Monday, June 22, 2009

Fantasies of an aging anarchist

One of my very favourite memoirs, and a book I often return to, is Luis Buñuel's My Last Breath. It isn't an "autobiography" - that word would imply a structure that this book never aims for. It's a delightfully free-flowing work, much like some of Buñuel's later films (The Phantom of Liberty, The Milky Way), more a mix of reflections on various subjects than anything else: death, cigarettes, village life in Spain, Catholicism, atheism, the evils of the free press. This means it's possible to pick it up in the middle of a day, open it at random and immerse yourself in a passage or two before returning to duller things.

With blogging being at a standstill these days, why not share passages from My Last Breath, just for the heck of it. So here are two that I read this morning, both pointers to the anarchist in Buñuel, a man who often fantasised about the destruction of what we call "culture" and who once said that the ultimate Surrealist act would be to go into a street and shoot indiscriminately into the crowd:
I have a horror of newspaper reporters, two of whom literally attacked me one day while I was walking down the road not far from El Paular. Despite my pleas to be left alone, they leapt around me, clicking as they went. I was already far too old to take both of them on at once, and only wished that I'd been foresighted enough to bring my revolver.
(Suggestions for a better world: make it legal to shoot journalists. It bears mentioning that the next paragraph begins with the line "Whereas my feelings about reporters couldn't be clearer, I confess to mixed emotions when it comes to spiders.")

And the second passage:
Where Picasso's concerned, his legendary facility is obvious, but sometimes I'm repelled by it. I can't stand Guernica (which I nonetheless helped to hang). Everything about it makes me uncomfortable - the grandiloquent tehnique as well as the way it politicizes art. Both Alberti and Jose Bergamin share my aversion; in fact, all three of us would be delighted to blow up the painting, but I suppose we're too old to start playing with explosives.
I love that throwaway "which I nonetheless helped to hang". Mental pictures appear of a young Buñuel wrinkling his nose in disgust as he puts up the legendary work while Picasso, hands still wet with paint, shouts "No no, it's the other way round!" What some of us would give to have kept the company Buñuel did in the 1920s and 1930s, around the dawn of some of the most exciting cultural movements. And it turns out that all he really wants to do is blow up one of the greatest works of art to have emerged from that period.

(More on Buñuel in this old post about my brief meeting with the writer Jean-Claude Carriere, a longtime associate of Buñuel)


  1. " well as the way it politicised art"

    That is certainly strange criticism from someone who made some profoundly political films!

    Unless of course, he's complaining about how Picasso politicised things rather than the mere fact he did so...

  2. AV: one thing I've learnt from reading the memoirs/biographies of creative artistes is that they frequently show irritation or even antipathy towards the work of other artists whom one imagines they would feel a kinship with. I also saw this firsthand when I had a long series of discussions with an Indian film director recently (can't give details unfortunately) - he was downright crotchety about the work of some artists who I'd thought he would admire.

    It's an interesting phenomenon - to some extent, maybe it's because we as viewers draw over-simplistic connections between the work of different artists. But quite possibly there are other, deep-rooted psychological reasons involved.

  3. Sounds like an interesting guy. Will check out his films. I have only watched Goddard and Trauffaut of the French New Wave so far (and I love their work), but sounds like he was their predecessor.

    Read about The Phantom of Liberty in your older post on him. That omitted scene sounds awesome. It almost mocks the audience, which I think Kubrick did a lot on a longer level (like the whole film), albeit subtly. If only they had left it in the final film. Will check out the film.

  4. "I have only watched Goddard and Trauffaut of the French New Wave so far (and I love their work), but sounds like he was their predecessor."

    ArSENik: there's no direct connection between Bunuel and the French New Wave. Apart from his work being very different (and influenced by cultural movements of the 20s and 30s), he was mainly working in Mexico around the time the French New Wave began.

  5. Jai, I don't read your blog as often as I'd like to- but when I do, your writing makes me think and reflect. Thank you. Just read your review of Ishiguro's 'Never let me go'- a book that moved me. Nicely done.


  6. Loved your piece.Thinking of running out and getting myself a copy.He sounds like quite the singular gent.

  7. A late comment but BuNuel stirred a chord. Till date, (even having forgotten the movie) I cannot forget seeing an eyeball being cut with a razer and a bright moon shown constantly to reflect the reverse as my first date with BuNuel. It THEN seemed gross and offensive but then I wasnt familiar with surreal cinema those days. Later, I realised the strength and the macabre beauty of his cinema wedded with fantassy. BuNuel became a favourite even after his works bordred on his own fantassies/deviations. This post kindled many memories of my introduction to world cinema. I think I still have to learn about many more personal things about Polanski, Ghatak and even Kamaal Amrohi (maybe you can share a bit) and various others cine greats to brighten up the blogosphere.

    PS: Btw, Jai, how bout a post on Rakhi's swayamber (whatever be the fun quotient, I found it a non-stop laughter soap). It is a big show in 9-5 households and even the sauve viewers are finding it a better than any laughter challenge prog; housewives will soon be reported to kill their saas-ses and bahus, mind you. Whether or not she gets married, divorce lawyers will be having a field day this year. Long live Rakhi and the swaymber.