“Anthology of Surreal Cinema – Volume One” is not a lengthy collection – there are only four short films running a total of 65 minutes. And it is somewhat limited in its geographic scope (the quartet consists of French films made between 1924 and 1928).
But what it lacks in quantity, it more than compensates in quality. The four films provide a foundation of avant-garde and experimental cinema, and many of the techniques mastered in these silent classics are still found in film and video production today.
Beginning the set is “Entr’acte,” a 1924 offering from Rene Clair. Using inventive special effects (for its era) and a delightful sense of black comedy, the film follows a funeral procession which is disrupted when the coffin seems to take on a life of its own. A mad chase through the streets of Paris concludes with the recently deceased making a surprise guest appearance.
“La Coquille et le Clergyman” (1928) is significant as a work by Germain Dulac, one of the very few women directing films in France during the 1920s. The film’s unlikely plot of a clergyman’s obsession with a general’s wife is fueled with bold camerawork and daring (almost reckless) editing which gives the impression of a POV tale seen through the tortured mind of the lovesick man of the cloth. And don’t fall for the bunk of women director’s being extra sensitive – the scene where the clergyman strangles a confessor-priest until the latter’s head splits in half more than a little shocking.
“Ballet Mecanique” (1924) is Fernand Leger’s masterwork montage of geometric shapes, unexpected imagery, and camera trickery (including upside down cinematography). The rush of images is challenging, often amusing, and (seen from the comfort of retrospect) more than a little progressive.
Marcel Duchamp, the father of the Dadaist movement, had his sole moviemaking endeavor with “Anemic Cinema” in 1926. This six-minute film is anything but anemic – its mix of spiraling images coupled with rotating discs featuring cryptic messages is the celluloid essence of his gallery masterworks. It is a pity Duchamp did not pursue filmmaking at greater length, but it is a joy that his film and the other three rare gems of this collection are together. Volume Two is eagerly awaited!