"Got me a movie, I want you to know"



"Wipe that mouth off your face", a lyric from John Squire's See You On The Other Side, is strikingly Surrealist. This is Salvador Dalí (1904 - 1989) speaking about his 1929 creation, 'The Great Masturbator':

Top: 'The Great Masturbator' (1929) is a painting by Salvador Dalí executed during the surrealist epoch, and is currently displayed at Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid. The centre of the painting has a distorted human face in profile, looking downwards, based on the shape of a natural rock formation at Creus along the sea-shore of Catalonia. A similar profile is seen in Dalí's more famous painting of two years later, 'The Persistence of Memory.' A nude female figure, resembling Dalí's muse, Gala, rises from the back of the head, near a thinly clad male crotch. Below the central profile head, on its mouth, is a locust, an insect which Dalí had an irrational fear of. A swarm of ants (a popular motif in Dali's work) gather on the locust's abdomen, as well as on the prone face. In the landscape below, three other figures are arranged, along with an egg (commonly used as a symbol of fertility) and sparse other features. Two of the characters in the landscape are arranged in such a way as to cast a long single shadow, while the other character is seen hurriedly walking into the distance on the peripheries of the canvas. The painting represents Dalí's severely conflicted attitudes towards sexual intercourse. In Dalí's youth, his father had left out a book with explicit photos of people suffering from advanced untreated venereal diseases to "educate" the boy. The photos of grotesquely damaged diseased genitalia fascinated and horrified the young Dalí, and he continued to associate sex with putrification and decay into his adulthood.
Bottom: 'The Persistence of Memory' (1931) by Salvador Dalí. Time fluctuates wildly in Un Chien Andalou; at the end of the film, when the man and woman on the beach acknowledge the actual time on a wristwatch, the reading proves to be immaterial - it is time to die.

The Dalí connection led me to investigate whether the entire song could have a Surrealist theme. I propose that Squire has based See You On The Other Side on Un Chien Andalou, a film on which Dalí worked with director Luis Buñuel (1900 - 1983). This was Buñuel's first film. 'Un Chien Andalou' is a touchstone of the Surrealist movement, an artistic tendency that rebelled against conventional notions of order, beauty and coherence. The film's images are startling and reflect the Surrealist obsession with sex, religion and the Freudian unconscious.

   

Left: Un Chien Andalou (1929).
Middle: Luis Buñuel.
Right: Salvador Dalí.

Just as you might tell someone to 'Wipe that smile off your face', the instruction here is to "Wipe that mouth off your face":

Top: "Wipe that mouth off your face." At the start of this verse, Squire musically makes the sound of a siren, to depict the abnormality developing in the corresponding scene. The above action, being seen to wipe away one's mouth with one's hand, is used by David Bowie, an artist strongly influenced by surrealist cinema, in the 'Jump They Say' video (itself based on a film, Chris Marker's 'La Jetée'). Bowie uses this action as illustration of the line "They say 'he has no mouth'" (bottom). Bowie had this film opening his 1976 World Tour for each concert, rather than having a warm up act, explaining that it helped "set the tone for the evening."

"Grow a little beard." The woman's armpit hair attaches itself to the man's face.

   

"Bring me a couple of mules, two Catholic priests and a pair of grand pianos."

The man is using ropes to pull two Catholic priests (two stone tablets are also present, perhaps representing the Ten Commandments) and two grand pianos containing the carcasses of two donkeys. Squire does not follow a chronological order in relation to the film (for example the 'severed hand' scene below is before the 'grand piano' scene in the film, yet the song has the two switched around in order), intentionally distorting any sense of 'order' in a film which itself does exactly that. The on-screen details we are given of any sense of 'time' is attempting to defy any set context: "Once Upon a Time...", "Eight years later", "At three o'clock in the morning", "Sixteen years before", "In the spring." The intention of Dali and Buñuel was to expunge from their script any "idea or image that might lend itself to a rational explanation." Things are literally turned upside-down in this film:

A still from Un Chien Andalou.

   

"Picking up a severed hand with a stick. Pretty painted nails decorate it (or decorated), down in the street."

 

"These books, these pistols."

Half-way through the film, an authoritative, disapproving 'father figure' - of strikingly similar appearance to the man - enters the fray. An Oedipal reading can perhaps be applied here, with the man killing this father figure. The dying man teleports to a meadow, thus returning to nature in death. He falls to a 'mother figure', with his hand clasping her shoulder. Just as the figure is about to fall, his eyeballs upturn, just as the man's does earlier in the film, when fondling the woman's breasts, thus establishing a relationship between sex and death.

 

Stills from Un Chien Andalou.

On this Oedipal theme, "Mother knows best" is a trademark motif of Alfred Hitchcock's body of work, most notably Psycho.

Top: Notorious (1946).
Bottom: Psycho (1960).

In an image above from Un Chien Andalou, where the man is killing the 'father figure', a crucifix shape is formed by a tennis racket on a wall. I propose that the man's shadow - with outstretched arms - captured on this 'cross', and the killing which takes place gives the scene strong biblical overtones ("Save me, shape me..."). Such symbolism can be seen in 'The Shadow of Death' (1871) by William Holman Hunt. Squire himself used this concept for a photoshoot, recreating Francis Bacon's 'Crucifixion' - a shadowy image of Christ on a cross - by the careful positioning of Ian's body, and his own.

   

   

"These thighs, these breasts." The breasts metamorphosise into a pair of thighs, which the man kneads. Exhibiting bestial, animalistic behaviour, sexual and violent urges intertwine, with blood streaming from the man's mouth.

 

"The doorbell or cocktail shaker."

The chorus of See You On The Other Side relates to the conclusion of the film, where the man and woman see each other 'on the other side' - a door is opened to a beach ('see' = 'sea' ??), which becomes the final resting place of the man and woman.

 

"I feel so lonely I could die. See you on the other side."

 

Just as the lady in Un Chien Andalou makes a seamless transition from her home to the sea, the work of surrealists such as René Magritte (1898 - 1967) encourage us not to allow the walls around us obstruct seeing 'the other side.' On the left is 'The Human Condition' (1935) and on the right is 'The Telescope' (1963), both by Magritte.

The chorus is firmly grounded in the 60s:

'Debaser' by The Pixies, from their 1989 'Doolittle' LP, is also based on Un Chien Andalou ("Got me a movie...").

 

Left: Slicing up eyeballs...
Right: 'Doolittle' (1989) by The Pixies.

Dalí would revisit this, when designing the dream sequence of Alfred Hitchcock's 'Spellbound' (1945).

Spellbound (1945).


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