The Savage Poetry of Luis Buñuel

The Savage Poetry of Luis Buñuel

 

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One year before the pessimistic, European-influenced silent film (F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise, Victor Sjöström’s The Wind) was reshaping a still-burgeoning American film industry, a ravenous group of poets, playwrights and filmmakers co-founded by director Luis Buñuel began clawing at the stodgy romantic aesthetics that had been idolized in Spain since the days of Timoneda and Cervantes. They were called La Generacion del 27 (The Generation of 1927) and its members included poets Jorge Guillen, Pedro Salinas, Vicente Aleixandre, painters Pablo Picasso, Rafael Alberti, and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca, among others. The Generation of 27 scorned the bourgeoisie mentality born of Franco’s political nationalism and, in turn, became martyrs when they were persecuted and exiled from their motherland. However auspicious these men were at reducing the Spanish baroque temperament to its barest elements, this wave of mostly atheistic surrealists, cubists and lyrical poets remained paradoxically spiritual and romantic in their interpretive and aesthetic approaches.

“Despite our sincere religious faith, nothing could assuage our impatient sexual curiosity and our erotic obsessions,” said Buñuel in his autobiography The Last Sigh. During his teenage years in San Sebastían (a “fertile ground for other educational experiences”), a still-faithful Buñuel would stare at naked women through the peepholes in a cabana’s wood partitions. “Our sexual desire has to be seen as the product of centuries of repressive and emasculating Catholicism, whose many taboos—no sexual relations outside of marriage (not to mention within), no pictures or words that might suggest the sexual act, no matter how obliquely—have turned normal desire into something exceptionally violent,” he says in chapter six of his autobiography, ironically titled “Earthly Delights.” Until his death in 1983 in Mexico City, Buñuel remained victim to his austere religious upbringing. He openly disapproved of his friend Lorca’s homosexuality, but Buñuel was sickened by sex in general. For him, sex was an agent of chaos. Perhaps then the greatest irony of Franco’s condemnation of homosexuality (it’s widely believed that Lorca was killed in a brawl instigated by Franco nationalists) is that Catholicism had rendered sex so sacrosanct that Spain became a closet for all sorts of repressed perverts.

Is it any coincidence that Buñuel’s cinema is that of a spiritual fetishist? The director, though, continues to be remembered less for his religious conflictions and repressed sexual longings than he is canonized for birthing cinematic surrealism. This unfairly maligned and frequently misunderstood movement was born in Paris and became the battle cry for revolutionary aesthetes. Nurtured by such impresarios as Salvador Dalí, André Breton, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst and Man Ray, surrealism most commonly spoke the language of the subconscious. Buñuel wrote: “Our imagination, and our dreams, are forever invading our memories; and since we are all apt to believe in the reality of our fantasies, we end up transforming our lies into truths. Of course, fantasy and reality are equally personal, and equally felt, so their confusion is a matter of only relative importance.” Buñuel’s surrealism became the cinematic chariot for both Marxist ideals and Freudian psychoanalysis. Critical of the bourgeoisie, riveted by scandal, wary of Eros, and fascinated with Thanatos, Buñuel spoke this figurative, codified language like no one else. Thank God for David Lynch, but thank Buñuel for the revolution.