Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Buñuel's "The Exterminating Angel" - a personal analysis

My newest publication is my first non-fiction book: "Buñuel's The Exterminating Angel: a personal analysis" which is published by RoosterVision in both (reasonably priced) print and kindle editions. As usual on publication, I'm blogging a few thoughts as to how the book came about for those who might be interested.

The writer, Chris Kelso (also commissioning editor for this film book line), contacted me in May 2016 to ask whether I'd be interested in writing a short non-fiction piece about a movie that I love and had influenced my work. The remit was for it not to be an academic piece, but an informal appreciation. It would probably be useful in this part of the blog to quote from a recent Black Static interview where Pete Tennant asked me the self-same question:

Pete: "Why did you choose to write about Bunuel’s The Exterminating Angel? What is its appeal to you? Why do you feel it is an important film? And can you identify any echoes of TEA in your own work?"

My reply: "I was approached by Chris Kelso – the commissioning editor for the RoosterVision imprint – to see whether I would be interested in writing a film book from a purely personal perspective, about influences and resonances, rather than something academic. Whilst I’m not drawn to non-fiction, the project appealed to me as a film fan, and immediately a handful of films shot to mind – Donnie Darko, Mulholland Drive, Le Mepris, amongst them. But Buñuel had been my first introduction to both foreign and surrealist cinema, and of his movies The Exterminating Angel is my favourite.
"The central premise, of a group of socialites who find themselves unable to leave a room after a soiree following an opera despite there being no physical impediment in doing so, struck a chord with me in the way I find surrealism often does – it triggers a little receptor at the back of my mind which gives me joy. It’s as simple as that. You could say it is undoubtedly a horror film, a genuinely nightmarish situation which wouldn’t be out of place as a Twilight Zone episode. I would have seen this as part of a BBC2 retrospective as an impressionable teenager, and the surrealist juxtaposition of strangeness and familiarity is certainly something prevalent in my work and possibly influenced by that movie. Many of my genre stories tether normalcy to the weird, and this is explicit in The Exterminating Angel. The film never bores me and rewards repeated viewings. It’s a quintessential surrealist movie, although not everyone’s cup of tea. And in a reality imitating fiction scenario I’m attending an operatic adaptation in London this May. It will be interesting to see if I can leave the Royal Opera House after the performance."

When the opportunity arose, I spent some time watching and re-watching the movie, consulted the reference books on Buñuel that I already had, and also bought a few which I knew specifically referenced the film. Especially useful was a copy of the screenplay, which I used extensively to plot the film for those who might not have seen it, and also some pointers to reference material from an old friend of mine, Dr Steven Allen, who teaches on the Film Studies and Media Studies programmes at the University of Winchester. Having amassed a reasonable amount of material I then spun my own interpretation, linking surrealism with punk, providing a (very) brief overview of surrealist cinema and a micro-bio of Buñuel's career, and ended with some thoughts on other movies that might have been influenced by The Exterminating Angel (whether consciously or subconsciously or collective-consciously, either in style, plot, or other similarities), and also some musings on how viewing the film at an impressionable age has no doubt permeated my own fiction.

Hopefully, the result is a readable, personal engagement which will encourage those who haven't seen the movie to do so, and will also - for those who already have - provide a somewhat alternative appreciation of this classic film.

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