The following is one of the entries from my 100 Greatest Films list, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. This is a different list than the 100 Greatest English-Language Films one, although a few entries overlap. — Dennis
A candidate for the title “the world’s most incendiary film,” Luis Buñuel’s The Golden Age was withdrawn from circulation after its Parisian launch led to riots provoked by two fascist groups, the League of Patriots and the Anti-Semitic League. (The United States denied the film a commercial release for fifty years!) One would think that the passage of time would have relegated L’Age d’Or’s inflammatory nature to the regions of quaintness. Not so. The film’s excitement remains intact.
This eclectic work opens with a brief documentary about scorpions that suggests the poison-tailed nature of another species of animals: us. Cave-dwelling bandits show that humans also do whatever they can in an effort to survive. This is the associative way the entire film works. Both the scorpions and the men, impoverished, have only themselves as resources—in addition to whatever they manage to take. Boats arrive; people mount the rocky terrain. They pay their respects to a grisly expanse of skeletons in religious garb—the surreal translation of a bandit’s vision of mumbling clerics! The official ceremony is interrupted before it begins. A couple rolling in mud are pulled apart. Their coitus interruptus becomes the film’s persistent motif. A shot of the woman, in agony while alone in her apartment, leads to the sound of her flushing toilet superimposed on a fantasy of “flushing” land that looks like a swamp, a slide, of shit. In the street, the man heartily kicks an object of bourgeois affection: a small dog. Buñuel, bless him, is really sticking it to propriety and domestic order.
The film’s exhilarating social satire and liberated air, as well as its insatiable Jesus by way of the Marquis de Sade, astound.
Salvador Dalí contributed to the script.
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