a dream like state, often to separate the two within the film narrative. An example would be in films such and the wizard of oz with separates the film by black and white and color. The color sequence (running most of the film) represents the dream (Williams 50). Beyond that color has been used in traditional surrealist film as well as outside of it to display the dream state. In other cases certain filters or altered color corrections are done to emphasizes the dream. Other CG effects may also be used as emphasis. Color in film became much of an experiment when it arrived. It slowing became one of the biggest aspects of film and today is one of the most used techniques. This, by far makes in one of the biggest experiments in film. Color in film has also been used to create allusions within a film. Aside from the use of color to paint the scene (i.e skin tone, clothing, walls, furniture) color has been used in sequences where it is simply blended together to create a surreal often mesmerizing image. A prime example of this in Kubrick 2001:space odyssey which has the iconic sequence that resembles a psychedelic drug trip. This sequences simply combined different forms of camera movement with sporadic bursts of color to achieve a near euphoric effect. This created one of the most surreal sequences in the film, including the sequence that followed it. This along with many other early; and later more contemporary films brought new ideas to the use of color in films. As film became more modern and surrealism became more of a subtlety we saw color simply being used for the dream like state (in terms of the surreal use of color).
Just as with color being introduced to film came sound. This also brought on experimentation in surrealist film and traditional film. Following the silent film era came the introduction of sound in films. This created an opportunity for film makers to not only include dialogue in their films but also further experimentation with sound in their films. This lead to a number of effects placed on audio. This gave filmmakers the opportunity to apply sound and various sound effects to enhance the realism of a film. In surrealist film, the films used various sound techniques to portray and enhance something that may seem unreal. Films that contained element of a dream or a dream like state have been known to use audio effects on top of the digital, in order to differentiate the two. In Fellini’s “8 1/2”, the film opens with the dream sequence of Guido. In the scene it is noticeable that there is no background audio. Throughout most of the scene all you can hear is Guido breathing. This technique was used to emulate the dream world, by try to make the scene feel unnatural (leaving the Spector uneasy). Similarly music in surrealist films were very distinctive where the scores were on the extreme side of the spectrum. In Fellini’s “Amarcord” (I Remember), the film is set during the Fascist period in Italy. The film shows that sound and language can also be seen as instruments of liberation. The resistance to fascism in the film is symbolized by the sound of the gramophone in the bell tower (Burke, Waller 163-164). This is an example of how music in film was used symbolically, often to enhance an underlying message in the film. Sound was also used to enhance particular scenes. An example of this came from Lynch’s “Eraserhead”, a film that drew heavy comparisons to the early surrealist movement. Evidently this film is most praised for its innovative sound and and the way that sound was edited. The score, which in its self was fairly creepy, was not the innovative aspect of the films sound. “Eraserhead” used outside sounds on top of the interior audio. This was bizarre, because if you closed you eyes you would think the characters where outside based on the sound. It was praised for it uniqueness, the fact that it was not done much in film, in fact it was hailed of one of the first films to use the technique in that way. David Fincher later used a very similar technique in his film “Se7en”. Much like with “Eraserhead” the sound in “Se7en” was used to create a creepy unsettling feeling in both films with the result being quite dark.
This techniques much like many other techniques started as experimentation with sound and developed into something innovative. That same can be said about different techniques with color, genre and narrative. Much of the early experimentation in their fields lead to many of the innovations in modern film making. As technologies developed we got; better cameras, better picture quality, CGI, audio enhancements, and improved editing systems shaping modern film to what it is today, all starting with simple experimentation.
Contemporary Film And Surrealism
Through every generation film has evolved, becoming vastly different from the last as each era of cinema passes by. Contemporary film in no exception to this evolution but it is arguable that it has seen the biggest change of any other era of film. This is due in large part to the evolution of technology which has changed the way we are able to make films. As we arrive at the contemporary era, it seems as though the time of surrealist films is gone almost entirely. Though at first glance this may seem true, a closer look at modern films may express a contradictory sentiment. Through every generation of filmmaking, filmmakers have drawn inspiration from pervious masters of the craft, this is no different today. Many filmmakers today have drawn inspiration from filmmakers of the past and have even praised them as their greatest inspirations.
Filmmakers such as Darren Aronofsky and Yorgos Lanthimos have both used surreal elements in their films. Aronofsky’s film “Requiem for a dream” uses surreal imagery to depict the varying levels of excitement that comes with drug use; while also using techniques to show its horrors. With requiem for a dream there where roughly 2000 cuts which goes far above the average 600 or 700 considering the length of the film. This increased the pace of the film to give the viewers a sense of the adrenaline the characters where feeling (Looy, Baetens 125). This provided a unique and surreal experience one not found in traditional film. The editing technique added to the hazy filter effect that was present through the film and the haunting score that repeated throughout the film. All of this was done within a film shot in wide angle the skewed the views perspective. This enhanced the surreal setting that Aronofsky created through editing. This is all build on the idea of trying to fit the audience into the perspective of the characters which has been a common element to create a surreal environment in films. “Requiem for a dream” even being a modern film does not employ many modern techniques that have come with the improved technology. Aronofsky’s later work such as “Mother!” Features heavy touches of CGI which enhance the dark and surreal nature of the film.
Aronofosky’s “Mother!” Deals with a young woman’s nightmare centralizing on the invasion of privacy (much like the dream like state in early Surrealist films). In many of his films Aronofsky has emulated and advanced upon many of the techniques used by early surrealist filmmakers as well as new age surrealist filmmakers. self mutilation and self destruction are commonly present in Aronofskys films. In some respect “Mother!” Deals with self destruction. This, being a statement along the line of “we are all destroying ourselves”. His is other films such as “Black swan” and “Requiem for a dream” look more at self harm rather than all out destruction. In a physical sense, the central character in black swan “Nina” causes harm to herself to succeed in the role of the black swan. The film is filled with Rampant paranoia which also created a nightmarish motif which is present in many of Aronofsky’s films creating a surreal environment. Aronofsky achieves this erratic tone by using a lot of tracking shots in his films. These shots are either following along with or behind an object to create varying effects. Aronofsky has used this to create a panic within a scene.
Ingmar Bergman’s “Persona” has been a much analyzed film and comparisons can be drawn between it and many contemporary films. There is much going on in Persona, as stated throughout this paper, but aside from the varying levels of duality, there is an undertone of female desire. Modern filmmakers such as Aronofsky and Micheal Haneke have both done films with aspects of female desire. Haneke’s “The piano teacher” is an example of the dark side of female desire. Much like Aronofskys “Black swan” the female lead character Erika causes self inflicted harm in the closing scene of the film. Both the characters of Nina (Black Swan), and Erika have caused self inflicted harm because of desire (Ritzenhoff, 110-115). Much of surrealism in film has drawn from bizarre occurrences, and often twisting this to a darker perspective. Like Bergman; Aronofsky and Haneke have displayed deteriorating female lead characters who put themselves onto a path of destruction. Although this is not that same frame work as with Bergman's “Persona” both filmmakers have used female desire in their films as a means of destruction for their primary characters. Much of modern film has taken concepts such as desire and highlighted its dark nature. By taking, developing and evolving these ideas surrealism in films become enhanced.
The district use of paranoia has always been a tool used in surreal films and whether it is being used as a mechanism to display flagrant drug use in its characters or as a device to show personal struggle; modern films have used it to re-create and innovate surrealism. Traditionally in film, paranoia was and sometimes is still used in a light hearted sense; Typically to show paranoia based desire between male and female. Surrealist films, from any era have often opted to either make desire darker or twist it in some way. It is not just these concepts or motifs that add surreal elements to these films it is the technique often how brutal or brutally honest the director can be. Imagery like this in films are often very extreme and sometimes exaggerated or unrealistic. This can often show a bending of reality creating a surreal environment. Films such as Ingmar Bergman’s in “Cries And Whispers” deals with self loathing, self doubt and general pain in a fairly brutal way. The film mostly focuses on female pain which brings relevance to a new generation of filmmakers who have focused on the same thing. It is arguable that many filmmakers have been obsessed with female desire and pain but it is often not the central focus of their films rather, a side note or an undertone. Coming back to Aronofsky’s “Mother!”, a film which is very brutal yet understandably bends reality, Aronofsky tries to paint a picture of societal views of female fears . Many of Aronofsky’s films deal with women, who try to change themselves (often in brutal and horrific ways) in order to adhere, or bend to societies standards.
Brutality in films can often enhance the unrealistic nature of a film. This differs from the use of brutality in a Tarantino film. although his films do explore unique narratives and techniques, the brutality in his films are for the sake of brutality rather than enhancement of characters or narrative (or the creation of a surreal environment). In earlier surrealist film, directors created an atmosphere using brutality this among other techniques can be used to enhance the dreamlike state. Fellini did not use brutality in an outwardly sense, it was far more subtle (considering the time he was making films in). Fellini’s characters, rather where more emotionally brutal in their own head, this being the dream they were living in (frequently seen in 8 1/2). Modern films are far more direct with their brutality but thats not to say it can not add or enhance a surreal atmosphere. The brutality in Aronofsky’s films is not to be confused with the brutality in a Tarantino film. Where Tarantino uses it aa a simply visual enhancement, Aronofsky has used it is a contextual enhancement; a means to enhance the purpose of his narrative and character motives. Brutal honesty is the driving force behind the brutal nature of modern surrealism. Many modern films have seemingly conveyed a message in dark and disturbing places. This is not necessarily cheesy horror films, but rather well thought out, insight into society and human nature. Much of modern surrealism in film has been more absurd while still being intelligently crafted though some may still consider it pointlessly flagrant.
Surrealism in film has evolved, from simple visuals techniques to well thought out narrative and to all out absurdity. Much of modern surrealism is about spectacle. As frequently mentioned in this paper technology has effected film , and surrealism on film, this has opened filmmakers minds to what they can do on film. Thus, surrealism has been reduced in modern film to simply being a style rather than something of a singular genre itself (Harper, Stone 33-35). Aronofsky’s “Mother!” Does use aspects of surrealism but much of it would be better labels absurdity, maybe even to an excessive point. This does not necessarily harm the film, it actually enhances the experience. With “Mother!” Aronofsky is trying to send a message about self destruction and societal norms this comes back to the point of brutal honesty. The end scene sees the women (mother) badly burnt after setting her house on fire. Her husband carries her over to the table where he pulls her heart out. This completed the painting of the males desire to be admired. The entire film, all the man wanted was to be admired in the end he did not care by whom.
Each era has pushed surrealism forward and although the contemporary era uses an all but faded technique of surrealism it can still be found in modern films. Much of this work is surrounded by an industry that has mostly moved away from traditional narrative. The current state of avant grade and surrealist films is ever changing and has taken much of its inspiration to change from the preceding creators who have innovated before them. Contemporary films continue to change film narratives and the relevance of advanced technologies uses in film.
Amarcord. Directed by Federico Fellini, 13 Dec, 1973
Belle De Jour. Directed by Luis Buñuel, 24 May, 1967
Botz-Bornstein, Thorsten. "The New Surrealism: Lost Stories, Reality Television and Amateur Dream-Censors." Janus Head 9.1 (2006): 181-186.
Burke, Frank, and Marguerite R. Waller. Federico Fellini: Contemporary Perspectives. University of Toronto Press, 2002.
Cries And Whispers. Directed by Ingmar Bergman, 21 Dec, 1972
Dancyger , Ken. The Technique of Film and Video Editing History, Theory, and Practice. Focal Pr, 2018.
Dmytryk, Edward, and Andrew Lund. On Film Editing: an Introduction to the Art of Film Construction. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2019.
Drew, William M. D.W. Griffith's Intolerance: Its Genesis and Its Vision. McFarland, 2001.
Eisenstein, Sergei, and Jay Leyda. Film Form: Essays in Film Theory. Shu Lin.
Eraserhead. Directed by David Lynch, 19 Mar, 1977
Fellini Satyricon. Directed by Federico Fellini, 3 Sep, 1969
Fotiade, R. “The Slit Eye, the Scorpion and the Sign of the Cross: Surrealist Film Theory and Practice Revisited.” Screen, vol. 39, no. 2, 1998, pp. 109–123.
Giannetti, Louis D. "" Amarcord": The Impure Art of Federico Fellini." Western Humanities Review 30.2 (1976): 153.
Grodal, Torben. Visual Authorship: Creativity and Intentionality in Media. 2005.
Harper, Graeme, and Rob Stone. The Unsilvered Screen: Surrealism on Film. Wallflower, 2007.
Johnson, Vida T., and Graham Petrie. The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky: a Visual Fugue. Indiana Univ. Press, 2003.
Kezich, Tullio, and Minna Proctor. Federico Fellini: His Life and Work. I.B. Tauris, 2007.
Kovács, Steven. From Enchantment to Rage the Story of Surrealist Cinema. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1980.
L’Age d’Or. Directed by Luis Buñuel, 28 Nov, 1930
Laine, Tarja. "Affective telepathy, or the intuition of the heart: Persona with Mulholland Drive." New Review of Film and Television Studies 7.3 (2009): 325-338.
Lost Highway. Directed by David Lynch, 15 Jan, 1997
Mactaggart, Allister. The Film Paintings of David Lynch: Challenging Film Theory. Intellect, 2014.
Mother!. Directed by Darren Aronofsky, 12 Sep, 2017
Mulholland Dr. Directed by David Lynch, 26 Oct, 2001
Norman N.Holland,"8 1/2 and Me", Literature and Psychoanalysis: Procedings of the 12th International Conference on Literature and Psychoanalysis, Freiburg (Germany) 22-26 June 21-24, 1995, Ed. Frederico Pereira. Lisbon:ISPA, 1996, 173--84
Oumano, Elena. Cinema Today a Conversation with Thirty-Nine Filmmakers from around the World. Rutgers University Press, 2011.
Persona. Directed by Ingmar Bergman, 18 Oct, 1966
Rivera, Marian Via. "A Journey into the Labyrinth: Intertextual Readings of Borges and Corta´ zar in Julio Medem's Los amantes del círculo polar (1998)." Journal of Iberian and Latin American Studies 10.2 (2004): 205-212.
Sinnerbrink, Robert. “Cinematic Ideas, on David Lynch's Mulholland Drive.” Film-Philosophy, vol. 9, no. 4, 2005
Solaris. Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, 20 Mar, 1972
Stalker. Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, 25 May, 1979
Un Chien Andalou. Directed by Luis Buñuel, 6 June, 1929
Williams, Linda. Figures of Desire: a Theory and Analysis of Surrealist Film. University of California Press, 1992.
8 1/2. Directed by Federico Fellini, 14 Feb, 1963
2001: A Space Odyssey. Directed by Stanley Kubrick, 2 April, 1968