Inez Hedges's review of Linda Williams's book Figures of Desire: A Theory and Analysis of Surrealist Film argues that Williams's analysis of only films “that were a historical part of the surrealist movement and were developed in direct contact with surrealist theory” (824) works well as a method of analyzing Surrealist cinema. Williams uses Un chien andalou as a case study for analyzing the relationship between images and desire in Surrealist works and delves into the methods used by Buñuel to “[place] the viewer's experience in the uneasy zone between the imaginary and the symbolic, and [force] a confrontation with the very psychic energy that enables [him or] her to enjoy films," a method she views as common in Surrealist films' attempts to “[break] up the spectator's process of identification with the characters” (825). She goes further in this analysis concluding that the film “sets up a conventional narrative space and then violates it, leaving the spectator especially vulnerable to the surrealist message" (Hedges 825) and then extends this analysis to other films such as Le Fantôme de la liberté, Cet obscur objet du désir, and L'Age d'or.
Hedges's article provides a means of clarifying Linda Williams's theory of Surrealist film goals and practices combined with Flitterman-Lewis's writings on Artaud's intentions enable a better analysis of The Seashell and the Clergyman and its place in Surrealist film history. Flitterman-Lewis argues that Artaud's main objection to Dulac's film was the lack of an experience forced upon the viewer. This experience, in the view of Williams, results from the lack of character identification; without being able to identify with a character in the film and thus experience the thoughts, actions, feelings, and ideas (or as Williams would characterize them, desires) of that character, the viewer is forced into his or her own experience, one which requires the viewer to interpret, experience, and judge events and actions in the film rather than relying on characters to do so. Flitterman-Lewis outlines common techniques used to establish this situation (superimposition, split shots, lighting, etc.) and provides an analysis of how The Seashell and the Clergyman also establishes such a situation. Therefore, by examining Williams's theory and Flitterman-Lewis's evaluations of Artaud and the film, it is possible to construct a framework for evaluating what constitutes a Surrealist film and whether or not The Seashell and the Clergyman fits into that framework (an argument which Flitterman-Lewis makes well when it is placed into Williams's theoretical framework.)
Hedges, Inez. "Review: [untitled]." The French Review 59 (1986): 824-25.
“In keeping with the principal tenets of surrealism, Artaud would claim that art is a real experience that goes far beyond human understanding and attempts to reach a metaphysical truth. The artist is always a man inspired who reveals a new aspect of the world” (Fowlie). Fowlie's biographical account of Artaud's life and his theories of theater reveal much about his beliefs on Surrealism. In addition to seeing the potential for a new type of theatre in the French movements of his time, Artaud also spent a number of years in a sanitorium and while Fowlie makes no connection between this and Artaud's theory of surrealism, an examination of that theory strongly implies a connection to a confusing world where the interpretations of others did not match what Artaud himself must have been experiencing at the time. Artaud's theory of Surrealism centered on dream worlds and the idea that art should be a collaboration between artist and viewer, requiring the viewer to play a role in creating the experience as much as the artist does. Artaud's theory began in theatre and focused on the use of speech and gesticulation as well as the content and scenery of the play: everything played a role in creating the experience.
Thus, it is easy to see the jump between Artaud's theory of Surrealist theatre and Surrealist film, both of which contain not only the spatial elements of other forms of art, but temporal elements and the ability to manipulate them. Film offered one potential advantage over theatre: the ability to control temporal aspects more tightly and cleanly than theatre. Artaud became devoted to his theory, obsessing over a multitude of things, including the theatre. “However one interprets the terrifying obsessions of Artaud, they allowed him to see into unusual depths of the human mind, where he claimed the eternal questions on life and death are clearly visible” (Fowlie). He rebelled against morality and rationality as constructs of humans in a material world and thus obsessed over the dream world where such things did not exist. These obsessions can be seen in The Seashell and the Clergyman: a priest erotically obsessed with a woman consistently sees her in various situations in his blurred, dimly lit, and confusing dream world. The obvious immorality of a man sworn to celibacy obsessing over a woman is combined with the irrationality of a dream wherein the man seemingly has no control over the course of events and is subjected to a number of random, inexplicable visions and experiences.
Dionysus in Paris. Wallace Fowlie. New York: Meridian Books, Inc., 1960. p. 203-209.
Linda William's article reviews Steven Kovàcs's book From Enchantment to Rage: The Story of Surrealist Cinema and offers a method of examining the history of Surrealist cinema, namely “a return to the history of Surrealism proper: how the Surrealist poets and artists in the main phase of the movement (1923-1930) turned their talent and energy to film; how their painting, photography, and poetry found new forms of expression in this emerging art; the development of this new aesthetics of film from the 'enchantment' of the early twenties to the 'rage' typified by the 1930 L'Age d'or" (Williams 41). William's chastises Kovàcs's lack of significant analysis of the role of dreams in Surrealist film, an element she views as extremely important to understanding the goals of the movement. To illustrate this point, she takes the example of Kovàcs's examination of Dalí and Buñuel: "the issue points out a problem in the book's general approach: an assessment of Surrealist cinema is not a question of sorting out individual personalities and their contributions. If Surrealism deserves its 'ism' then there is something more to Buñuel and Dalí's collaboration than the fortuitous encounter of two individual psychic obsessions. To my mind that something is to be found in the formal procedures of the unconscious which Buñuel and Dalí so brilliantly adapted to the creation of their films" (Williams 42).
Williams's review offers two important tools for the examination of The Seashell and the Clergyman: first, she argues that an examination of the history of Surrealist film should focus on how Surrealist artists turned their ideas into film and how film enabled a method of expression unavailable in other art forms; and second, she highlights the importance of dreams, their structure, and their natural functioning and the role they played in the making of Surrealist films. The first tool lends more analysis to Flitterman-Lewis's examination of Artaud's paradoxical claim that The Seashell and the Clergyman was the first surrealist film despite his insistence that Dulac failed to recreate more than the material appearance of construction of dreams, without expressing an experience of dreaming. William's method of analysis would factor in the exclusion of Artaud from the artistic direction of the film, separating Artaud from the ability to express through film and leaving it entirely up to Dulac. To resolve this seeming paradox, the only logical conclusion must be that Artaud found the film to be an adequate Surrealist expression of the dream, though it was not an interpretation true to his understanding and visualization of the scenario. Williams places the “main phase” of the movement within the period 1923-30, ending just after The Seashell and the Clergyman and Un chien andalou were made, thus reinforcing Flitterman-Lewis's agument that Dulac and Artaud's film was the first Surrealist film due to the amount in terms of technique and means of expression that later movies would borrow from it.
Williams, Linda. "From Enchantment to Rage: The Story of Surrealist Cinema." Film Quarterly 34 (1981): 41-42.