The research on the first two films of Luis Buñuel (which he made in collaboration with Salvador Dali) suffers from a neglect of the importance of his insistent use of the music from Richard Wagner’s opera Tristan and Isolde. This analysis shows how a closer look at the Wagnerian themes and their specific use in Un Chien Anadalou and L’Âge d’Or are crucial to an understanding of the themes of love and death.
When Buñuel employed the music of Tristan to the otherwise silent movie Un Chien Andalou interchanging with a light Argentinean tango, the intricate play of contrast and dialogue between solemnity and mockery, between empathy and cynicism, is emphasized. At the same time, the theme of love/death can be seen as a thread which unifies the otherwise very confusing filmic collage.
In L’Âge d’Or (‘The Golden Age’) the music of Tristan is a clear leitmotif surrounding the mad love of the protagonists. When this music is played live in the garden, it ignites not only their desire but also a sequence of inner and outer events and conflicts, resulting in a tragic, enraged breakup. Before this concert, Wagner’s music occurs in brief passages, emphasizing the unity of the lovers, transcending spatial separation.
In both films Buñuel employs Wagner in an ambivalent gesture where the themes of desire and death are emphasized while at the same time the more solemn metaphysical implications in Wagner are deflated, moving from romanticism towards surrealism while at the same time creating a link between the two.

The author, Torben Sangild, was a scholar and lecturer at Department of Arts and Cultural Studies at University of Copenhagen 1997-2013, with a PhD as well as two postdoctorals. His main research field is contemporary art, aesthetics, philosophy, music and sound. He is now a freelance writer, critic, lecturer, editor, radio host and consultant. He has published two books in Danish: Støjens æstetik (The Aesthetics of Noise) and Objektiv sensibilitet (Objective sensibility) as well as numerous articles in English, German, Swedish and Danish.

Read Torben Sangild’s article here.

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