Conversations with Buñuel
Interviews with the Filmmaker, Family Members, Friends and Collaborators
This book is exhausting. This doesn’t mean it’s a bad book. Not at all. But for the general reader, especially the casual reader, it soon becomes tough sledding. Any meaningful appreciation of this book requires a relevant interest in, and a concrete review of, surrealism and the surrealists; world cinema—especially of the experimental kind; Spanish politics of the 1930s and 1940s with a focus on the Spanish Civil War; and Spanish expatriates living in Mexico. Curiosity concerning the lives of Buñuel’s associates, colleagues, collaborators, foes, friends and lovers would also help. A fondness for Buñuel’s Un Chien andalou, L’Age d’or, Belle de Jour and Le Charme discret de la burgeoisis is more-or-less mandatory. To give an idea of where this is going, consider the 16 pages of notes in 6 point type, a 1-page bibliography, and the 8-page index that includes, randomly selected, Paul Eluard, Salvador Dalí, Edgar Varèse, the Virgin Mary, William Prendergast, Fatty Arbuckle, Dwight Eisenhower, Albert Einstein, and Panchita Homs.
Conversations’ exhaustiveness derives from the intent, conception, execution of the book—and the fixation, persistence, thoroughness, and grit of the novelist and critic Max Aub (1903–1972). It also stems from the fact that after years of gathering material, much of it on cassette tapes (“an invention that was just taking off in popularity” according to the editor Ms. Jones), Aub died before he began sorting and editing his interviews with Buñuel and the others. This “unenviable” task was left to his son-in-law, Federico Àlvarez, who had to deal with “five thousand or so typed pages, copious hand-written folios and a healthy assortment of ephemera.” For the casual reader, the finished product, this book, becomes a book for browsing. And there is much to be gained in doing so. Conversations is filled with notable facts, insights, and history. To begin at page 1 and soldier on to page 278, however, is asking a lot. And, to complicate matters, there are problems with veracity. In the course of one interview, Aub suggests to Buñuel that “about eighty per cent of what you’re telling me is true.”
As said earlier, this book is not for the casual reader, and it may even be a bit much for any hardcore movie buff. It is a work of scholarship, lovingly and professionally produced, and, as such, should be on the MDS 791shelf of every library everywhere. Whether it should be on your bookshelf—well, we leave that up to you.
Copyright 2018, Bill Wolf (speedreaders.info).