Projections 4½
Projections 4½

John Boorman

John Boorman was born in London in 1933. After working as a film reviewer for magazines and radio, he joined the BBC in 1955 as an assistant editor, and later directed a number of documentaries. His first feature was ‘Catch Us If You Can’ in 1965. His latest film, Country of My Skull, opens in 2003. He is a five-time Academy Award-nominee, and was twice awarded Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival for Leo the Last (1970) and The General (1998). He is the author of Money Into Light: The Emerald Forest - A Diary, as well as the being the co-founder and editor of Faber & Faber's long-running series Projections: Film-makers on Film-making. Author affiliation details are correct at time of print publication.

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and Walter Donohue (eds)

Faber & Faber Limited, 1995


Content Type:

Book chapter



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Agnès Varda

Buñuel in fourth gear

DOI: 10.5040/9780571344406.0069
Page Range: 218–220

Some notable numbers (and positive ones, if quantity makes for strength):

Forty (40) years of cinema since my first long film in 1954 (La Pointe Courte); four hundred (400) numbers of Positif in forty (40) years; and forty (40) days since I agreed to write for them an article of four (4) pages, interrupting the writing of a script that is giving me a little difficulty but a lot of pleasure.

So let's get straight to the point. Buñuel's films are magical, in that the effect they produce goes beyond the visual impression and the other periods of satisfaction that stay with us after a film ends, either as one leaves the cinema or – for we live in the present – when we switch off the video and the machine ejects out the cassette. Exit Buñuel's L'Age d'Or and let the pleasure continue!

Others have written about Buñuel, and when L'Age d'Or was restored, Buñuel himself told some anecdotes; Carrière has collected his memories into a book. But it's his films which speak the most, which promise the most and deliver it.

I only have to think about Colonel Piéplu interrupting the meal that a group of bourgeois friends never manage to finish, and I start laughing. Stéphane Audran sends the bishop to find some chairs. Piéplu smokes a joint. Delphine Seyrig simpers. And before the soldiers leave on manoeuvres, a sergeant tells them his dream. What a feast!

I delight in these blunders, which are the quintessence of Buñuel's cinema. They try to eat together and they fail every time. They get the wrong day or the wrong place, and they have to leave. They believe themselves to be in private, but they're on stage, booed by an audience. Another meal turns out to be a dream.

They walk along the road, and here they are again at supper. I remember Audran and Cassel escaping into the garden to make love, and when they come back, they crouch under the dining-room windows so as not to be seen by the other guests – who have already left!

Later, the gardener is dying. The priest takes his confession, and discovers that the man had murdered his own parents. No time to lose. The priest gives him the last sacrament, takes a gun, and shoots the erstwhile assassin. Is there any better way to wield the gun and the aspergillum, revenge and absolution?

No. No other film-maker could so stylishly contradict and mock hypocrisy.

He was naughty to the end, Buñuel. I remember seeing him once when he was shooting in France. Sitting in a wheelchair, with his hearing-aid, he looked like an old man cut off from the world. But I suspect he heard what he wanted to hear; his eyes shone with malice.

L'Age d'Or.

This brings back more distant memories. Mexico, 1965. I'm copying out some words from the book I've recently published. They're still on the hard disk of my Apple Mac: 'Arrow – book. Click! – index. Click! – B. Click – arrow – Buñuel – cut. Click! – mouse, arrow, paste. Click! – T as in Typhus.'

I had a mild bout,' said Murin one evening when Jacques and I were having supper with Buñuel in Acapulco. Was it the exhilaration of having met this special man? The fever struck at the end of the meal. All night, during my delirium, I saw Buñuel struggling amongst coloured fabrics and I felt it was my duty was to protect him: 'Father, watch out! On the right! On the left!' Jacques called a doctor. My temperature was 41°C. I was flown home.

I spent a month in bed, delighted that Buñuel was responsible for this long rest.

I'll add a few details. The meal took place on one of the terraces overlooking the sea at Acapulco. The menu: raw fish marinated in lemon and tomatoes. Delicious. I don't remember the rest.

Having suggested we brush our teeth in mineral water to avoid catching anything, Luis Buñuel talked to me about my film Le Bonheur, which he'd just seen at the festival. He liked the colours, the cruelty, the dangerous suavity etc.

I was delighted, but also scarlet with embarrassment. Jacques smiled at my discomfort, and I managed to interrupt Buñuel and ask him about his films. Having read and liked the Surrealists well before I (belatedly) started going to the cinema, Un Chien Andalou and L'Age d'Or had the effect of a time-bomb on me. I told him this. It still amuses me to think back to this dinner, to my sudden fever, my Buñuelesque delirium, and to the stories I've just paraphrased. Anything goes when it comes to thinking about Buñuel.

The exaggeration – to my eyes – of Gaston Modot's revolted gaze (eyes raised to heaven when he feels desire), the sensation of Lya Lys sucking the toe of a statue (do M. and Mme Ussé have a son? What's his name? James), the clumsiness of the couple trying to kiss on a park bench and falling on to the gravel, the girl slapping the lubricious old man (between two bars of music) ... The pallor, the semi-staccato rhythm and the light vagueness all help me tackle A Thousand and One Nights, my next film. Monsieur Cinéma, whom I've invented and am now describing, is nearly a hundred years old. But when one asks his age, he always replies: 'L'âge d'or'.

And I shall quickly return to him, leaving without further ado the writers, artisans and technicians of Positif, to whom I address a smiling farewell – like Buster Keaton raising his hand to say goodbye and immediately coming a cropper off-screen (now there's another sublime film-maker whose appeal never fades!).