See the moving picture


The Fine Art of Incongruity and Mayhem

Onésime aime les bêtes (Onésime Loves Animals)

Jean Durand, Gaumont, France, 1913

The shot on the left, from Onésime aime les bêtes (Onesime Loves Animals), suggests at least three reasons why the writers and artists of the French surrealist movement admired the antics of the character created by director Jean Durand and actor Ernest Bourbon. For one thing, the surrealists delighted in even the most elementary incongruity—the appearance, for example, of barnyard animals in a fashionable bourgeois drawing room. Second, they loved the cinema itself because it exalted material reality—images of real people and objects in physical motion—above mere abstract concepts. As a result, they perceived value in cinematic images which invited viewers to consider the significance of any subject matter (including donkeys and chickens) that didn’t ordinarily prompt people to get lost in abstractions. Finally, because animals tend mindlessly to obey nature rather than mindless middle-class rules, they were appropriate vehicles of disorder and freedom from conventional strictures of behavior. (For a more detailed discussion of the surrealists’ taste in movies, see Reading 9.1.)

Onésime a un duel à l’américaine

Jean Durand, Gaumont, France, 1912

By and large, Onésime was more than capable of leaving a material and symbolic mess in his wake without the help of beasts. In Onésime a un duel à l’américaine (right), the hero and his adversary, having squabbled over a newspaper in a reading room, arrange a duel. They start out in an empty park but eventually, having fortified themselves with plenty of drink, invade and destroy a posh dining room and a dainty bakery before they’re arrested and tossed in jail, where they proceed to laugh off the entire affair.

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