Start > Ausstellungen > The Sting of the Scorpion. A cadavre exquis based on Luis Buñuel's L’Âge d’Or | DEUTSCH

Museum Villa Stuck Museum Villa Stuck

The Sting of the Scorpion

About the exhibition

The six artists and or artist-groups participating in the exhibition The Sting of the Scorpion engage with Buñuel’s radical film L’Âge d’Or, each from their respective artistic viewpoint. The processes involved are the result of an intense exchange between the artists which began during a joint stay at the Spanish locations where L’Âge d’Or was filmed.

The artists focus anew on, and reassess current socio-dynamic developments by means of back references to that icon of Surrealism. This is tangible in an exhibition, which attempts a balancingact between six totally different artistic works and a comprehensive group project designed to interrelate them. The presentation of the individual film contributions in installation form is woven into an exhibition in which reworked cinema seats give the impression of a fragmented cinema. This referencing of L’Âge d’Or spurs a revaluation of the film, especially as it was prohibited from being shown for 50 years and during that time was only seen secretly in avant-garde circles. It also enables a new view of the potential of international exchange between artists, when it comes to observing social issues.

L'Âge d'Or by Luis Buñuel

“For me, bourgeois morality is immorality and has to be combated; that morality is based on our extremely unjust social institutions, such as religion, fatherland, family, culture, in other words what are generally called the pillars of society.” (Luis Buñuel)

Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí got to know one another in Madrid in the mid-1920s when living in the students residence Residencia de Estudiantes. Along with numerous other inhabitants of that residence, they engaged in a lively intellectual exchange that was to shape a whole generation. Among them were the writer Federico Garcia Lorca and the biochemist Severo Ochoa. The starting shot for a joint film, Un chien andalou, was fired in 1928 in Dali’s hometown of Figueres, in northern Spain. The first public showing of that film, the first filmic highpoint of Surrealism, was in April 1929.

L’Âge d’Or marked a continuation of the collaboration between Dalí and Buñuel. After the quarrel between them, however, Buñuel completed the film on his own. Vicomte de Noailles supported the film production, allowing Buñuel every freedom. An extensive correspondence testifies to the lively exchange between Buñuel and de Noailles. Work on the film began in 1929 and the locations chosen were on the northern Spanish coast, near Figueres, and in France. The film was premiered at Studio 28 in Paris in 1930. After a few sold-out showings, right-wing radicals stormed the cinema in December 1930 and destroyed an accompanying exhibition of works by numerous Surrealist artists. The French police confiscated the film, which was then prohibited. It was the 1980s before it could be shown again in public.

L’Âge d’Or begins in the style of a documentary. Buñuel uses archive material and subheadings in which he refers to the French entomologist Jean-Henri Fabre (1823–1915) so as to illustrate the modus vivendi of the scorpion. This beginning is strange and aggressive in tone and establishes the basic tenor of the whole film. In the following scene the viewer is confronted with a group of bishops celebrating mass on a barren island. In a brief intermezzo a group of bandits appears, the leader of which is played by Max Ernst. Right after this scene, the skeletons of the church representatives unexpectedly come into view in their splendid but hollow outfits. Then a party of dignitaries in opulent clothing populates the island so as to hold a joint ceremony. The two main protagonists then appear and disturb the scenario: the couple, Gaston Modot and Lya Lys, engage loudly in love play regardless of the people around them. The dignitaries are indignant, the couple are separated, and Modot is led off.

“Buñuel included everything he hated in this sequence, which is an inextricable conglomeration of hypocritical and bigoted bourgeois types, phony nationalism, and of course institutionalized Catholicism as the ideological superstructure. In what follows, the film will attack this established bourgeoisie with growing acerbity.” (Siegfried König)

With the appearance of Modot and Lys, viewers find themselves in the midst of an amour fou which determines the film’s subsequent scenes: another festive group of people in a splendid mansion. Prior to this, Modot is busy trying to free himself from the hands of his guards, having previously flown into a blind rage, mistreating a blind man with blows and kicking a dog on the footpath. During the festivities the lovers try to come together again, ignoring conventions and bourgeois propriety and driven by mad lust and passion. There is tumult in the mansion, a child is shot, and Lys’s mother, who is a marquise, is slapped in the face. Whereas the people from “higher circles” gathered there accept the murder of the child by its father, a gamekeeper, without being moved in any way, their indignation at the slap in the face of the marquise is enormous.

In the next scene, the lovers fail once again to consummate their spiritual and sexual desires. Buñuel presents this failure of love, of extreme passion, in the almost caricatural form of an attempt on both their parts to touch or kiss one another. This failure is underscored by surreal images of physical injuries, hands with no fingers―desire comes to nothing. The man is called away while his lover can only console herself with the toe of a statue in a park, which she sucks passionately. Modot’s behavior turns aggressive again, he destroys his room by setting it on fire, throws a bishop, cushions, a burning tree and a (cloth) giraffe out the window.

The last scene refers to 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade. Subheadings announce that a forty-day orgy at Chateau de Selligny ended with the death of eight young maidens. Men stagger out the gate exhausted, followed by a pale, clearly enraptured Christ figure. The final image in the film consists of a crucifix with the scalps of the murdered maidens. Once again, and more harshly than in the prior scenes, Buñuel launches an attack on the church, on the hypocritical Catholicism which had left such an impression on him from his childhood.

L'Âge d'Or, France 1930, 35mm, duration 63 minutes.
Screenplay: Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalì
Director: Luis Buñuel
Production: Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles
Camera: Albert Duverger
Music: Georges van Parys (Mendelssohn, Beethoven, Debussy, Wagner, Paso Doble and the Trommeln von Calanda, Aragon)
Starring: Gaston Modot (the man), Lya Lys (the woman), Germaine Noizet (marquise), Ibañez (marquis), Lionel Salem (Duc de Blangis), Caridad de Laberdesque (maid), Max Ernst (leader of the bandits), Pierre Prévert (Péman) and many others.
First showing: June 30, 1930 in the rooms of Charles und Marie-Laure de Noailles
First showing to invited guests: October 22, 1930, Cinéma Le Panthéon, Paris
First public showing: November 28, to December 10, 1930, Studio 28, Paris
The original copy of the film has been in the stocks of the Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, since 1989.

The film will be shown on Thursday, May 1, 2014, at 7 p.m. in the Filmmuseum München.
Program: L’Âge d’Or (The Golden Age), F 1930, Luis Buñuel, 63 minutes (original with Engl. subtitles) and Dreams that money can buy, USA 1947, Hans Richter, 83 minutes (original), with an introduction by M+M.