A Shortage of Culture

By Henry P. Raleigh
ART TIMES online June 2010


Ever the film scholar, I ran across a critical essay written by Luis Buñel (An Unspeakable Betrayal—Selected writings) titled, ‘Abel Gance’s “Napoléon”’ published in 1927. I was surprised to find Mr. Buñel praising American Film here, going so far as to state that the Americans have a better feel for the cinema than do the Europeans. Elsewhere in his reviews he writes of the American style: vitality, cinematic essence, photographic charm, primitive ingenuity, and a shortage of culture—the last a plus, too much culture can be stifling. He was particularly delighted with Buster Keaton’s movies as well as those of Chaplain and Harry Langdon. Now Mr. Buñel is one of the world’s great filmmakers, a force in the Surrealist movement, renowned for his use of absurdity in his films so maybe he was just kidding around when he wrote this about American cinema. After all, in that very same year he published an enthusiastic piece on Adolph Menjou’s mustache which makes you think the whole thing is but the youthful pranking of a 27-year old budding genius. On the other hand, I guess Buster Keaton can look pretty good after being swamped by over five hours on triple screen of Abel Gance’s “Napoléon.”
            Would Mr. Buñel feel the same way about American film if he was alive and 27 today? I figure our shortage of culture might not look so desirable, although it’s most likely stuck right where it was in 1927. And what about that ‘ol cinematic essence which has been largely traded in for CGI and that kind of whirlwind editing that would have turned Abel Gance green with envy? Would Mr. Buñel find primitive ingenuity in our penchant for films about vampires and over sexed teenagers, or photographic charm in our hi-tech recording of blood-letting and general dismemberment of bodies? Of course, I haven’t been 27 years old in sometime and perhaps its possible at that age to see Adam Sandler as a cinematic revolutionary and cliché sodden films as “Paranormal Activity” as the height of creative originality. So OK, it might be nice to go back to those innocent days, still I wouldn’t care to pay such a price for it.