Luis Buñuel’s films have the power to shock, inspire, and reinvent our world. Now, in a memoir that carries all the surrealism and subversion of his cinema, Buñuel turns his artistic gaze inward. In swift and generous prose, Buñuel traces the surprising contours of his life, from the Good Friday drumbeats of his childhood to the dreams that inspired his most famous films to his turbulent friendships with Federico García Lorca and Salvador Dalí. His personal narratives also encompass the pressing political issues of his time, many of which still haunt us today—the specter of fascism, the culture wars, the nuclear bomb. Filled with film trivia, framed by Buñuel’s intellect and wit, this is essential reading for fans of cinema and for anyone who has ever wanted to see the world through a surrealist’s eyes.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.60(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
DURING the last ten years of her life, my mother gradually lost her memory. When I went to see her in Saragossa, where she lived with my brothers, I watched the way she read magazines, turning the pages carefully, one by one, from the first to the last. When she finished, I'd take the magazine from her, then give it back, only to see her leaf through it again, slowly, page by page. She was in perfect physical health and remarkably agile for her age, but in the end she no longer recognized her children. She didn't know who we were, or who she was. I'd walk into her room, kiss her, sit with her awhile. Sometimes I'd leave, then turn around and walk back in again. She greeted me with the same smile and invited me to sit down—as if she were seeing me for the first time. She didn't remember my name.
When I was a schoolboy in Saragossa, I knew the names of all the Visigoth kings of Spain by heart, as well as the areas and populations of each country in Europe. In fact, I was a goldmine of useless facts. These mechanical pyrotechnics were the object of countless jokes; students who were particularly good at it were called memoriones. Virtuoso memorión that I was, I too had nothing but contempt for such pedestrian exercises. Now, of course, I'm not so scornful. As time goes by, we don't give a second thought to all the memories we so unconsciously accumulate, until suddenly, one day, we can't think of the name of a good friend or a relative. It's simply gone; we've forgotten it. In vain, we struggle furiously to think of a commonplace word. It's on the tip of our tongues but refuses to go any farther. Once this happens, there are other lapses, and only then do we understand, and acknowledge, the importance of memory. This sort of amnesia came upon me first as I neared seventy. It started with proper names, and with the immediate past. Where did I put my lighter? (I had it in my hand just five minutes ago!) What did I want to say when I started this sentence? All too soon, the amnesia spreads, covering events that happened a few months or years ago—the name of that hotel I stayed at in Madrid in May 1980, the title of a book I was so excited about six months ago. I search and search, but it's always futile, and I can only wait for the final amnesia, the one that can erase an entire life, as it did my mother's.
So far, I've managed to keep this final darkness at bay. From my distant past, I can still conjure up countless names and faces; and when I forget one, I remain calm. I know it's sure to surface suddenly, via one of those accidents of the unconscious. On the other hand, I'm overwhelmed by anxiety when I can't remember a recent event, or the name of someone I've met during the last few months, or the name of a familiar object. I feel as if my whole personality has suddenly disintegrated; I become obsessed; I can't think about anything else; and yet all my efforts and my rage get me nowhere. Am I going to disappear altogether? The obligation to find a metaphor to describe "table" is a monstrous feeling, but I console myself with the fact that there is something even worse—to be alive and yet not recognize yourself, not know anymore who you are. You have to begin to lose your memory, if only in bits and pieces, to realize that memory is what makes our lives. Life without memory is no life at all, just as an intelligence without the possibility of expression is not really an intelligence. Our memory is our coherence, our reason, our feeling, even our action. Without it, we are nothing.
Imagine (as I often have) a scene in a film where a man tries to tell a friend a story but forgets one word out of four, a simple word like "car" or "street" or "policeman." He stammers, hesitates, waves his hands in the air, gropes for synonyms. Finally, his friend gets so annoyed that he slaps him and walks away. Sometimes, too, resorting to humor to ward off panic, I tell the story about the man who goes to see a psychiatrist, complaining of lapses in memory. The psychiatrist asks him a couple of routine questions, and then says:
"So? These lapses?"
"What lapses?" the man replies.
Memory may be omnipotent and indispensable, but it's also terribly fragile. The menace is everywhere, not only from its traditional enemy, forgetfulness, but from false memories, like my often repeated story about Paul Nizan's wedding in the 1930S. The Church of St.-Germain-des-Prés, where he was married, is crystal clear in my mind's eye. I can see the congregation, myself among them, the altar, the priest—even Jean-Paul Sartre, the best man. And then suddenly, one day last year, I said to myself—but that's impossible! Nizan, a militant Marxist, and his wife, who came from a family of agnostics, would never have been married in a church! It was categorically unthinkable. Did I make it up? Confuse it with other weddings? Did I graft a church I know well onto a story that someone told me? Even today, I've no idea what the truth is, or what I did with it.
Our imagination, and our dreams, are forever invading our memories; and since we are all apt to believe in the reality of our fantasies, we end up transforming our lies into truths. Of course, fantasy and reality are equally personal, and equally felt, so their confusion is a matter of only relative importance.
In this semiautobiography, where I often wander from the subject like the wayfarer in a picaresque novel seduced by the charm of the unexpected intrusion, the unforeseen story, certain false memories have undoubtedly remained, despite my vigilance. But, as I said before, it doesn't much matter. I am the sum of my errors and doubts as well as my certainties. Since I'm not a historian, I don't have any notes or encyclopedias, yet the portrait I've drawn is wholly mine—with my affirmations, my hesitations, my repetitions and lapses, my truths and my lies. Such is my memory.