‘Portrait of Andre Breton’ by Man Ray, c. 1930
Europe after the Rain, the Arts Council of Great Britain’s 1978 documentary on Dada and Surrealism, looks at the careers of André Breton, Tristan Tzara, Salvador Dalí, Antonin Artaud, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Kurt Schwitters, Yves Tanguy, John Heartfield, Giorgio de Chirico, Francis Picabia and René Magritte, among others. Sure, there are better ways to see these artists’ work than on YouTube, but this film is worth watching, because it makes both movements’ commitment to revolutionary left-wing politics explicit as few other surveys do.
Take this list from 1919, drawn up by Richard Huelsenbeck and Raoul Hausmann on behalf of the Dadaist Revolutionary Central Council:
1) The international revolutionary union of all creative and intellectual men and women on the basis of radical Communism;
2) The introduction of progressive unemployment through comprehensive mechanization of every field of activity. Only by unemployment does it become possible for the individual to achieve certainty as to the truth of life and finally become accustomed to experience;
3) The immediate expropriation of property (socialization) and the communal feeding of all; further, the erection of cities of light, and gardens which will belong to society as a whole and prepare man for a state of freedom.
(The full manifesto goes on to demand free meals on Potsdamer Platz for “all creative and intellectual men and women,” the requisition of churches, “immediate organization of a Dadaist propaganda campaign with 150 circuses for the enlightenment of the proletariat,” and “immediate regulation of all sexual relations according to the views of international Dadaism through establishment of a Dadaist sexual center.”)
‘Europe after the Rain II’ by Max Ernst, 1940-1942
The movie is full of treasures: BBC interviews with Max Ernst and Marcel Duchamp from the Sixties, a reading of Artaud’s “Address to the Dalai Lama,” an account of Freud’s meeting with Dalí. As usual in a film of this type, the attempts to dramatically recreate speeches by historical figures are embarrassing. I am not extra fond of the portrayal of Tzara as a supercilious toff. But the re-enactment of Breton’s dialogue with an official of the Parti communiste français is illuminating, and complements the other valuable material on the “Pope of Surrealism”: his work with shell-shocked soldiers in World War I, trials and expulsions of other Surrealists, collaboration with Leon Trotsky in Mexico, less-than-heroic contributions to the French Resistance, and study of the occult.
A VHS rip of the movie has been up on YouTube for some time, but this sharpened upload only recently appeared through the good offices of Manufacturing Intellect. It’s worth noting that the original VHS rip is nearly six minutes longer.