Fourth Estate, London, 1995.
Luis Buñuel was an outstanding director who pursued dreams, desire and dogma through a series of films under the lurid banner of Surrealism. His artistic and personal struggles in Madrid, Paris and Hollywood in the 20s and 30s and his subsequent "exile" in Mexico are engagingly recounted by Baxter.
Buñuel himself was perhaps less than engaging, as he was a notoriously cantankerous character, but the giant practical joke he played on reviled dictator Franco is enough to endear him to millions.
His first two films were made in collaboration with the gifted hyper-eccentric, Salvador Dali. L'Age d'Or and Le Chien Andalou are landmarks in cinema history and provoked the required scandals when they were shown. As recently as 1961, Franco's Spain was burning and suppressing his work.
One minor slip by Baxter occurs when he mentions Queneau as being one of the writers who worked briefly on the film Death In The Garden in the 1950s. He is described as "the Surrealist humourist", which would only have been temporarily accurate during the 1920s, before Queneau became pointedly non-Surrealist. Buñuel himself left the Surrealist movement, but without ever renouncing its aesthetic.
Find the films. Read the book. Hear this music, from Buñuel's home town:
"Most Spanish towns have some variation on the Easter parade... It is only in Calanda that men, women and children go into the streets, not to carry a statue but to beat drums, symbolizing the darkness and thunder that covered the earth when Christ died. From the night of Good Friday to the morning of Easter Sunday, as many as 3000 people pound an unceasing hypnotic rhythm until their hands bleed."
© Paul Taylor 2001