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Luis Buñuel Gets An Academy Award

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Wearing a blond wig and some serious shades, Luis Buñuel poses with the Academy Award for his film The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.

As Wikipedia notes, “After having announced that Tristana would be his last film due to feeling like he was repeating himself, Buñuel met with screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière and discussed the topic of repetition. Shortly afterwards he met with film producer Serge Silberman, who told him an anecdote about having forgotten about a dinner party and being surprised to find six hungry friends show up at his front door. Buñuel was suddenly inspired and Silberman agreed to give him a $2,000 advance to write a new script with Carrière, combining Silberman’s anecdote with the idea of repetition. Buñuel and Carrière wrote the first draft in three weeks and finished the fifth draft by the Summer of 1971, with the title originally being Bourgeois Enchantment. Silberman was finally able to raise the money for the film in April 1972 and Buñuel began pre-production.

Buñuel cast many actors whom he had worked with in the past, such as Fernando Rey and Michel Piccoli, and catered their roles to their personalities. He had more difficulty casting the female leads and allowed actresses Delphine Seyrig and Stéphane Audran to choose which parts they would like to play, before changing the script to better suit them. Jean-Pierre Cassel auditioned for his role and was surprised when Buñuel cast him after simply glancing at him once.

Filming began on May 15, 1972 and lasted for two months with an $800,000 budget. In his usual shooting style, Buñuel shot few takes and often edited the film in camera and during production. On the advice of Silberman, Buñuel used video playback monitors on the set for the first time in his career, resulting in a vastly different style than any of his previous films, including zooms and tracking shots instead of his usual close-ups and static camera framing.

This also resulted in Buñuel being more comfortable on set, and in limiting his already minimal direction to technical and physical instructions. This frustrated Cassel, who had never worked with Buñuel before, until Rey explained that this was Buñuel’s usual style and that since they were playing aristrocrats their movements and physical appreance was more important than their inner motivation.

Buñuel once joked that whenever he needed an extra scene he simply filmed one of his own dreams. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie includes three of Buñuel’s recurring dreams: a dream of being on stage and forgetting his lines, a dream of meeting his dead cousin in the street and following him into a house full of cobwebs, and a dream of waking up to see his dead parents staring at him.

The film was both a box office hit in Europe and the US, and critically praised, yet Buñuel later said that he was disappointed with the analysis that most film critics made of the film. He also disliked the film’s promotional poster, depicting a pair of lips with legs and a derby hat. Buñuel and Silberman traveled to the US in late 1972 to promote the film. However, Buñuel did not attend his own press screening in Los Angeles and told a reporter at Newsweek that his favorite characters in the film were the cockroaches.

George Cukor Hosts a lunch for Luis Buñuel. Back Row from left: Robert Mulligan, William Wyler, George Cukor, Robert Wise, Jean-Claude Carriere, and Serge Silberman. Front Row from left: Billy Wilder, George Stevens, Luis Buñuel, Alfred Hitchcock, and Rouben Mamoulian.

While visiting Los Angeles, Buñuel, Carrière and Silberman were invited to a lunch party by Buñuel’s old friend George Cukor, and other guests included Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, George Stevens, Rouben Mamoulian, John Ford, William Wyler, Robert Mulligan and Robert Wise (resulting in a famous photograph of the directors together, other than an ailing Ford). Fritz Lang was unable to attend, but Buñuel visited him the following day and received an autographed photo from Lang, one of his favorite directors.

Sensing that he had a special film, Silberman decided not to wait until May to premiere the film at the Cannes Film Festival and instead released it in the fall of 1972 specifically to make it eligible for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Buñuel was famously indifferent to awards and jokingly told a reporter that he had already paid $25,000 in order to win the Oscar. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, and Silberman accepted on Buñuel’s behalf at the ceremony. At the Academy’s request, Buñuel later posed for a photograph while holding the Oscar, wearing a blond wig and oversized sunglasses.”

The one, the only Luis Buñuel. Click here for a remembrance of Buñuel’s last days by his long time friend and scenarist, Jean-Claude Carrière.

About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of numerous books and more than 70 articles on film and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or wdixon1@unl.edu.

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