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BUÑUEL by John Baxter

BUÑUEL

By John Baxter

Pub Date: April 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-7867-0506-X

A merely proficient biography of the master director of such Surrealist classics as Un Chien Andalou and Belle de Jour. Like many early directors, Bu§uel stumbled into the film-making business. He left his native Spain for a putative Parisian diplomatic posting with an offshoot of the League of Nations. While waiting for an assignment, he began to work in a variety of capacities on film sets and as a film critic. At the same time, he was drawn to the Surrealist movement. Desperate for a career, he borrowed money from his mother, and together with Salvador Dal° made the short film Un Chien Andalou. With its dreamy eroticism, its shocking violence (most memorably epitomized in a shot of an eye being sliced with a razor), it was an enormous success, as was his next, equally controversial film L’Age D’Or. Beyond the shock value, there was a strongly considered—though often fetishistic--aesthetic at work. Octavio Paz noted that Bu§uel’s films balanced “ferocity and lyricism, a world of dreams and blood” with a “bare, spare style that is not at all Baroque and results in a sort of exaggerated sobriety.” Despite his notoriety, Bu§uel made almost no more films for the next ten years. The Spanish Civil War sent him into exile, first in Hollywood and then in Mexico, where, eventually, he was able to get work directing low-budget films. From their relative success, he was able to rebuild his career and to gain international acclaim. Unlike many directors whose late work is largely disappointing, Bu§uel enjoyed a great final flowering in his 70s when he produced three masterpieces in a row, including That Obscure Object of Desire, his final film. Veteran film biographer Baxter (Steven Spielberg, 1997, etc.) does a thoroughly competent job, but his writing is uninspired, and his research lacks a fulfilling depth. Not a tour de force but still a useful primer. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen)