The Surrealist Director Primer

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Surrealism is one of the oldest genres of film. Since the advent of the motion picture, filmmakers have used multiple exposures, odd juxtaposition, uncomfortable soundtracks, and forced perspective to create unique and exciting films designed to elicit a reaction from the viewer. Here are some of finest directors of the genre.

Georges Méliès.   Georges Méliès was a visionary. After watching some of the original Lumeiere brothers’ films he approached them about buying one of their cameras. When they turned him down, he went and procured his own. He then built a studio out of glass so that he wouldn’t need lights to film. He immediately started experimenting with in-camera effects like multiple exposures; in 1900 he released The One-Man Band in which he played seven characters simultaneously. His most known film is Trip to the Moon; the image of the rocket stuck in the eye of the man on the moon is one of film’s most iconic images. Méliès was also innovative in that he was getting pirated in the United States. He pulled a Metallica and went after everyone that took money for his films. Or Metallica pulled a Méliès.

Luis Bunuel.  Alfred Hitchcock considered Bunuel to be the best director in the world. He made one of the most popular surrealist shorts of all time with Salvador Dali Un Chien Andalou (The Andalusian Dog) This film is most famous for the eye slicing scene, but the main character sexually molests a woman. He then starts to drag priests tied to pianos and dead donkeys . Bunuel followed it up with L’Age d’Or (The Golden Age); the film is an attack on religion and it angered some people so much it caused a small riot at a premiere. This film also recently caused controversy on a particular satellite radio show.

David Lynch.  Mr. Lynch may be the most prolific surrealist director of all time. He started his career with the black and white film Eraserhead, which took over seven years film; it’s amazing that he finished the project. He went on to make sexually driven mind-fuck films like Blue Velvet, Lost Highway, and Mulholland Drive. Lynch shoots and edits his films in ways so that the viewer is made to feel uncomfortable. The intricate sound design of Eraserhead uses both the quiet loud quiet method and droning “industrial” noises underneath scenes to upset the viewer. The diner scenes in Mulholland Drive are unsettling because of the way the camera is constantly rocking in a jarring way. If Lynch had actually come up with an ending, Mulholland Drive could have been the greatest film of all time.

Michel Gondry started out directing music videos such as Bjork’s “Human Behavior”, The Rolling Stones’ cover of “Like A Rolling Stone”, and The White Stripes’ “Fell in Love with a Girl”. He went on to direct Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep among other films. He does not like computer effects so all of his special effects are practical. For example, in Spotless, there is a scene where Joel is trying to hide Clementine in a childhood memory; Gondry uses forced perspective to make it appear that Jim Carrey is so much smaller than Kate Winslet, as opposed to green screening like most directors. Gondry also made some internet trolls really angry over the YouTube video he made of himself solving a Rubics Cube with his feet. Haters always be hatin

Richard Linklater.   Richard Linklater may be most known for his remake of The Bad News Bears or his brilliant and well cast Dazed and Confused, and his very best work is probably the Sunset trilogy. Linklater makes this list because of his use of rotoscope animation on the films Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly. Actors shoot their scenes on video and is then loaded onto a computer. Artists then trace over the footage and pump up the color saturation to give the films a unique animated look. Waking Life is a Linklater original script dealing with dreams, consciousness, and existentialism. A Scanner Darkly is based on a Phillip K. Dick story in which most of the country is hooked on a powerful hallucinogen. The entire world is waiting for a rotoscope version of Dazed and Confused.

Darren Aronofsky.   Watching Darren Aronofsky’s films will make you wonder if he hates people, the human body, or both. His films feature slow cancer deaths, infected junkie arms being amputated and wings moving under the skin of non-existent bi-sexual ballerinas. His film The Fountain is actually three different stories inter-woven and told completely out of order while spanning one thousand years. So not to further confuse the viewer, the two main characters in each of the three stories are played by Rachel Weiss and Hugh Jackman. Aronofsky’s first film, PI, is somehow a terrifying film about math and Hasidic Jews. It was shot in Brooklyn on a simple Bolex 16mm camera gorilla style; he had to have people looking out for police because he was shooting without permits

Terry Gilliam.   Terry Gilliam started his directing career with Monty Python and the Holy Grail and he only got weirder from there. The Time Bandits featured midgets riding a ship from dimension to dimension, and the steam-punky dystopian time travel film 12 Monkeys show the dynamic surrealism of Terry Gilliam. Despite the outcry of the hard core Hunter S. Thompson fans, Gilliam may have been the only director capable of translating the insanity of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas to the big screen. If you want insight into this brilliant director, his failed attempt at a Don Quixote film was captured in the film Lost in La Mancha.

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