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4 - 25 November 2019: Film Course: Surrealism in Cinema from Luis Buñuel to David Lynch


Surrealism is one of the art movements that has had the strongest influence on cinema and its impact has lasted to the present day. Emerging at the beginning of the 20th century when cinema was still in its infancy, its focus on dreams and the unconscious made it particularly apt to help shape the new art of moving images. Rejecting a rational approach to the world, the Surrealists led by André Breton sought to free mankind from artistic as well as moral and social conventions, liberating imagination to reveal the deeper connections between dream and reality. Their revolutionary artistic techniques had a political dimension and aimed at shaking up the established order in the widest sense. Central to this art of revolt were themes of violence and desire, their subversive intensity deployed to shock audiences out of their complacent worldviews.

This course will explore the influence of Surrealism on cinema from the beginnings of the movement through to 1960s psychedelia and experimentation, up until its more recent incarnation in the films of Guy Maddin and David Lynch.

Week 1 – The beginnings of Surrealist cinema
Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí’s Un chien andalou (1929) and L’âge d’or (1930), Germaine Dulac and Antonin Artaud’s The Seashell and the Clergyman (1928), Jean Cocteau’s The Blood of a Poet (1931)

Week 2 – Post-war Surrealism: horror, eroticism and psychedelia
Georges Franju, Jean Rollin, Walerian Borowczyk, Alejandro Jodorowsky

Week 3 – Surrealism and revolution in Eastern Europe 1960s-70s
Jaromil Jireš’s Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970),  Věra Chytilová’s Daisies (1966), Jan Němec’s The Party and the Guests (1966), Dušan Makavejev’s W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism (1971), Wojciech Has’s Hourglass Sanatorium (1973)

Week 4 – Surrealism in contemporary cinema
Jan Švankmajer, Brothers Quay, Terry Gilliam, Guy MaddinYorgos Lanthimos, David Lynch

(This content is indicative and not a detailed plan of each class)

Dr Virginie Sélavy is a film scholar, writer and editor. She is the founder and former editor of Electric Sheep Magazine, the online magazine for transgressive cinema, and was co-director of the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies – London for three years. She has edited The End: An Electric Sheep Anthology, an eclectic collection of essays exploring the theme of the end in cinema, and written a chapter for Lost Girls: The Phantasmagorical Cinema of Jean Rollin. She has also written about Peeping Tom and the Medusa myth in Monstrum and about the representation of Victorian London in Film Locations: Cities of the Imagination – London.  Her work has appeared in various publications such as Sight & Sound, FilmRage, Rolling Stone (France) and Cineaste. She has given talks on French fantastique cinema, women exploitation directors, and sorcery and counterculture in the work of Michael Reeves at venues including the BFI, the Barbican and the Horse Hospital, in addition to running a regular course on Surrealism for two years. She is currently working on a book on sado-masochism in 1960s-70s cinema.

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