Poetry and Dreams

Everything, MDA 1700 Film Communicating in Film: Styles and Movements

For our module ‘MDA1700 Communicating in film: Styles and Movement’, we were required to visit a surrealist exhibition titled ‘Poetry and Dreams’ in the Tate Modern art gallery. The exhibition houses artwork from famous surrealists including Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso and Man Ray. As we looked at the artwork, we were asked to think about 3 aspects that relates to our film course, or more specifically, what we had been learning in relation to surrealist film.

1) Can you see any similarities between any of Dali’s paintings here and ‘Un Chien Andalou‘?

There were 3 Salvador Dali paintings in the exhibition:

Salvador Dalí ‘Metamorphosis of Narcissus’, 1937 © Salvador Dali, Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation/DACS, London 2015

‘Metamorphosis of Narcissus’ (1937)

Salvador Dalí ‘Autumnal Cannibalism’, 1936 © Salvador Dali, Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation/DACS, London 2015

Autumnal Cannibalism (1936)

Salvador Dalí ‘Mountain Lake’, 1938 © Salvador Dali, Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation/DACS, London 2015

Mountain Lake (1938)

All of which, I thought, have noticeable similarities to Buñuel and Dali’sUn Chien Andalou‘. The first, and most obvious, similarity I saw was the use of multiple images, personified in Dali’s paintings through ‘double images’, and in Un Chien Andalou as match cuts/transitions. For example; the slicing of the eye with a straight razor in juxtaposed with the thin cloud passing in front of the moon in Un Chien Andalou (as seen below).

This technique of merging two similar images together can be seen within a lot of Dali’s paintings. In the Metamorphosis of Narcissus painting, Dali has used a double image to represent the transformation of Narcissus (from the ancient Greek myth of Narcissus); 2 figures can be seen, one is the body of a man crouching in a lake, and the other is a hand holding an egg from which a flower is growing. Although both figures are entirely different objects, they both have the same basic form/structure. The same technique can be seen in ‘Mountain Lake’, in which the lake can also be seen as a fish, through double imagery.

2) Apart from Dali’s paintings, pick out two other art works that have made an impression on you. How have they engaged your interest and curiosity? How do they convey meaning? How are ideas communicated in these surrealist works?

Joan Miró ‘Painting’, 1927 © Succession Miro/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2015

Joan Miró – ‘Painting’ (1927)

This painting grabbed my attention when I first walked into the exhibition. I think the first thing I noticed was the striking, vibrant, bright blue canvas; it’s almost monochromatic aesthetics stood out from other paintings with more diverse colour palettes. I love the simplicity of the painting; the small simple forms, and vast empty spaces. The manifesto states that the artist associated the colour blue with dreams. I read this painting as a visualisation of what it actually feels like to dream; small, vague, ambiguous forms and images appearing from the deep subconscious (the blue) that could be fully open to interpretation.

Dorothea Tanning ‘A Mi-Voix’, 1958 © DACS, 2015

Dorothea Tanning – A-Mi-Voix (1958)

I enjoy the raw energy of this painting. How the artist managed to depict such intensity and movement with such muted, dull colours is impressive. The artist quotes: “I just wanted to paint a white and grey picture that would still have colour in its veins as we have blood under our winter-white skin”. I believe that she captured exactly what she set out to. The forms within the painting are abstract and open to interpretation but, to me, it looks like 3 people sitting around a table; a man in the middle and two women beside him.

3) In addition, think about Hitchcock’s Vertigo that was screened this week. Do you find that the film has any association with what you looked at in the exhibition?

Hitchcock, in general, had many associations with the surrealist art movement. He even worked on a dream sequence with Salvador Dali in his 1945 film ‘Spellbound’. Vertigo’s dream (or nightmare) sequence, I think, directly references surrealist art. The portrayal of dreams through abstract imagery and unstructured logic, as seen in many surrealist paintings within the exhibition, is referenced heavily within this sequence. The overall plot of the film itself is very surreal, and it deals with similar subjects that surrealists did such as the psychology and the subconscious.

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