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The Savage Eye: Surrealism and Cinema

Age of Gold

L'âge d'or; Abajo la constitucion (Age of Gold) (detail) 1930 / Director: Luis Buñuel / Image Courtesy British Film Institute

The Savage Eye: Surrealism and Cinema

11 June - 2 October 2011 (Free Admission)

The cinema seems to have been invented to express the power of the subconscious whose roots penetrate so deeply into poetry… The film seems to be the involuntary imitation of the dream.   Luis Buñuel (1)

In conjunction with ‘Surrealism: The Poetry of Dreams’, the Gallery’s Australian Cinémathèque presents a major survey of the surrealist sensibility in cinema. The Savage Eye: Surrealism and Cinema considers films made under the rubric of the movement alongside popular cinema highlighting the enduring fascination with surrealist tendencies, narratives and tropes. The program also charts how developments in filmmaking have been used to represent the interior world of dreams and the subconscious via cinematic manipulation and montage.


Pulp Surrealism: Louis Feuillade and the Film Serial
From Dada To Surrealism
The Surrealist Scenario
Jacques Prévert: The Poet Dreams in Movies
Documents and Encounters: The Surrealist use of Documentary
Surrealist Science: Jean Painlevé
Ethnographic Surrealism: Jean Rouch
Across the Atlantic: Surrealism and the American Avant-Garde
The Surrealist Quotidian: Luis Buñuel
Surrealism in Poland
The Panique Collective
Jan Švankmajer: Animating the Fantastic
Popular Surrealism in Cinema

Live music 

Musician in residence: D Black
Segundo de Chomón

The Savage Eye charts Dada and Surrealism’s interest in, engagement with, and response to cinema during the 1920s and 1930s, and features works by artists, filmmakers and writers connected with surrealist and dada groups — and those working on the margins — such as Luis Buñuel, René Clair, Jean Cocteau, Salvador Dalí, Marcel Duchamp, Germaine Dulac, Fernand Léger and Dudley Murphy, Jacques Prévert, Man Ray, Hans Richter and others.

The Savage Eye includes a focus on the late films of Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel, undoubtedly the most well-known filmmaker to emerge out of Surrealism, and who continued to underline the surrealist provenance of his films throughout his longstanding career into the 1970s.

The surrealist’s love of cinema is highlighted in French filmmaker Louis Feuillade’s celebrated serial films of the silent era, based on pulp detective fiction. Special attention will also be given to a surrealist use of documentary, with the inclusion of films by Joris Ivens, Eli Lotar, Jean Painlevé, Pierre Prévert, Henri Storck, Jean Rouch, Jean Vigo and Georges Franju and others. Surrealism’s influence in the United States following World War One will be mapped through the work of avantgarde artists and filmmakers working in the United States, including Kenneth Anger, Joseph Cornell, Maya Deren, Alexander Hammid, Sidney Peterson, Hans Richter, while the movement in Belgium and Denmark will be seen in the films of Marcel Mariën and Wilhelm Freddie with Jørgen Roos.

The pervasive presence of Surrealism outside western Europe is featured in programs of films by Polish filmmakers Stefan and Franciszka Themerson, Wojciech Has and Polish surrealist group member and filmmaker Walerian Borowczyk; Czechoslovak surrealist group member and animator–filmmaker Jan Švankmajer; as well as in the work of Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, Spanish playwright–filmmaker Fernando Arrabal and French illustrator–writer Roland Topor, who formed the collective ‘Mouvement panique’ after meeting in the 1960s at a gathering of the Paris Surrealist Group.

The relationships between Surrealism and popular cinema will also be explored through the works of Jean Cocteau, David Cronenberg, Peter Greenaway, David Lynch, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, Raúl Ruiz and others.

This program would not have been possible without the assistance of our Fédération Internationale des Archives du Film partners. Special thanks to the National Film and Sound Archive, Australia; l’Institut Français and the Embassy of France in Australia who have generously provided materials for this program. Presented by The Courier Mail.


1. Luis Buñuel, ‘Cinema, instrument of poetry’ 1953, quoted in Francisco Aranda, Luis Buñuel, A Critical Biography (London: 1975) pp.273-5
Film notes by Harvard Film Archive (HFA), Pacific Film Archive (PFA), Paul Brenner (PB), Hal Erickson (HE), Sandra Brennan (SB), Rovi, Roger Ebert (RE); and from the books: ‘Figures traced in light: on cinematic staging’ (2005) by David Bordwell (DB), ‘The Adventure of the Real: Jean Rouch and the craft of ethnographic cinéma’ (2010) by Paul Henley (PH), ‘Dada and Surrealist Film’ (1996) by Rudolf E Kuenzli (RK), ‘Surrealism and Film’ (1971) by J H Matthews (JM), ‘Surrealism and Cinema’ (2006) by Michael Richardson (MR), ‘The collaborator: the trial and execution of Robert Brasillach’ (2000) by Alice Yaeger Kaplan (AYK), 'The Poets Dream of Movies' by Steven Kovács (SK) in ‘Anxious visions: surrealist art’, ‘The Untamed Eye and the Dark Side of Surrealism’ by Barbara Creed (BC) in ‘The Unsilvered Screen: Surrealism on Film’, and The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s ‘Joseph Cornell: Films’ by Jeanne Liott (JL). All other film notes and quotes as indicated.