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The Music in Un Chien Andalou

The three short films that the class screened were experimental short films that were very interesting but also very confusing. Rather than containing a comprehensive plot and story line like traditional narrative films such as Mildred Pierce and Metropolis, these pieces use music and sound effects to portray emotions in the short film. Even though many musical pieces and different sound effects are used, particularly in Un Chien Andalou the story itself is still quite hard to follow.

The first short film and the one this blog post will be focusing on, Un Chien Andalou, was an intense film. It utilizes disturbing imagery paired with light non-diegetic and airy music throughout to convey a story that is unclear, or rather a plot and story that does not exist. Much of the imagery shown follows the theme of death, with images such as the dead donkeys on the piano and the supposed death of the woman who was hit by a car. Also, there are several images shown involving blood or tears in skin, such as the scene at the beginning with the woman’s eye being cut and the man’s hand later on with ants crawling out. Throughout the film items such as unusual articles of clothing and a striped box are repeatedly seen. The woman who appears to be the main character interacts with these items in almost every scene, although it is not certain of what they represent or even if they are somehow meant to mean anything at all. The lack of dialogue in this and the other two short films did add to the confusion when interpreting them, as most films have dialogue to help the audience determine what the story is focused on. Most silent films use music when there is no dialogue to portray emotions, although the emotions shown by the actors in this short film are quite different from what emotions are suggested by the music.

Throughout the film, musical compositions are played which reflect a very happy and light mood. However beneath these happy tones there are disturbing, violent and erratic images being presented to the audience. While the music played various actions were being carried out by the actors that are irregular to say the least. During the forced molestation of a woman for example, elegant music is played over the film, in contrast to normal silent films when much darker music would be played during a scene such as this. Despite the ominous tone of the scene, the lighter tone of the music impresses upon the audience an attitude of happiness. This defies every logic ever applied to the majority of silent films. The logic behind musical pieces used in silent films, or any film for that matter, was to use music that reflected the emotions that the director wanted to convey for any scene, and normally these emotions were backed up by the actors as well. In the case of Un Chien Andalou the emotions of the actors were very dark and threatening while the music was joyful. Another scene which reflects this unusual pairing of happy music with ominous scenes was that of the severed hand on the sidewalk and a curious crowd gathering around it. Under normal circumstances in a more traditional film this scene would be quite disturbing and supported by dark music reflecting the emotions of the film, while in this film only the actors’ portrayals of emotions are dark while the music is joyful and even playful as it would be in something such as a party scene.

Overall Un Chien Andalou is very confusing and shows an era of film making in which different devices and methods were used to experiment with the creation and portrayal of stories. Using light music at the same time as dark and strange imagery to convey a story, or lack thereof, to the audience in contrast to a traditional film’s consistent narrative and dialogue, this and the other experimental short films showed a way of making movies very different from most we have seen.

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5 responses to “The Music in Un Chien Andalou

  1. kstedem ⋅

    Great approach to an experimental film. I also noticed the upbeat sequences in the film’s music and I think it adds an additional expression to the overall theme. Since the film has no true narrative it allows for the viewer to focus on different expressions, like the music. The film is dark, but the music upbeat. Great idea to debate and even better post!

  2. rvandeering ⋅

    I completely agree that the music in the film portrays a more joyful theme than the film’s acting because why there are violent acts being committed the music is more upbeat and has a light mood like you mention. Throughout the film, I was wondering the same thing why are they playing such a happy and joyful type of music when the actors playing in the film give off dark emotions or commit violent acts during the film. This silent film like you said goes away from the traditional silent film where they play the same music which corresponds to the mood the film is going to establish. I think the music in this film maybe is used as a distraction to the audience to make them feel relaxed and not have make emotional reactions to the violent or disturbing acts in the film because the music plays with your head already while trying to follow a film that doesn’t have a narrative sometimes might overload a viewer that doesn’t about film. Good article really enjoyed reading it.

  3. I think the music adds to the surrealist affect, even though violence is highly concentrated in the movie, the light music makes it seem as though those in the film do not notice the horrors around them. This adds to the surrealist atmosphere of the piece, plunging the viewer into a nightmarish world where violence is shrugged off as a common event.

  4. kperetz ⋅

    I like how your response focused on music, which was different from the rest of the posts. You seem to have a clear understanding of the significance of music in silent films.

  5. dell ⋅

    what is the name of the music songs in the film

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