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From slicing eyeballs to making the perfect Martini: The Life and Times of Luis Buñuel

The most famous short film ever made was inspired by dreams. Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali had talked about making a film together for some time but could never agree on what the film should be about.

One day, Dali told Buñuel he had dreamt of ants swarming in his hands. Buñuel replied that he had dreamt of slicing open someone’s eye with a cutthroat razor. “There’s the film,” he said, “let’s go and make it.”

As Buñuel later explained, they compiled the script from a series of images which they took it in turns to suggest to each other. There was only one rule:

...No idea or image that might lend itself to a rational explanation of any kind would be accepted. We had to open all doors to the irrational and keep only those images that surprised us, without trying to explain why.

When one of them made a suggestion, the other had three seconds in which to say “yes” or “no” to the proposal. This was how Buñuel and Dali wrote Un Chien Andalou (1929). Their intention had been to shock and offend, but rather than offending the public, Un Chien Andalou became an notorious success, which left Buñuel feeling ambivalent over his new found fame:

What can I do about the people who adore all that is new, even when it goes against their deepest convictions, or about the insincere, corrupt press, and the inane herd that saw beauty or poetry in something which was basically no more than a desperate impassioned call for murder

The most infamous image in cinema history?
The film had been paid for by Buñuel’s mother, but their next movie L’Âge d’Or (1930) was commissioned by the arts patrons Marie-Laurie and Charles de Noailles. This time their film achieved notoriety after Dali declared it was an attack on the Catholic church. When screened in Paris, the film caused a riot and was banned for 50 years.

After this, Buñuel distanced himself from Surrealism and became a Communist—a decision that ended his friendship Dali and led the painter to damage Buñuel’s reputation in America by denouncing him as an atheist.
Dali’s portrait of Buñuel from 1924.
It would take until the late 1940s for Buñuel to re-establish his career as a film director when he started making B-movies in Mexico. In 1950, he co-wrote and directed Los olvidados (The Young & The Damned) for which he Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival in 1951.

In 1960, Buñuel wrote “A Statement” on filmmaking for the magazine Film Culture in which explained his views on cinema:

The screen is a dangerous and wonderful instrument, if a free spirit uses it. It is the superior way of expressing the world of dreams, emotions and instinct. The cinema seems to have been invented for the expression of the subconscious, so profoundly is it rooted in poetry. Nevertheless, it almost never pursues these ends.

We rarely see good cinema in the mammoth productions, or in the works that have received the praise of critics and audience. The particular story, the private drama of an individual, cannot interest—I believe—anyone worthy of living in our time.

If a man in the audience shares the joys and sorrows of a character on the screen, it should be because that character reflects the joys and sorrows of all society and so the personal feelings of that man in the audience. Unemployment, insecurity, the fear of war, social injustice, etc., affect all men of our time, and thus, they also affect the individual spectator.

But when the screen tells me that Mr. X is not happy at home and finds amusement with a girl-friend whom he finally abandons to reunite himself with his faithful wife, I find it all very moral and edifying, but it leaves me completely indifferent.

Octavio Paz has said: “But that a man in chains should shut his eyes, the world would explode.” And I could say: But that the white eye-lid of the screen reflect its proper light, the Universe would go up in flames. But for the moment we can sleep in peace: the light of the cinema is conveniently dosified and shackled.

A late starter, age did not diminish Buñuel’s talent as a filmmaker and his most successful movies were made when he was in his sixties and seventies—The Exterminating Angel, Belle de Jour, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and That Obscure Object of Desire.
Buñuel said he was “An atheist—thank God,”—a line (allegedly) pinched by Kurt Vonnegut, and the only thing he equated with religious passion was his favorite drink a martini. In his autobiography, My Last Breath, Buñuel offered his recipe for the definitive martini:

To provoke, or sustain, a reverie in a bar, you have to drink English gin, especially in the form of the dry martini. To be frank, given the primordial role in my life played by the dry martini, I think I really ought to give it at least a page. Like all cocktails, the martini, composed essentially of gin and a few drops of Noilly Prat, seems to have been an American invention. Connoisseurs who like their martinis very dry suggest simply allowing a ray of sunlight to shine through a bottle of Noilly Prat before it hits the bottle of gin. At a certain period in America it was said that the making of a dry martini should resemble the Immaculate Conception, for, as Saint Thomas Aquinas once noted, the generative power of the Holy Ghost pierced the Virgin’s hymen “like a ray of sunlight through a window-leaving it unbroken.”

Another crucial recommendation is that the ice be so cold and hard that it won’t melt, since nothing’s worse than a watery martini. For those who are still with me, let me give you my personal recipe, the fruit of long experimentation and guaranteed to produce perfect results. The day before your guests arrive, put all the ingredients-glasses, gin, and shaker-in the refrigerator. Use a thermometer to make sure the ice is about twenty degrees below zero (centigrade). Don’t take anything out until your friends arrive; then pour a few drops of Noilly Prat and half a demitasse spoon of Angostura bitters over the ice. Stir it, then pour it out, keeping only the ice, which retains a faint taste of both. Then pour straight gin over the ice, stir it again, and serve.

(During the 1940s, the director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York taught me a curious variation. Instead of Angostura, he used a dash of Pernod. Frankly, it seemed heretical to me, but apparently it was only a fad.)

In 1984, a year after his death, the BBC produced a documentary on The Life and Times of Don Luis Buñuel, which covered his life from eye-ball slicing to his plans for deathbed pranks to be played on his family and friends.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Picasso’s poetry: Painting with words
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Pablo Picasso’s first attempt at poetry was a brief thank you note to the poet Guillaume Apollinaire written in French sometime around 1906. Picasso did not take the craft seriously until 1935 when at the age of fifty-three he began writing poems almost every day until the summer of 1959. Picasso started writing at a moment of crisis when he claimed he had given up painting after his wife Olga Khokhlova had left him and a messy divorce seemed imminent. He began by daubing colors for words in a notebook before moving on to using words to sketch images.

His writing owed much to the influence of Apollinaire and the Surrealists, and he received considerable support from writers such as the Surrealist poets André Breton and Michel Leiris, the latter describing Picasso as:

“[A]n insatiable player with words ... [who, like] James Joyce ... in his Finnegans Wake, ... displayed an equal capacity to promote language as a real thing (one might say) . . . and to use it with as much dazzling liberty.”

Artist and writer Roland Penrose said Picasso’s wrote word paintings where language was used as a painter used colors, can be seen in this poem:

...the blue memory borders white in her very blue eyes and piece of indigo of sky of silver the white white traverse cobalt the white paper that the blue ink tears out blueish its ultramarine descends that white enjoys blue repose agitated in the dark green wall green that writes its pleasure pale green rain that swims yellow green…

At first, Picasso kept his writing secret, but slowly began sending long letters and poems to his friends as his confidence grew and he developed his own distinct voice and style. His writing was mainly stream of consciousness, unpunctuated word association with startling juxtaposition of images and at times an obsession with sex, death and excrement. Picasso wrote hundreds of poems concluding with The Burial of the Count of Orgaz in 1959, and two plays Le Désir attrapé par la queue (1941), which was performed by Picasso, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, under the direction of Albert Camus, and Les Quatre Petites Filles (1949). This is just a small selection culled from The Burial of the Count of Orgaz and Other Poems.

15 august XXXV

i am now here in the nest where the lamb and the bear—the lion and the zebra—the
wolf and the panther—the fox, the winter and the summer weasel—the mole and the
chinchilla—the rabbit and the sable weave in silence above an abandoned staircase
after the party has washed the week and wrung out the handkerchief raining a
perfume that wanders in search of its shape in a sad afternoon that has so many
reasons to stretch into the oil blue of a silk duvet the corner of his eye rips drowning in
shreds the landscape he sighed in the place where the beehive yearns to form its ice

17 august XXXV

a cup of coffee courts the aroma everlasting
that corrupts the wing shaking a harmonium
caressing her timid white flesh as
kisses breeze through the window
fill the room with goldfinch words fluttering
in the ear soundless and singing
and laughing crazy trills through his veins

8-9 november XXXV

jacket of
electric light bulbs
sewn with finest
invented by the bull

10 november XXXV

on the dining room table above a colossal carpet color of dry blood the ashtray
packed with butt-ends looked just like a little death’s head that stuck out its tongue at
me today this very night november tenth a quarter after ten by now which with three
more should make eleven by the clock which then will strike the hour

12 november XXXV

Young girl correctly dressed in a beige coat with violet facings 150.000 – 300 – 22 – 95
centimes a madapolam combination checked and adjusted with an allusion to
hermine fur 143 – 60 – 32 a brassiere the open edges of the wound held separated by
hand pulleys making the sign of the cross perfumed with cheese (Reblochon) 1300 –
75 – 03 – 49 – 317.000 – 25 centimes openings up to date added on every second day
set into the skin by shivers kept awake by the mortal silence of the color lure genre
Lola of Valence 103 plus the languorous looks 310 – 313 plus 300.000 – 80 francs –
15 centimes for a forgotten glance on the dresser – penalties incurred during the game
– throw of the discus between the legs by a succession of facts which for no reason at
all succeeded in making themselves a nest and in some cases transforming themselves
into the reasoned image of the cup 380 – 11 plus expenses but the so academic draw-
ing model for all of history from his birth until this morning doesn’t cry even if one
steps on the finger that points to the exit but spits out his nosegay with the drinking
glass only the smell organized in regiments and parading by flag up front only if the
tickling of desire doesn’t discover the auspicious place to transform the sardine into a
shark the shopping list gets longer only from that moment on without the inevitable
stop at the table at lunch time to be able to write while sitting in the middle of so
many mixed hyperboles with the cheese and the tomato

14 november XXXV

Eugenia fragrant
little chapel of
clothed in

15 november XXXV

when the bull — opens the gateway of the horse’s belly – with his horn — and sticks
his snout out to the edge — listen in the deepest of all deepest holds — and with saint
lucy’s eyes — to the sounds of moving vans —tight packed with picadors on ponies —
cast off by a black horse — and escaping now and rising like a butterfly — the
mangled belly of the mare — a little white horse — sees inside the conduit which sings
as the blood dances trickling from a faucet in her breast — a circus horse — stands upright
on his feet rear end decked out with blue and silver — white and blue feathers set on
top atop his head — between his two ears — and a pair of hands applauding —
plucks his eyes out from in front – the team of mules that block his sight — that
bounce and drag — his guts along the sand — and screws the eye of the photographer
— somewhere above the banquet table — and pulls the wire out — a little at a time —
into the out of doors — and winds it in a ball — then draws a likeness of his face so
beautiful — onto a silver plaque — that spatters — clenched fist — clean — the sun

24-28 november XXXV

tongue of fire fans the face inside the flute the cup
that singing nibbles the blue knife wound
lightly lightly
seated in the toro’s eye
inscribed inside its head adorned with jasmines
waiting for the veil to swell
the crystal fragment
wind wrapped in fold of cape two-handled sword
caresses gushing
handing bread out to the blind man and the lilac colored dove
its wickedness crammed tight against the burning lemon’s lips
with horn contorted
spooking the cathedral with its farewell gestures
swooning in his arms without an olé
a glance that blows apart the morning radio
that in its kisses photographs a bedbug sun
sucks out the fragrance from the dying hour
and moves across a page in flight
it tears the flowers into shreds and carries them away tucked in between a sighing
and fear that still can smile
a knife that jumps for joy
right now this very day left floating in whatever way it wants to
this exact and necessary moment
at the summit of the well
a cry rose-colored
for the hand that casts it down
a little act of christian love

10 october XXXVI

flesh decomposing in its miserable shagreen accordion squeezing the love-torn
body rapidly spinning the wool bleeding so in the despairing place in
the crown of thorns nest of twigs at the sound of the tambourine awakened
by the miserable memory left by the vomit that smells of jasmine
glued to the back of the eye wearing cafe tables as sashes wrapped round her
neck sounding the alarm reproducing her image in all the mirrors
with all the blows struck on the cheeks of her bells the tralalala of the
tralalalettes biting the rainbow’s neck the bra of the tempest caught
in a snare now whistles between the comb’s teeth and twists in her hands
the mirror asleep on her breast abandoned to its fate

comical alphabet letter stitched on hot coal drunk from wineskin hand
distance color deleted from the list of mortals sinks claws in the
saving copper of forehead against stone if life cooks great banquet hall
feasts of cabbage smell on its knees in a corner his stew of hopes sing
Carmen sing and you Cleopatra and mice on the big fishermen’s bodies lined up
on the bank of the canal under the table open to the lie the chairs around
it rise and attach themselves to the walls of the director’s office of the
young villa Marie-Rose waiting for the frog to lick clean the hours that make
the fabric of her pretty umbrella sticky and if the weather is clear
listen to the crack when in my chest breaks the perfume of the
stick the arrow painted on the fan tossed on the bed the luminous alarmed panther
sheen of her regard with an electric aroma a most disagreeable noise
spreading a dreadful odor of stars crushed underfoot

2 july 38

drop by
pale blue
the claws of
green almond
on the rose

This selection of Picasso’s poetry, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz and Other Poems, is available as a sampler from Ubu here. Below the complete three part documentary Picasso: Magic, Sex & Death presented by Picasso’s biographer John Richardson from 2001.

Via Ubu.

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
The surreal teapots of Richard T. Notkin
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Teaset “Iraq 2007”, 2007
According to the biographical narrative of sculptor Richard T. Notkin, the Helena, Montana-based artist has been creating surreal and politically charged ceramics for almost 40 years. Of note in Notkin’s long career is his fondness for creating odd-looking teapots; an affinity that was born from his early love of Chinese Yixing teapots. Notkin was so enamoured with his subject that he spent most of the twelve years between 1983 and 1995 creating surrealist-looking teapots. Notkin’s works are also meant to represent his disdain of politics, war and other important societal issues.

Notkin on why he chose the teapot as a way of expressing himself:

Although the vast majority of my work created between 1983 and 1995 consists almost entirely of teapots, I consider myself a sculptor with a strong commitment to social commentary. My chosen medium — the material I love to work with — is clay. The vessel is the primal “canvas” for the ceramic artist, and my vessel of choice is the teapot, the most complex of vessels, consisting of body, handle, spout, lid and knob. This allows me the widest latitude in juxtaposing the many images I use to set up my narrative pieces.

Notkin’s works have been displayed by museums across the world, including locations in New York, Los Angeles, London and Japan. I’m especially fond of the teapots that follow.
Light bulb teapot 1984 Richard T. Notkin
Light bulb teapot (variation #6), 1984
Nuclear Nuts teapot 1987 by Richard Notkin
“Nuclear Nuts” teapot (variation #12) 1987
More after the jump…

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Meet the great ‘English eccentric’ who financed the Surrealists

You may not have heard of Edward James, but you will certainly recognise the back of his head from the painting Not to be Reproduced by René Magritte. This was one of two portraits the Surrealist artist did of James, the other was The Pleasure Principle.

Edward William Frank James (1907–1984) was a poet and a patron of the arts, who used his vast wealth to publish writers (like poet John Betjeman), commission theatrical productions most notably Les Ballets and Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s last work together The Seven Deadly Sins in 1933. He also supported individuals, communities in Mexico and financed artisan workshops, but James is most famously known for his patronage of Surrealist art, in particular the artists Magritte, Leonora Carrington and Salvador Dalí. He also bought works by Giorgio de Chirico, Paul Klee, Pavel Tchelitchew, Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti, Max Ernst and Paul Delvaux.

Being rich and aristocratic usually meant James was described as a great “English eccentric,” though he was never fond of the term claiming he was like “the boy with green hair,” just born that way. According to James he was the illegitimate son of King Edward VII, which may have indeed been possible as his mother was said to have been one of the royal’s many mistresses. When he was five, his father (or at least his mother’s husband) died leaving James the sole heir to his fortune and the 8,000 acre family estate of West Dean House in Sussex. James eventually gave away the family estate, financing its reuse as a college. He created his own Surrealist home in Monkton, and then in Las Pozas, Mexico, where he used his money to support its community employing villagers to build houses, a hotel, Surrealist sculptures and architectural follies.

This delightful film The Secret Life of Edward James made in 1978 was narrated by the late jazz singer, art critic and writer George Melly. James and Melly were good friends, united by their passion for Surrealism. Melly was a wonderfully outrageous and much loved performer whose exuberance for life was often matched by his attire. He also wrote three highly entertaining volumes of autobiography and released a whole bag of recordings. If you haven’t heard of George Melly he is worth investigating.
Magritte’s other portrait of Edward James ‘The Pleasure Principle’ (1937).

More after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Surrealism founder André Breton’s apartment is a museum in its own right
12:37 pm


Andre Breton
Fabrice Maze

I wonder: did André Breton enjoy housework? He must have spent many an hour cleaning and tending to the dust that surely gathered on all the 5,300 artifacts he kept, at one time or another, in his Parisian apartment. (Or maybe he hired someone.)

Father of Surrealism, poet, and writer, Breton moved into number 42 rue Fontaine in the 9e arrondissement on January 1, 1922, and lived there until his death in 1966. During his tenancy, he filled his rooms with thousands of “paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs, books, art catalogs, journals, manuscripts, and works of popular and Oceanic art,” all of which would require considerable domestic maintenance. Of course he may have been entirely indifferent to the dust and allowed it to beard his belongings and fur the shelves, as Quentin Crisp and J. G. Ballard were said to have done.

Artists and writers’ studios are, by their very nature, fascinating places, as they are the workshops where the real creative toil is won. And the clutter of belongings, books, and pictures reveals at first hand the sources, inspirations, and fascinations that produced the work.

Fabrice Maze created this beautiful short film on André Breton’s apartment in 1994, in which the camera takes the viewer on a tour through all the accumulation of art works, books, and dust.

Sadly, three years after Breton’s third wife Elsa died in 2000, the French government proved unable or unwilling to buy the apartment and its collection. This led to an auction of the “largest single record of the Surrealist movement.” The Pompidou Center in Paris purchased a wall from Breton’s former home, together with 255 works of arts and objects, which are now on display at the museum.


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Max Ernst and the Surrealist revolution
01:26 pm


Max Ernst

Max Ernst with his dog Katchina, photo by Dorothea Tanning

For Max Ernst painting had to be “invention, discovery, revelation,” and not “decorative amusement, or the plastic invention of felt reality.” Ernst never had any formal training as an artist, he had been a student of philosophy and psychology at Bonn University, which in part explains his cerebral approach to art.

In a response to the horrors of the First World War, having spent four years in the German army serving on both the Western and Eastern fronts, Ernst became a leading figure in the German Dada movement, producing fantastical collages from photographs and botanical drawings of flowers. 

In 1922, Ernst moved to France settling in Paris where he was involved with members of the city’s avant garde, including André Breton author of the “First Surrealist Manifesto” in 1924. It was here that Ernst developed a creative technique called “frottage” (not to be confused with dry-humping) with which he produced a series of textured pictures by rubbing crayon over floorboards. He also began to concentrate on painting using random objects to inspire a synthesis of inner and outer worlds.

“If you close your eyes and you look into your inner world, and I believe the best to do is to have one eye closed and to look inside, and this is the inner eye, and with your other eye you have it fixed on reality, what is going on in the world.  If you can make a kind of a synthesis of these two important worlds, you come to a result which can be considered as a synthesis of objective and subjective life.”

Max Ernst and the Surrealist Revolution examines how Ernst used random objects, media and “events” to unlock his subconscious and produce works of great art.

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‘The Relaxed Wife’: Surrealistic WTF vintage tranquilizer ad
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Despite what the title might imply, there’s nothing sexist or Stepford Wives-ish here, rather it’s the frantic, rubber-faced hubby who is badly in need of a chill pill. Or an entire bottle of them.

If you’ve ever seen the Dr. Seuss-scripted kids film The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T, this weird little 1957 industrial film puts me immediately in mind of that.

With all sorts of amazing WTF flourishes, like a desk that hands you a newspaper!

Thank you Binky Prod! (if that is, in fact, your real name)

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
‘1984: Music for Modern Americans’: An animated film by artist Eduardo Paolozzi

J. G. Ballard once said, if by some terrible calamity all art from the 20th century was destroyed except for the work of one artist, then it would be possible to recreate all of the century’s greatest artistic developments if that artist was Eduardo Paolozzi.

Deliberate hyperbole, but there is an essence of truth here, as Paolozzi produced such an incredible range and diversity of art that it has been difficult for critics and art historians to classify him. He began as a Surrealist, before becoming the first Pop Artist—a decade before Warhol put paint on canvas. He then moved on to print-making, design, sculpture and public art to international success.

Born in Edinburgh, to an Italian family in 1924, Paolozzi spent much of his childhood at his parent’s ice cream parlor, where he was surrounded by the packaging, wrapping and cigarette cards that later inspired his Pop Art. This early idyll of childhood was abruptly ended when Italy declared war on Britain in 1940. Paolozzi awoke one morning to find himself, along with his father and uncles, incarcerated, in the city’s Saughton Prison, as undesirables, or enemies of the state. Paolozzi was held for 3 months, but his father and uncles were deported to Canada on the ship HMS Arandora Star, which was torpedoed by a U-boat off the north-west coast of Ireland. The vessel sank with the loss of 630 lives.

Considered psychologically unsuitable for the army, the teenage Paolozzi studied at the Edinburgh School of Art, in 1943, before finishing at the Slade School in London, which he found disappointingly conservative in its approach to art.

After the war, Paolozzi moved briefly to Paris where he visited some of the century’s greatest artists, then resident in the city—Giacometti, Braque, Arp, Brâncuşi, and Léger. In his youthful boldness, Eduardo had telephoned each of these artists after discovering their numbers in the telephone directory. He was greeted as an equal, he later claimed, most probably because the war had just ended. The experience taught Paolozzi much, and emboldened his ideas. On his return to London, Paolozzi presented a slide show of adverts and packaging, which was the very first Pop Art.

Paolozzi developed his distinctive collages and multiple images of Marilyn Monroe long before Warhol and even Richard Hamilton, the artist with whom he showed at the now legendary This Is Tomorrow exhibition, at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1956.

Paolozzi eventually tired of his association with Pop Art, as it limited his incredibly diverse artistic vision. The same year as This Is Tomorrow, he played a deaf mute, with fellow artist Michael Andrews, in the first major Free Cinema movie Together by Lorenza Mazzetti.

By the late 1950s, he had moved on to industrial print-making,  before producing an incredibly awe-inspiring range of designs for buildings, sculptures and public art—from his mosaic for Tottenham Court Road tube station to the cover of Paul McCartney’s Red Rose Speedway, through to such epic sculptures Newton, outside of the British Library, Vulcan, Edinburgh, and Head of Invention, Design Museum, London.

In 1984, Paolozzi conceived and produced a brief strange and surreal animation 1984: Music for Modern Americans, which was animated and directed by Emma Calder, Susan Young and Isabelle Perrichon, and based photocopies of Paolozzi’s original drawings.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Dorothea Tanning, oldest surviving Surrealist, dead at 101
04:18 pm


Dorothea Tanning

Birthday, a 1942 self-portrait

The great painter Dorothea Tanning died yesterday in her sleep at the age of 101. Tanning, who was married for thirty years to Surrealist Max Ernst, was herself part of a small cadre of female Surrealists (Frida Kahlo, Leonora Carrington, Kay Sage, Lee Miller, Maya Deren, Remedios Varo, and Leonor Fini) judged by history to be as equally interesting as their male counterparts.

Jerry Saltz, writing about Tanning today on Vulture:

In her memoir, we hear how she and Ernst fell in love while playing chess, how the two of them lived in Arizona before moving to France, of their double wedding with Man Ray and Juliet Browner, of her friendships with Picasso, Breton, Magritte (“sweet”), Duchamp, Tanguy, Truman Capote (“a neat little package of dynamite”), Orson Welles (“scowler”), Joseph Cornell (“the courtly love of the 13th century troubadours”), and how she designed sets and costumes for the great George Balanchine. Noting how pleased she was that Ernst never called her “wife,” she observes, “He was very sorry about that wife thing. I’m very much against the arrangement of procreation, at least for humans. If I could have designed it, it would be a tossup who gets pregnant, the man or woman. Boy, that would end rape for one thing. And ‘woman artist’? Disgusting.” She writes about being alone on a bus in Chicago and deciding, with no plans or place to live, to go on to New York. There she “ate curry powder sandwiches, took Hindu dancing, read the ‘Bhagavad-Gita’ and Emily Dickinson, impartially.” In 1936 she saw the MoMA show “Fantastic, Dada, and Surrealism” and recalled that “here, here in the museum ... are signposts so imperious, so laden, so seductive, and yes, so perverse that … they would possess me utterly.”

Tanning’s memoir, Between Lives: An Artist and Her World was published in 2003.



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Salvador Dali: Surrealist Party from 1941
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Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali hosts a Surrealist party as a fund raiser for displaced European artists, at the Bali Room, Hotel Del Monte, California, in 1941. However you celebrate the arrival of the New Year, have a fabulous time, and a wonderful 2012.

With thanks to Duggie Fields

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Man Ray: Home Movies

Home Movies of Man Ray and Ady Fidelin from 1938, present a simple and intimate portrait of the man behind the artist.

With thanks to Angie Lane

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‘Les Avortés’: Surreal short film with music by Captain Beefheart, from 1970

Les Avortés - a film to set your hair on fire, made by a group of friends, who shared a love of Artaud, Dreyer, Stroheim, and the Living Theater. Directed by Jorge Amat, with a soundtrack by Captain Beefheart, from 1970.


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Vivian Stanshall: ‘One Man’s Week’ from 1975

Heresy, I suppose, but I was more pissed off at the demise of the Bonzo Dog Band than I was by the splitting of The Beatles, the retirement of Ziggy Stardust, or the return of Take That. The Mop Tops were grown-up music and a different generation, and after Stardust there was always Aladdin Sane, but neither could have inspired me to run home from school as I did for Vivian Stanshall, Neil Innes and co. when they shared billing with the proto-Pythons, Palin, Jones, Idle and Gilliam on Do Not Adjust Your Set. Now that’s the kind of thoughtful anarchy parents should encourage their children to watch, not Glee or High School Musical, but something with wit and humor that leans towards culture and art and thinking about life, with all its wrinkly absurdities.

It was always Vivian, of course, that rather scary looking Ginger Geezer, who was the Peter Cook of Pop, a chummy Evelyn Waugh, a more interesting Stephen Fry, the missing link between The Beatles and Monty Python.

I saw Vivian Stanshall’s Week when it first went out in 1975, then or thereabouts, and was mesmerized by the great ginger god’s wit, surreal humor and seemingly boundless energy, who, I knew (as did everyone else, surely?), made life that little bit more fun.

The print of this documentary is water-color cloudy, but honestly it does somehow underline the unreality that such a superb human should have ever visited this blue marble planet and in our life time to boot. Well, dearhearts, how lucky are we?

Now here’s what the blurb says:

‘In this film shot in 1975 (after the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and before the Sir Henry movie) Viv articulates his interests and obsessions with his usual surreal humour and some intoxication by the river.

“If I had all the money I’ve spent on drink — I’d spend it on drink.”

Vivian Stanshall—a thoroughly good egg.’


Previously on Dangerous Minds

Vivian Stanshall: The Ginger Geezer

Bonus tracks by Big Grunt and the Bonzo Dog Band, after the jump…

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Luis Buñuel’s Perfect Martini

Luis Buñuel was one of cinema’s greatest film directors. From his first short, the Surrealist classic Un Chien Andalou in 1929, through The Exterminating Angel in 1962, to Belle de Jour in 1967, and his last, That Obscure Object of Desire in 1977, Buñuel created a brilliant body of work, which has rarely been equalled.

But film wasn’t his only passion. In his autobiography, My Last Breath, Buñuel gave his own special recipe on how to create the perfect Martini.

‘To provoke, or sustain, a reverie in a bar, you have to drink English gin, especially in the form of the dry martini. To be frank, given the primordial role in my life played by the dry martini, I think I really ought to give it at least a page. Like all cocktails, the martini, composed essentially of gin and a few drops of Noilly Prat, seems to have been an American invention. Connoisseurs who like their martinis very dry suggest simply allowing a ray of sunlight to shine through a bottle of Noilly Prat before it hits the bottle of gin. At a certain period in America it was said that the making of a dry martini should resemble the Immaculate Conception, for, as Saint Thomas Aquinas once noted, the generative power of the Holy Ghost pierced the Virgin’s hymen “like a ray of sunlight through a window-leaving it unbroken.”

‘Another crucial recommendation is that the ice be so cold and hard that it won’t melt, since nothing’s worse than a watery martini. For those who are still with me, let me give you my personal recipe, the fruit of long experimentation and guaranteed to produce perfect results. The day before your guests arrive, put all the ingredients-glasses, gin, and shaker-in the refrigerator. Use a thermometer to make sure the ice is about twenty degrees below zero (centigrade). Don’t take anything out until your friends arrive; then pour a few drops of Noilly Prat and half a demitasse spoon of Angostura bitters over the ice. Stir it, then pour it out, keeping only the ice, which retains a faint taste of both. Then pour straight gin over the ice, stir it again, and serve.

‘(During the 1940s, the director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York taught me a curious variation. Instead of Angostura, he used a dash of Pernod. Frankly, it seemed heretical to me, but apparently it was only a fad.)’

This wasn’t the first time, the genius director had shared his favored drink, in his Oscar-winning film The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Buñuel had his actors prepare the perfect Martini.

This was no affectation, as Buñuel had his cocktail everyday and once remarked:

“If you were to ask me if I’d ever had the bad luck to miss my daily cocktail, I’d have to say that I doubt it; where certain things are concerned, I plan ahead.”

As discussed in his essential autobiography, Buñuel’s passions for drinking, smoking and a love of handguns, defined who he was. It was a combination which would, you would think, make Buñuel the perfect choice as a director for one of those 1960s or 1970s James Bond movies. David Cairns, over at his excellent film blog, Shadowplay suggested this idea a couple of years back, proposing a Bond movie cast from some of Buñuel’s previous casts, with Dan O’Herlihy as Bond and Fernando Rey as the villain. Cairns also proposes:

Could we resist Catherine Deneuve as Bond girl Anne Dalou, and could she resist playing it if the high priest of cinematic surrealism were in charge? Zachary Scott, fresh from THE YOUNG ONE, could play Bond’s CIA counterpart Felix Leiter. Oh wait, he died in 1965. Damn. OK, Bernie Hamilton then. Sean Connery always thought Felix should be black — I presume on the basis that it was the kind of thankless part where nobody would object, and therefore you should make the effort.

Ken Adam, I submit, would have had a great time building sets for Bunuel, who loved “secret passages leading on to darkness”.

THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL would make a great title for a Bond. Imagine what Shirley Bassey could do with a lyric like that. Much better than QUANTUM OF SLOSH, anyway.

But let’s call our imaginary Bunuel Bond GRAN CASINO ROYALE. The globe-trotting narrative will take us through Spain, the U.S.A., Mexico and France. Bond will battle tarantulas, snakes and flesh-eating ants, and face enemies armed with razors, rifles, burlap sacks and buggy-whips. All in search of a mysterious box with undisclosed, buzzing contents…



Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Bruce Conner: The Artist Who Shaped Our World

I find it difficult to watch Adam Curtis‘s various acclaimed documentaries without thinking: how much has he taken from Bruce Conner?

Indeed without Conner, would Curtis have developed his magpie, collagist-style of documentary making?

I doubt it, but you (and Curtis) may disagree.

The late Bruce Conner is the real talent here - an artist and film-maker whose work devised new ways of working and presciently anticipated techniques which are now ubiquitously found on the web, television and film-making.

Conner was “a heroic oppositional artist, whose career went against the staid and artificially created stasis of the art world”. Which is academic poohbah for saying Conner kept to his own vision: a Beat life, which channeled his energies into art - with a hint of Dada, Surrealism and Duchamp.

Conner was cantankerous and one-of-a-kind. He would wear an American flag pin. When asked why, he said, “I’m not going to let those bastards take it away from me.”

He kicked against fame and celebrity, seeing art as something separate from individual who created it.

“I’ve always been uneasy about being identified with the art I’ve made. Art takes on a power all its own and it’s frightening to have things floating around the world with my name on them that people are free to interpret and use however they choose.”

Born in McPherson, Kansas, Conner attended Witchita University, before receiving his degree in Fine Art from Nebraska University. At university he met and married Jean Sandstedt in 1957. He won a scholarship to art school in Brooklyn, but quickly moved to University of Colorado, where he spent one semester studying art. The couple then moved to San Francisco and became part of the Beat scene. Here Conner began to produce sculptures and ready-mades that critiqued the consumerist society of late 1950’s. His work anticipated Pop Art, but Conner never focussed solely on one discipline, refusing to be pigeon-holed, and quickly moved on to to film-making.

Having been advised to make films by Stan Brakhage, Conner made A MOVIE in 1958, by editing together found footage from newsreels- B-movies, porn reels and short films. This single film changed the whole language of cinema and underground film-making with its collagist technique and editing.

The Conners moved to Mexico (“it was cheap”), where he discovered magic mushrooms and formed a life-long friendship with a still to be turned-on, Timothy Leary. When the money ran out, they returned to San Francisco and the life of film-maker and artist.

In 1961, Conner made COSMIC RAY, a 4-minute film of 2,000 images (A-bombs, Mickey Mouse, nudes, fireworks) to Ray Charles’ song “What I Say”. With a grant from the Ford Foundation, Conner produced a series of films that were “precursors, for better or worse, of the pop video and MTV,” as his obituary reported:

EASTER MORNING RAGA (1966) was designed to be run forward or backward at any speed, or even in a loop to a background of sitar music. Breakaway (1966) showed a dancer, Antonia Christina Basilotta, in rapid rhythmic montage. REPORT (1967) dwells on the assassination of John F Kennedy. The found footage exists of repetitions, jump cuts and broken images of the motorcade, and disintegrates at the crucial moment while we hear a frenzied television commentator saying that “something has happened”. The fatal gun shots are intercut with other shots: TV commercials, clips from James Whale’s Frankenstein and Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front. The film has both a kinetic and emotional effect.

REPORT revealed “Kennedy as a commercial product”, to be sold and re-packaged for arbitrary political purposes.

REPORT “perfectly captures Conner’s anger over the commercialization of Kennedy’s death” while also examining the media’s mythic construction of JFK and Jackie — a hunger for images that “guaranteed that they would be transformed into idols, myths, Gods.”

Conner’s work is almost a visual counterpart to J G Ballard’s writing, using the same cultural references that inspired Ballard’s books - Kennedy, Monroe, the atom bomb. His film CROSSROADS presented the 1952 atomic bomb test at Bikini Atoll in extreme slow motion from twenty-seven different angles.

His editing techniques influenced Dennis Hopper in making Easy Rider, and said:

“much of the editing of Easy Rider came directly from watching Bruce’s films”

The pair became friends and Hopper famously photographed Conner alongside Toni Basil, Teri Garr and Ann Mitchell.

Always moving, always progressing, having “no half way house in which to rest”, Conner became part of the San Francisco Punk scene, after Toni Basil told Conner to go check out the band Devo in 1977. He became so inspired when he saw the band at the Mabuhay Gardens that he started going there four night a week, taking photographs of Punk bands, which eventually led to his job as staff photographer with Search ‘n’ Destroy magazine. It was a career change that came at some personal cost.

“I lost a lot of brain cells at the Mabuhay. What are you gonna do listening to hours of incomprehensible rock’n’roll but drink? I became an alcoholic, and it took me a few years to deal with that.”

Conner continued with his art work and films, even making short films for Devo, David Byrne and Brian Eno. In his later years, Conner returned to the many themes of his early life and work, but still kept himself once removed from greater success and fame. He died in 2008.

Towards the end of his life he withdrew his films from circulation, as he was “disgusted” when he saw badly pixelated films bootlegged and uploaded on YouTube. Conner was prescriptive in how his work should be displayed and screened. All of which is frustrating for those who want to see Conner’s films outside of the gallery, museum or film festival, and especially now, when so much of his originality and vision as a film-maker and artist has been copied by others.

‘Mea Culpa’ - David Byrne and Brian Eno.  Directed by Bruce Conner
Previously on Dangerous Minds

‘The Loving Trap’: brilliant Adam Curtis parody


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
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