‘Good morning, good morning, good morning, it’s another lovely day in the village’
Surrealism was founded by the poet André Breton in Paris in 1924, it was an artistic and literary movement that proposed that the Enlightenment—the influential 17th and 18th century intellectual movement that championed reason and individualism—had suppressed the superior qualities of the irrational, unconscious mind. Surrealism’s goal was to liberate thought, language, and human experience from the oppressive boundaries of rationalism.
I believe that the Surrealists were the Punks of their age, they were non-conformists, experimental, breaking the boundaries of the social, political and creative order of the time, and not giving a toss what people thought in the process.
Surrealism rejected logic and reason and prized the depictive, the abstract, and the psychological with startling juxtapositions. Through the use of unconventional techniques such as automatism and frottage, Surrealist artists attempted to tap into the dream-world of the subliminal mind.
The Mystery of The Fireplace – Andre Breton 1947 – 1948
This is not a Pipe – Rene Magritte 1929
Surrealist cinema was a modernist approach to film theory, criticism, and production with origins in Paris in the 1920s. They shocked the world with their imagery, sometimes absurd, often confusing, but always fascinating. Throughout, there is an obsession with sex and death and our relationship with them.
Une Chien Andalou. Luis Buñel. 1929
L’age D’or. Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali. 1930.
Surrealism fell off the creative radar for some time; the Second World War (1939 – 1945) and the dreary, tight-laced, emotionally paralysed 50’s made the country an incredibly dull place. Children were seen and not heard all over again, men worked, women cooked. Nice girls did not smoke, did not have sex before marriage, did not drink, did not go to pubs, did not show their knees, they learnt to be nurses and secretaries, carers and comforters. (All rather Victorian).
Then Surrealism took an odd turn, it became comedic, or at least a kind of mushroom or LSD stoked journey through the director’s mind. TV Shows such as The Prisoner, 1967 and Monty Pythons Flying Circus 1969 (In the UK, not sure about elsewhere)
I absolutely loved The Prisoner and Monty Python – though I must have been watching them second time around (I was too young when they were originally released), both had an impact on my child’s mind; I think a Surrealist worm crawled in and laid an egg, and waited to be born in my adulthood.
One of my favourite contemporary surrealist directors of cinema is David Lynch. If you do not want to read reams of literature; or watch all those older films to understand Surrealism, I direct you to the world of Mr Lynch. The man is a natural; when it comes to surrealism, the man is so in touch with his own weird, that as a viewer, you are either repelled or drawn in; like one of his ants, to a severed ear!
I recommend you start with Wild At Heart, not so weird that you will be put off (if you’re one of those sensitive types), progress to Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks, then when you have the hang of it, dive into Eraserhead!! Go on, I dare you! This has to be THE weirdest, most Surreal film I have ever seen in my life.
Apart from Mr Lynch, there was really nobody else making surreal films. Then the 1990’s saw a kind of revival of Surrealism, and those of us who went to art schools and colleges pretty much ‘got it’, straight away. The Ren and Stimpy Show, 1991 was a cartoon series following an over-friendly, stupid cat and a neurotic, very highly strung Chihuahua dog.
After Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer’s – Big Night Out and Shooting Stars 1995, which is definitely art school Dada meets Surrealism, the dark flavour began to return in the form of The League of Gentlemen, 1999. Brilliantly written, stunningly obtuse, irrational or scary characters – see Papa Lazarou or Hilary Briss and tell me that’s normal!
The Mighty Boosh, 2003 was a lighter, but still very surreal series that came into our lives, and then the League of Gentlemen team returned with Psychoville, 2011 – think angry, mentally scarred clowns and you get the picture.
Personally, I like my surrealism dark and disturbing, not sure why, but it gives me the willies more than any horror film – if you like a good willie watch TLOG!
Then I began to wonder where all the surrealism was in literature. And realised; it transformed itself into Magical Realism. This can be a difficult one to define – Magical Realism is not fantasy, it is not about magic (though there may be some ‘magical’ elements), it is not escapist fiction. It portrays fantastical events in an otherwise realistic tone; so a dead grandmother is not seen as an other-worldly ghost, but is in the narrator’s here and now. It brings fables, folk tales, and myths into contemporary social relevance.
Authors of this genre include –
- The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. (My all-time favourite)
So do we have any Nouveau Surrealists? Is that even a term? What would a Nouveau Surrealist look like, sound like, taste like!
amuse please me greatly if any of my readers watched or read anything I had mentioned here today, please, give it a go, if you haven’t already…
Go and get your weird on…
Go forth and be SURREAL people…