Friday, May 03, 2019

L'Âge d'Or / The Golden Age (The Nitrate Picture Show)

L'Âge d'Or. Lya Lys by the magic mirror. Photo: Céline Ruivo (Facebook, 16 May 2019).

L'Âge d'Or.

Kulta-aika / Guldåldern.
Luis Buñuel, France 1930
Print source: George Eastman Museum, Rochester, NY
Running time: 63 minutes
The Nitrate Picture Show (NPS), George Eastman Museum, Dryden Theatre, Rochester, 3 May 2019.

NPS: About the print
Henri Langlois of the Cinémathèque française was traveling the US with nitrate prints, and while visiting Rochester found himself low on funds. His friend (and Eastman Museum’s first film curator) James Card purchased this print for the museum’s collection. Shrinkage: 0.65%

About the film
“Never before at the cinema, and with such vigor, such contempt for decency, has bourgeois society and its properties—the police, religion, the army, morality, the family, even the State—received such a volley of kicks in the ass. . . . Obviously, in making L’âge d’or, the authors wanted snobs and fashionable people, who had freely admired Un chien andalou and had, thus, insulted them, not to misunderstand their intention this time and to feel the disgust in which they hold them.”
— Léon Moussinac, L’Humanité, December 7, 1930 (translated by Alicia Chester)

“Will discord always reign over the Surrealists? . . . Wednesday evening . . . around thirty protesters had decided to interrupt the screening of a film whose incoherence, to tell the truth, must more readily draw a smile than indignation. But it was in the plans of this little troop to be indignant. They did so by blowing whistles, throwing bottles of ink that splattered in unexpected overlays, and using batons to break everything around. Calm was restored only by a squad of agents.”
— Le Figaro, December 13, 1930 (translated by Alicia Chester)

“All those who have safeguarded the grandeur that is France, all those, even if they are atheists, who respect Religion, all those who honour family life and hold childhood sacred, all those who have faith in a race which has enlightened the world, all those sons of France whom you have chosen to defend you against the moral poison of unworthy spectacles appeal to you now to uphold the rights of the censor.”
— Richard Pierre Bodin, Le Figaro (NPS)

AA: Un film maudit banned from general distribution until 1980, L'Âge d'Or was the favourite film of Henry Miller who wrote the definitive essay on it. An uninhibited outburst from the unconscious, the key Surrealist film has lost none of its power to baffle and offend.

After many viewings the punk energy starts to lose its shock value. Instead, lyrical and humoristic passages grow in intensity.

Cast in the male leading role is Gaston Modot, a guardian spirit of the French cinema from the golden age of comedy since 1909 until his last roles on television in 1966. Modot had acted in more than a hundred farces, and Luis Buñuel uses his deadpan quality for instance in the scene where Modot shows the policemen his letter of attorney from the Society of Good Deeds.

The cornerstone of the eternal city of Rome is laid. The control of violent and sexual urges is necessary, but repression leads to perversion. LÂge d'Or is a cinematic counterpart to Sigmund Freud's Das Unbehagen in der Kultur. Every image is full of a sense of urgency, yet the film refuses to make any rational sense.

The charming and humoristic Lya Lys is cast in the female leading role. In one of the most hauntingly poetic images of the movie she is looking at the mirror, but instead of her reflection she sees her shadow. A wind blows filling the mirror with clouds.

Previously in certain sources the original duration was given as 80 minutes, but the 1980 general release version was 62 minutes – as is this nitrate print which carries the authority of provenance from Henri Langlois.

I have seen L'Âge d'Or many times in satisfactory prints and accepted its technical quality as stemming from its status as an independent production.

As for visual quality, the documentary insert of scorpions is found footage. Might it be Éclair's Le Scorpion Languedocien (1912) or Pathé's Le Scorpion (1911)? I think it was Raymond Durgnat who observed that there are six parts in L'Âge d'Or like in a scorpion – and the final part is the one with the poison sting.

The cinematographer was Albert Duverger. He had already shot Un chien andalou. It had generally been seen in cropped and battered prints until the 2003 Madrid restoration revealed for me how brilliant its true visual quality was.

Now this stunning nitrate print of L'Âge d'Or proves to me the perfect visual glory of Buñuel's second film for the first time. There is a caress and a sting in the refined whites and the dark blacks on Buñuel and Duverger's canvas.

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