Flitterman-Lewis's article analyzes the underlying theory of Surrealism as it is manifested in film. She focuses on The Seashell and the Clergyman directed by Germaine Dulac in 1928 and based on a scenario written by Antonin Artaud (which was based on the dream of a friend, Yvonne Allendy.) "To be sure, Artaud's selection of Dulac as the person capable of transforming his written text into cinematic images was not arbitrary: both the poet and the filmmaker had long been preoccupied with questions of a visual language...For Dulac, whose Symbolist antecedents led her to regard the cinematic image as the site of a fusion, the film was conceived as a condensation of associations whose gradual accretion of meaning allowed the story to proceed, image by image, in a chain of metaphors. In direct contrast to this fluid sliding of images, Artaud's conception was based on the Surrealist principles of displacement and dissociative juxtaposition, emphasizing instead the films liberating assault on the continuity system of traditional narrative" (Flitterman-Lewis 110-1). Artaud's conception of the Surrealist capabilities of film emphasized immersing the viewer into an experience, as in a dream, that not only affected the viewer on a subconscious level, but also required his or her participation in that experience. Artaud was dissatisfied with the film, allegedly shouting expletives directed at the film and Dulac herself (who had not allowed Artaud to participate in the artistic direction of the film or offer clarifications of the intentions of his scenario) and participating in the subsequent rioting which forced the showing to end. Flitterman-Lewis argues that Artaud's frustration was fueled by Dulac's inability to convey more than the material, visual qualities of a dream without creating the experience of a dream. Although Artaud was disappointed with the final film, he still acknowledged it's status as the first Surrealist film, writing to his editor, “[C]riticism, if there still is such a thing, must recognize the hereditary derivation of all these films [Surrealist films, specifically Buñuel's L'Age d'or and Cocteau's Blood of a Poet], and say that they ALL come from The Seashell and the Clergyman...Seashell was certainly the first film of the genre [Surrealist film], and its precursor" (Flitterman-Lewis 112).
Artaud's theory of how Surrealism should be established in film offer's a good framework for evaluating whether The Seashell and the Clergyman should be considered the first Surrealist film. Despite his own misgivings about the film, he considers it to be the first (if Flitterman-Lewis did not take much liberty of judgment in her use of brackets), a good starting point for evaluation. He advocates the use of juxtaposed, seemingly unconnected images meant to surprise the audience and force them to consider the logical connection (or lack thereof) between those images. Techniques such as superimposition, split shots, lighting, and editing should be used to break down the constructed materiality of the world into the materiality of the dream world wherein objects flowed into each other and actors. Indeed these techniques are utilized not only in Dulac's film, but in subsequent Surrealist films such as Un chien andalou, L'Age d'or, and Blood of a Poet as well as modern Surrealist films.
Flitterman-Lewis, Sandy. Dada and Surrealist Film. Ed. Rudolf E. Kuenzli. New York: MIT P, 1996. 110-24.
“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.
Erin Foster's article gives a brief history of Surrealism in cinema beginning with the desire of French filmmakers in the avant-garde movement to establish itself against Hollywood, the role of Impressionism and Dada in the years before Surrealist cinema, and then focusing on a few directors (such as Dulac and Buñuel and Dalí) and a few films (such as The Seashell and the Clergyman, Un chien andalou, and later films). She writes that The Seashell and the Clergyman was the only screenplay of his scenarios that Artaud completed and he deposited it at a film institute because he lacked the money to produce it himself where it was picked up by Dulac. “The surrealists considered Dulac, who was already well established in the Parisian avant-garde film community, to be strictly impressionist—too loyal to traditions of naturalism and symbolism for their liking” however “Dulac followed Artaud's script closely in her 1928 film, only changing a few practical elements when necessary” (Foster). Foster comments as well on Artaud's rejection of Dulac's film as “a distortion of his theories on surrealism” but does not mention his subsequent acknowledgement of it as the first Surrealist film. Foster also adds later that “Though the surrealists themselves rejected the film, most critics today consider La Coquille et le Clergyman to be the first surrealist film”.
Foster's article adds another layer of complexity to an attempt to discern whether The Seashell and the Clergyman should be considered the first Surrealist film: the rejection of contemporary Surrealists despite it's characterization by modern critics. The analysis in the works by Flitterman-Lewis and Williams revealed that not only did Dulac's movie fulfill some of the basic elements of Surrealist films, namely in its characterization of a dream as well as its attempt to create a participatory experience for the viewer, it was also accepted as Artaud as the first Surrealist film regardless of his own dissatisfaction with it. The film satisfies these criteria, but how should the perception of other Surrealists who denied it's status as Surrealist play into this evaluation? Here Artaud's own reactions should be considered as he was a Surrealist. His initial rejection of the film is overshadowed by his later acceptance of it (perhaps in the vein of conflicting, surprising messages that permeated Surrealist work) as the first Surrealist film. Ultimately, the question becomes one of criteria: should the evaluation of modern critics based on theories of Surrealism in art be valued more than the seemingly arbitrary (at the time, Artaud was the only one who had written a somewhat comprehensive theory of Surrealist cinema; see Flitterman-Lewis) evaluation of contemporary Surrealists? In the end, Artaud's own evaluation based on the methods and goals of later Surrealist films and that of modern critics is more convincing than that of contemporary Surrealists who, as Artaud illustrates, have a conflicting record of what they consider to be Surrealist cinema.
Foster, Erin. "Surrealism: Surrealist Film." 2008. Film Reference. 24 Nov. 2008 <http://www.filmreference.com/encyclopedia/romantic-comedy-yugoslavia/surrealism-surrealist-cinema.html>.
“Artaud’s film theory extends directly from his philosophical views. He believed that, in establishing and expanding civilisation, humankind has fabricated a spiritless, material world in which to exist. Consequently, we have repressed our primitive instincts and lost contact with our spiritual senses. With the development of film as a serious art form in 1920s France, Artaud saw an opportunity to hijack the medium, to use it as a tool with which to pierce the ‘skin’ of civilised reality. Thus, Artaud gave his cinema a purpose, outflanking the prized entertainment values of the 1920s film industry” (Jamieson). Jamieson's article begins with a lengthy analysis of the interaction between Artaud's personal philosophy and his theory of film, exploring both his rejection of cinema's focuses on visual presentation and entertainment as devoid of emotion and purpose and his desire to give film a new purpose as a means of reconnecting with our primitive selves and instincts. He viewed the world as a material construction of humans and art as a means of deconstructing this world and giving to it a portion of the artist's essence. He believed that visual representations often failed because they did not retain the energy of the originating thought, but sought a method of avoiding this short-fall through film.
In his section on The Seashell and the Clergyman, Jamieson provides a clear contextualization of its place in the surrealist film world and establishes it as the basis for later surrealist films: “Artaud’s scenario for The Seashell and the Clergyman set the groundwork for subsequent surrealist film initiatives and was the first to develop many of the æsthetic principles typical of the movement. Reportedly, Buñuel had seen Artaud and Dulac’s film whilst preparing for Un chien andalou and, interestingly, both films share similar cinematic devices. Both films employ disruptive temporal structures that unfold with the fabric of a dream and incorporate visual shocks designed to impact viscerally upon the viewer”. This provides two important points for an evaluation of The Seashell and the Clergyman's place in film history: first, it establishes a derivative quality to Un chien andalou, argued by many to be the actual first Surrealist film; second, it sets up the unique ability and methods of film that enable Surrealist film makers to create dream worlds and viscerally impact its viewers. If the debate over which is the first Surrealist film can be reduced to a comparison of The Seashell and the Clergman and Un chien andalou, Jamieson provides a good body of evidence in support of Dulac's film.
Jamieson, Lee. "The Lost Prophet of Cinema: The Film Theory of Antonin Artaud." Senses of Cinema Inc. 27 Nov. 2008 .