L'Age d'or / Un Chien Andalou
More than 80 years on, this masterpiece of cinematic surrealism remains as brilliantly witty and shocking as ever. Uniting the genius of Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí, L'Age d'Or is a uniquely savage blend of visual poetry and social commentary. A sinister yet poignant chronicle of a couple's struggle to consummate their desire - the film was banned and vilified for many years for its subversive eroticism and furious dissection of 'civilised' values.
Luis Buñuel’s surrealist masterpiece L’Age d’or comes to Blu-ray from BFI Video with a new 1080p/24hz video transfer in the aspect ratio of about 1.19:1 on this single-layer Blu-ray disc. BFI also includes the 16-minute short film Un Chien Andalou, also presented in 1080p/24hz, in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The Blu-ray disc is region free.
Conditions of the materials do limit the presentations somewhat but overall I was still thrilled with what we get. Of the two L’Age d’or looks the best, possibly because it has been sourced from a restored 35mm negative. It presents the sharper picture and a higher level of detail when the source still allows it (the image can go a bit soft here and there or look out of focus.) On average the detail level is good if not overly strong, but there are moments, particularly in close-ups, where fine details are as clear and crisp as can be.
Unfortunately, since the definition is generally high, this does mean the damage is obvious. There are still plenty of marks remaining, from scratches to dirt, to tram lines, to what looks like cracks in the film. There’s some jumping here and there but in general L’Age d’or remains surprisingly stable. As well the digital transfer presents no issues of any sort, and it retains a very film-like presentation.
Un Chien Andalou is a little weaker but not by that much. This transfer was sourced from a 16mm negative of the 1960 restoration. It doesn’t matter all that much, though, as it still comes close to looking as good as L’Age d’or. Damage is maybe a little heavier, with plenty of scratches, marks, and stains, but the transfer remains consistently sharp throughout, again when the source materials allow it.
The DVD’s transfer looks to come from the same high-def master (downscaled of course) but its compression artifacts are surprisingly heavy in places, and blocking and other bits of noise are noticeable
In all the Blu-ray is the best I’ve seen both films on home video and just for this aspect I already give this release a very enthusiastic recommendation (the lower score reflects the amount of damage still present and not the digital transfer itself, which I really couldn’t find a flaw with.)
NOTE: The Blu-ray is region free and should play back on all Blu-ray players. I had no problems with it on my North American PS3. The DVD version, included in the set, is also region free but requires the ability to playback PAL content, which might be a problem in North America.
L’Age d’or’s audio is a bit of a mess, a victim of the equipment used to record the audio and the passage of time. The 2.0 PCM mono track is very weak, lacking fidelity, and is filled with all sorts of cracks, pops, and various distortions. In general it sounds like a film from 1930.
Un Chien andalou presents two audio tracks, the 1960 restoration score, based on the original, and then an alternate score by Mordant Music. The restoration/original score sounds pretty good, presenting some wonderful range and sounding sharp. The alternate track, which is a somewhat unnerving electronic score made up of odd noises and sounds, is hard to rate exactly but for what it is it sounds clean and sharp, presenting no distortion (unless intended) and has some strong range and volume. It’s an interesting alternate to the original score, giving a unique, very different feel to the film.
BFI puts together a decent collection of supplements here starting with an audio commentary for both Un Chien andalou and L’Age d’or by Robert Short. The one for L’Age d’or is a selected-scene commentary running about 23-minutes, while the one for Un Chien andalou actually runs longer than the film, totaling 19-minutes. The select-scene track for L’Age d’or plays over the opening, the bizarre love scene part way in, and then the finale. During these portions he talks about specific shots (despite the track not being entirely scene-specific), the collaboration between Dali and Buñuel for this film (which sounds to have been minimal and the end product is more a reflection of Buñuel—the two apparently came to head over this film), the style, editing, and even goes over the surrealist movement of the time and the other films produced. For Chien he again breaks down a few sequences, offers possible interpretations, and then goes over the production and how the film has been viewed over the years.
Both are fine tracks but I must admit that, while Short’s interpretations are valid and do make sense, his very dry, entirely humourless presentation, (well, other than his exaggerated pronunciation of certain French words and phrases), can actually take the fun out of both films.
These commentaries can be found on both the Blu-ray and DVD versions included in this set, along with the alternate musical score for Un Chien andalou mentioned in the audio portion of this review. The remaining supplements are found only on the dual-layer DVD included here, which may be unfortunate for some in North America; like the Blu-ray the DVD is region free but its content is in a PAL format and may not playback on most North American players.
First on this disc is an introduction by Robert Short running 25-minutes. In some ways he repeats comments on his tracks but goes into more detail about the surrealist movement, including other films that were made, and why Buñuel and Dali’s films succeeded where the others didn’t. Again it can be a little stuffy but it is a solid primer on the film, the surrealist movement, and Buñuel and Dali’s collaboration.
The final feature is the 2000 documentary A Proposito de Buñuel. The 99-minute doc can also be found on Criterion’s DVD edition for The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. It’s not entirely what I expected upon originally seeing it, figuring we’d get some by the numbers documentary that goes over the films he made during his career. It’s actually a far more personal documentary about the man, looking more closely at his life, his beliefs, which includes politics and religion, and his family life, as well as relationships with various friends over the years. It then of course juxtaposes these personal things alongside his films, selecting ones from various points of his career (from France to an attempt in the U.S. to Mexico, and so on.) It includes interviews with a number of people including various friends and colleagues, his wife, Jeanne Buñuel, and various actors he’s directed (and I must say that Carole Bouquet doesn’t appear to have aged at all.) It also covers a number of his films, including L’Age d’or and Un Chien andalou.
The booklet also includes yet another contribution by Robert Short, who basically summarizes his intro and commentaries into a short essay. We then get bios for both Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali. The booklet concludes with a reprinting of the “Manifesto of the Surrealists concerning L’Age d’or”, which originally appeared in a publicity brochure for the original release of the film back in 1930. Another fantastic booklet from BFI.
Though the commentaries were a bit of a mixed bag for me I enjoyed them overall, and also enjoyed the few video features we get here (though I had seen the documentary included before). Great effort by BFI Video.
Highly recommended. Yes, both films show their age but the digital transfers are top notch and deliver the films about as perfect as can be expected.