The Red Years, 1929–1939
Publication Year: 2012
The turbulent years of the 1930s were of profound importance in the life of Spanish film director Luis Buñuel (1900–1983). He joined the Surrealist movement in 1929 but by 1932 had renounced it and embraced Communism. During the Spanish Civil War (1936–39), he played an integral role in disseminating film propaganda in Paris for the Spanish Republican cause.
Luis Buñuel: The Red Years, 1929–1939 investigates Buñuel’s commitment to making the politicized documentary Land without Bread (1933) and his key role as an executive producer at Filmófono in Madrid, where he was responsible in 1935–36 for making four commercial features that prefigure his work in Mexico after 1946. As for the republics of France and Spain between which Buñuel shuttled during the 1930s, these became equally embattled as left and right totalitarianisms fought to wrest political power away from a debilitated capitalism.
Where it exists, the literature on this crucial decade of the film director’s life is scant and relies on Buñuel’s own self-interested accounts of that complex period. Román Gubern and Paul Hammond have undertaken extensive archival research in Europe and the United States and evaluated Buñuel’s accounts and those of historians and film writers to achieve a portrait of Buñuel’s “Red Years” that abounds in new information.
Published by: University of Wisconsin Press
Series: Wisconsin Film Studies
Title Page, Copyright
List of Illustrations
List of Abbreviations
The political earthquake of the First World War, one of whose seismic shocks was the Russian Revolution of October 1917, gave rise, following the peace of Versailles, to new currents of thought that would help to profoundly alter the intellectual map of Europe’s developed societies. At the time it went...
1. The Militant Surrealist
The appearance of Un chien andalou on the Paris intellectual scene was a bombshell for many, not least for the Surrealist Group around André Breton. The film was screened at an invitation-only session at the Studio des Ursulines art house on 6 June 1929, and its showing was tantamount to the...
2. The Production of L’Âge
In his capacity as an unofficial agent for chien andalou Christian Zervos, the editor of Cahiers d’Art, would introduce the debutant director to the fabulously wealthy Viscount Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles after the exclusive Studio des Ursulines session on 6 June 1929. Renowned for their...
3. A Fecund Scandal
Intent on showing L’Âge d’or privately to their aristocratic and intellectual friends for a month, as stipulated in their November 1929 contract with Buñuel, the Noailles had installed sound equipment in their home cinema in May–June 1930. The first group of spectators to see the sound print there were...
4. A Brief Stay in Hollywood
Opening at the Madeleine-Cinéma in Paris on 13 November 1928 was White Shadows of the South Seas, a romantic, anticolonialist MGM movie set on a Polynesian island, which would captivate Dalí—as he declared in an article in the Barcelona daily paper La Publicitat—Buñuel, and the Surrealists as...
5. The Coming of the Spanish Second Republic
Having crossed the Atlantic with the unruly Buñuel on board, the Lafayette docked on 1 April 1931 in Le Havre, where he had filmed the final sequence of Un chien andalou two years before. This destination may have seemed a symbolic link hinting at the continuity of his career in a Surrealist vein, but the...
6. A Stormy Year
When Buñuel declined to travel with Louis Aragon and Elsa Triolet to the Soviet Union in August 1930, his decision had two consequences. First, he left the door open for MGM’s future summons to Hollywood, with its ensuing deception in terms of his ambitions as an “anti-artistic” movie director....
7. Time-Serving at Paramount-Joinville
When it came to the rather unproductive phase that followed the repression of his second film and his separation from the Surrealist Group, Buñuel wrote in the July 1939 autobiography he drafted in the United States: “To earn a living I began to collaborate anonymously in my profession, entering as a writer...
8. The Mutations of L’Âge d’or and Other Projects
On 22 September 1930, a month before the private première of L’Âge d’or at the Cinéma du Panthéon, Charles de Noailles wrote a breezy letter to Dalí that began with his thanks for the photos of the fisherman’s cottage in Port Lligat that Salvador and Gala had bought with the monthly stipend...
9. From Las Hurdes to Terre sans pain
Las Hurdes (or Jurdes), a wild and mountainous region in the province of Cáceres at the northern tip of Extremadura, abutting on to Portugal and with some fifty centers of population, has traditionally occupied a special place in the Spanish popular imagination as a source of both attraction—...
10. Dubbing at Warner Bros.
By mid-1934 Luis Buñuel’s cinematic status in Spain was that of a living, if somewhat outlandish, legend. Though adored by a small minority of cinephiles, because of his lack of activity as a filmmaker the niche he occupied was becoming clogged with dust. Perhaps due to Dalí’s intervention,...
11. Commerce, Art, and Politics
Prior to the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Luis Buñuel worked closely with the engineer and impresario Ricardo Urgoiti Somovilla in his cinematic activities, activities that culminated in the production of four featurelength movies for Urgoiti’s company, Filmófono. The son of Nicolás María de...
The following year, on 10 April 1940, during his encounter with the students of Columbia University, Iris Barry asked him, “How about your commercial films?” Buñuel replied in somewhat erratic English that he’d produced several, “the most awful ones,” although he admitted that they had met with a lot of...
13. The Outbreak of the Spanish Civil War
Three weeks before the elections of 16 February 1936 that led to the triumph of the Frente Popular, a meeting was held in Madrid between the Socialist leader Francisco Largo Caballero and the Communist Jesús Hernández with a view to creating a revolutionary Marxist party. This was the clearest...
14. A Two-Year Mission in Paris
In the beginning, Buñuel’s mission to the French capital was as makeshift as the Propaganda Section of the Spanish Ministry of State Education and Fine Arts that sent him there in September 1936. In an interview four months later he recalled the Republican authorities suggesting in August that...
15. Final Flight to the United States
With Negrín’s assumption of the presidency in May 1937, Buñuel’s team would be extended to include his old friend Rafael Sánchez Ventura, assistant director on Terre sans pain, who arrived as a cultural attaché and secretary at the embassy in June. Since the beginning of the Civil War, Sánchez Ventura,...