Imps of the Perverse

Buñuel was a youthful fan of American slapstick, and wherever this prankish Spaniard went and whatever he did, he never ceased to thumb his nose at bourgeois convention. His oeuvre is an ongoing private joke: "I'm an atheist . . . Thank God!" Hitchcock delighted in manipulating the audience; Buñuel was satisfied with amusing himself. Even his weakest movies are a trove of casual blasphemies, perverse details, and irrational asides. (Thanks to these trademarks, there may be no auteur more recognizable or dearer to the adolescent cinephile.)

The retro's first week includes movies that the young Buñuel admired or worked on as an assistant director. Un Chien Andalou is paired with its even more outrageous follow-up, L'Age d'Or. There's also Regarding Buñuel, a fond documentary portrait that shows the artist as weirdly staid, convivial yet compulsive, with a ritualistic fondness for martinis and mischief. The second week showcases what might be termed Buñuel's Communist period. These films include the incendiary documentary Las Hurdes, produced in Spain's most backward region, the little-seen Spanish Civil War agitprop España, and the four almost unknown features he supervised in Republican Spain. Buñuel (who was most likely a member of the French CP from 1929 to 1938) always dismissed this work, although in Regarding Buñuel, it is recalled that he referred to this period as the "happiest" of his life.

An antifascist refugee in the U.S., Buñuel failed to catch on in Hollywood, although he did spend three years working for MOMA's film department, where, among other things, he reedited the short version of Triumph of the Will, which the museum distributes to this day. Resigning before he could be outed as a red, Buñuel reestablished himself in the relative obscurity of the Mexican movie industry, grinding out hilariously subversive potboilers throughout the 1950s before his triumphant return to European art cinema. These Mexican features will be showing through Christmas, and in some respects they seem like Buñuel's greatest work. As his longtime collaborator Jean-Claude Carrière puts it in Regarding Buñuel: "He wanted his films to have the power of strangeness without themselves being strange."

Either/orifice: Lee on Kim in Lies
photo: Offline Releasing
Either/orifice: Lee on Kim in Lies


Written and directed by Jang Sun Woo, from the novel Tell Me a Lie by Jang Jung Il
An Offline release
Screening Room
Opens November 17

Luis Buuel: A Retrospective
Museum of Modern Art
Through January 2

Little Nicky
Directed by Steven Brill
Written by Brill, Adam Sandler, and Tim Herlihy
A New Line release

Given its Satanic premise, Little Nicky—the latest and most elaborate vehicle for reigning box-office monster Adam Sandler—is a relatively painless pop culture eyesore. Indeed, in some respects, this special-effects comedy (really a live-action cartoon), in which Sandler plays the spawn of the devil on the loose in contemporary Manhattan, may be the most sensible Hollywood attempt to cash in on millennial jitters. The gags are plenty vulgar but not too degrading; the requisite racial vaudeville and gay-baiting never get grossly out of hand.

Rigorous in its arrested development, Sandler's own performance is fairly self-effacing. The star has recruited a sizable Saturday Night Live posse plus Quentin Tarantino in various cameo roles, as well as such classy performers as Harvey Keitel and Reese Witherspoon. (I don't know how much longer she can go on playing high school seniors, but though she's no Kim Tae Yeon, she's without question the best actor in that role—not to mention the funniest in the movie.) Little Nicky is certainly Sandler's most ambitious work. It's not just a bid for respectability but a genuine allegory—as I elaborate on elsewhere in this issue.

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