Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Re: surrealist groups and publicity

The decision by certain surrealists not to disseminate their contributions to the discussion ”publicly” on for example blogs, instead wanting to restrict the discussion to taking place among surrealist groups, is a perfectly legitimate though problematic one, which highlights some of the themes from ”labors of existence” and provides us with a pretext for revisiting them.

What is the public sphere?
It is not the size of the audience which defines the border between the public sphere and the rest, but the ideological implications of the type of communicative act. Very often spreading rumours and idle personal communication will reach more people than printing stuff or exposing it on the Internet. But ”going public” IN A SENSE automatically (but in practice in different ways and different amounts) means offering oneself as an exponent of public ideology (and of the ideology of publicity), as a free laborer for the spectacle, making sure that whatever one might have had to say will be contorted into a ideologically packedged twisted mirror image of it, primarily fulfilling a utilistic purpose of entertainment or cultural investment. Some will say even that it will primarily mean advertising the spectacle of the present order as such, and/or that the intended message or any other ”subversive” content impossibly can ever be mediated, and/or that the medium absolutely determines the message, and/or that the ideology of the society absolutely determines the message, but that appears to be more or less armchair exaggerations of more or less professional pessimists. No such system can be monolithic, closed, absolute, but must always be a product of the struggle between different objective interests, between the needs and compromises of real people, and is always subjected to the effects of ineffectivity, entropy, immense differentiation, chaos factors, chance effects, clinamen, the unpredictable, etc. The most effective subversion may take place, almost by definition, where we least expect it. Recuperated elements backfire, for those who are used to the situationist terminology. If we don’t jump onto the ”squirrel wheel” bandwagon of competing for media exposure, and if we don’t host illusions of ”fair” ”objective” representation, any public appearance can be a part of a strategy of simply sowing potential subversive elements beyond our control. This of course brings us back to the image of the message in the bottle.
”Surrealist publishing thus always remain a case of ”messages in a bottle”: eternally scattering messages in the hope that they will somewhere invent their target, that is, finding someone bold, openminded, depraved and/or desperate enough to respond to the challenge in a way unimagined by us, which may or may not be the same thing as simply bringing in their individual sensibilities to our common causes.” (Labors of Existence)
Now, underground printing as well as Internet publishing are publicity activities which are RELATIVELY low in inherent ideology simply because they are simple, cheap, easily available, they are not dependent on external financiation or on pleasing ”experts” editorial choices - it’s possible to direct almost the whole process oneself. And they usually have moderate circulation. Nevertheless, messages there do take unexpected paths, and especially on the Internet it can turn up in anybodys home due to weird chance phenomena or mere determination in seeking. Obviously, this is a fairly good field for planting whatever the entities of poetic subversion are; but in this connection it is also dependent on how we determine the borders of who we are ready to speak openly to, which makes us return to the question:
What is a surrealist group?
”To draw a sharp line between groups that fulfill the requirements of the narrow sense /of surrealist group/ and the rest, or even to merely work hard to define criteria for the former, will today seem strangely conspiratory or nostalgic or both.” (Labors of Existence)
But, ok perhaps such ”strange nostalghia or conspiratoriness” nevertheless is not unnecessary, if we should establish an ”internal” discussion. Then we could suggest, purely technically, that a surrealist group is an association consisting of a collective of physical persons (on one level, though remember the ”Intersubjectivity” discussion), more or less regularly physically meeting, keeping up a collective surrealist activity on at least a few different fronts (thus ruling out mere artists groups, discussion groups etc), communicating/ collaborating with other surrealist groups and individuals over the world, the group and a large part of the participants designating themselves surrealists (though they need not all be friends among themselves, and need not be approved from Paris or Chicago). Associations fulfilling some but not all of these criteria would constitute the traditional looser bordering category of ”surrealist groupings”. Many such groupings will experience similar dynamics and similar problematics as the surrealist groups, and some may take an equivalent effort/ responsibility in continuing, further developing, defending and/or reinventing surrealism.
This emphasises the difficulty in drawing the line to establishing the participants of an ”internal” discussion. But we are not entirely insensitive to such a need. There are some of these infamous ”internet artists” who simply advertise their personal works and even more their personal neuroses by calling themselves surrealists and occasionally enter into comunication with surrealists through the ease of digital communication. There are fairly large numbers of more or less well-meaning gravediggers who strive for reaching, or maintaining, positions as experts, critics and commentators on surrealism. Also, in certain countries, under certain circumstances, the police will be interested in getting some overview into the movement, particularly its conctact networks but also its organisation and psychology. Now most of us don’t have much taste for the boy adventure games of activist secrecy, but there is certainly a point in trying to reserve a lot of the actual insight for those who are seriously interested (”seriously” here both literally and as a eufemism for non-policiary, non-careeristically, non-spectacularily), and not readily handing in our protocols, membership rolls and detailed agendas to those who will accumulate and/or represent them by mechanisms and for purposes which effectively situates them on the opposite side of our cause.
The compromise we lean towards is using the ”public” means of open debate fora for planting themes, initiating discussions, but still somehow demanding personal contact to reveal too much specified details. That is for example probably the rationalisation of the scarcity of examples in ”Voices of the Hell-choir”, which some may find frustrating or mystifying. At least partly, because there appears to us to be a general rhetorical point of trying to avoid at least some of the knee-jerk defense reactions in that way too, whenever it can be done without a sense of withholding information within a discussion.

There is definitely some sense of transparence and indefensiveness that we struggle for which we are not interested in exposing to the public sphere but only to our serious collaborators, and there is a kind of "etiquette" we should stick to, and some formal expectations we should try to demand from ourselves, but to us it seems to be a very important thing that we should not limit our perspective to whatever conforms to these formal requirements; there is always going to be a "grade" of more or less relevant phenomena in the surroundings, and there is always substantial contributions that might come from unexpected directions.

Biological time

(Short discussion of timescales from a biological perspective, a contribution to a discussion no longer remembered about something else, Mattias Forshage, early 2006)

Of course there are a great number of different biological timescales, some of them fairly constant throughout the realm of life (speed of nerve impulses, annual cycle, daily cycle), some widely varying in acordance with the lifestyle of the specific organism, some more long-term and dealing more with development of lineages rather than individual organisms (that is, phylogeny rather than ontogeny).

The most important time unit in evolution is the generation time, which ranges from minutes in bacteria to decades in large vertebrates like man (a good median is perhaps one generation per year in most insects in temperate climates, annual plants, most birds, etc). Over a number of generations evolutionary change can occur. It is very difficult to specify how many is needed. Only in bacteria we can directly observe evolution, and what we see there is obviously very different from what goes on in most animals as there is no sexual reproduction, meaning that there is neither any recombination of the genetic material (thus less change) nor any spontaneous ”censorship” in simple non-fertilisation or spontaneous abortion (thus more change). Evolutionary timescales is one of the questions in the 70s-80s debate between more leftist-hegelian ”punctuated equilibrium” (”saltationism”) and more rightist ”gradualist-adaptationist” views of evolution. From a poetic viewpoint it will suffice to imagine evolutionary time as vastly longer than human experienced time. If we stick to the gradualist stories it’s all extremely slow, if we try the saltationist version it will vary between millions of years of practically nothing happening and then sudden bursts of activity in response to certain threshold geological events like forming and breaking of land connections, elevation of mountain ridges, major volcano eruptions, drying of wetlands, rivers making new turns etc.
Experienced time is a totally different thing, and of course it’s often far easier to spontaneously vividly imagine when watching different animals. Obviously heartbeat rates, metabolism and speed of thought vary even within our own species, but within a fairly narrow range. Small endothermic animals (like sparrows and mice), as well as larger herbivores under heavy predation pressures (all those deers and antelopes etc), generally live faster, with faster heartbeats and shorter lifespans. A lot of the former hibernate when living in cool climates, meaning that they drastically slow down all bodily processes, and thus time as such, during the winter. Large ectothermic predators (like crocodiles and large snakes) have perhaps the most dramatically fluctuating sense of time, being able to strike incredibly fast if they are hungry when a prey is near, but then wait and actually do nothing at all for a year or more. Also for smaller ectothermic vertebrates like fish and lizards, it’s quite obvious that they spend a lot of time doing nothing whatsoever but when they move they do it real fast. This truly fluctuating sense of time is a totally different thing than the mere monumental laziness required by those mammals that just sleep throughout the whole winter rather than truly hibernate (like bears), or the more humanlike sense of variation, creating a continous interplay between leisure/boredom and enthusiasm/stress, that we see in most primates and carnivores.

Speed is obviously one of the issues connected with the endothermy, the internally regulated, constantly high, body temperature of birds (and we don’t know which ones of the dinosaurs preceding them) and mammals. A consequence of this is that the capacity for speed is the plesiomorphic (inherited) state in birds and mammals, so that slowness is the phenomen requiring a particular explanation wherever it occurs. Slow birds are very rare, and even rarer after the extinction of the dodo. A heron is certainly not slow but a murderous parttime freezer of the same kind as other stalking hunters like praying mantises. The only slow bird I come to think of just now is the south african ground hornbill, slowly walking about investigating the world and not fearing anything. Among the mammals only few, like the leisure-pleasure swimmers manatees & dugongs and the truly timestopping canopy grazing sloths, are perpetually slow. Most others, be it pangolins, armadillos, cattle, elephants, rhinoceroses or hippopotamuses, just prefer a slow pace manifesting that they don’t have to be afraid, and they’re all quite capable of swift movement whenever needed.

Experienced time of non-vertebrates is a different affair. As most of them don’t have a rhythmically beating heart, or a really information-storing brain, time becomes more of an automatic, but chaotically complex, interaction between temperature, nerve impulse speed and external stimuli. (often leading to dead ends, like flies at a window or moths at a lamp). So much more difficult for us to get a picture of what they actually experience. In dung beetles, speed is mostly a simple product of surrounding temperature, they behave exactly the same but quicker when temperature rises. Common large predators like spiders, ground beetles, centipedes, ants and dragonflies have the same rush and rest dualism as in the vertebrate predators. The movements in the rushes are way beyond us but the pattern is simple. Worse are insects like the common house fly, extremely fast for reasons that don’t appear obvious to us, making pointless rushes and inbetween that sit and brush themselves in a strangely jerky and ritualistic way. However, apparently lacking a sense of time themselves, they keep manifesting these endless repetitions and vain labors that make human spectators so extremely frustrated. And the mayflies have no anguish whatsoever about the fact their adult timespan will be prolonged further than a mere few hours only if weather is too bad for flying. Other animals like social wasps (bees, ants etc) and octopus do obviously do more complex information processing and have some sense of time, but while the hymenopterans always turn out to be disappointingly boring whenever some aspect of their language is interpreted, the cephalopods remain simply unintelligable.

And once into weird examples, let’s cite the the north american prime number cicadas, with a larval development time span of strictly 13 or 17 years. Some vascular plants will blossom more rarely than that. And the pantopods (sea spiders), marine stalkers of the extremely wary bryozoans, who pull their tentacles back into the shell immediately when something happens nearby, so the pantopods can’t rush on them but just walk real slowly and devour them just as slowly! And of course the tardigrades (water bears), slow crawlers in most habitats and weathers, but whenever temperature drops below zero or all water evaporate they just fall into a deep coma, without any life signs whatsoever, and stay that way until environment becomes suitable again, when they just resume business as usual, even if they were as dead for centuries inbetween!
Vascular plants are rather mysterious too whenever you try to think into their worldview. Even though all fast movements of plants are mechanical processes requiring no nervous input, they do have a well-developed fast nervous system, they do detect pain etc, only no one knows what it really means to them.

But, whither we wanted to get was the timescale of creativity and dynamism in habits. This depends mostly on the type of lifestyle. Both genetic evolution and cultural evolution are about unique historical events, but the general conditions for genetic evolution are far more restraining, as most events in the life of the individual organism simply don’t affect it. Cultural evolution can be far more dramatical. Some traits are of the cultural evolution type (not genetically handed over, and thus either phylogenetically constrained or not) without necessarily having anything to do with culture, like geographical distribution areas, habitats, food and host-parasite relationships. Just like behavioral traits, where it’s ususally unknown to what extent the basis is genetical and indeed very often meaningless to pose that question at all without recognising the fundamental interdependence of environmental and genetical conditions, we can only determine the mode of inheritance, and thus the timescale and the amount of phylogenetical information involved, a posteriori.

So, several organisms have a lifestyle which requires them to be curious and inventive and seek variation and novelty. There is certainly a genetic basis for this openended flexibility, and it may perhaps even be described as a paradox, to be genetically programmed not to stick to any programming! In mammals and birds, this is true for non-specialised predators (cats, dogs etc) and omnivores (pigs, crows, rats, bears, a lot of monkeys & apes including man), and it’s also true for social species with a fair amount of cultural evolution (and thus dynamic societies rather than the static ones of ants, bees and termites) (examples being dolphins and other whales, horses, elephants, and again dogs and many monkeys & apes including man). Thus the notion of natural creativity is closely linked to what we usually call intelligence, but it only partly overlaps the notion of eusociality. (There are also weird animals who developed these creative traits for totally different reasons, usually rampant sexual selection (nests of bower birds, song of starlings and other improvisors, etc)). So humans is among those who have dual reasons to be curious-dynamic. This natural creativity is certainly situated on the timescale of the experienced time of the individual organism. A sudden discovery or invention one day may change ones life and affect the lives of ones successors. Again if we like paradoxical statements we can say that it’s natural for human beings to be unnatural.

Surrealism and film

In summer 2004 Michael Richardson distributed an enquiry about surrealism and film as one of his means of research for his book Surrealism and cinema, which appeared in 2006. The following is Mattias Forshage’s reply to the enquiry. It has been edited for the present purposes, not only in minor changes to clarify intentions but also both in explicating some ”internal” surrealist allusions, adding a little piece of background information in some places, and also in an extension of the paragraphs about horror film (which was made in the course of an exchange about the book after its appearance, to emphasise my dissatisfaction of Michael’s quick dismissal of modern horror movies).

Now Michael’s book is strongly recommended for anyone interested in the subject of surrealism and cinema, or of surrealism and popular culture, or of the poetic potential of film on the whole. It seems to have been originally intended as an attempt of bringing Ado Kyrou’s classic study Le Surréalisme au cinéma up to date, but in the end it also, on top of this, offers valuable information and perspective on a lot of older stuff as well, particularly the surrealist involvement in the french film industry of the 20s and 30s (most notably the Prévert brothers but also others), the surrealist aspects of documentary films, and (again) Luis Buñuel.

"I am in the process of writing a book on surrealism and cinema. This will attempt to bring the story of surrealist cinema up to date, engaging with what has occurred since Kyrou wrote his book and critically thinking about the various ways in which the relationship between surrealism and cinema has been considered. As part of this, it would be helpful to know the views of current participants in surrealism to the following questions:"

It would have been good to write a group statement instead of an individual one, but both the scope and the specific sensibilities of each individual’s cinematographic experience seem different enough for a collective statement to have to perhaps exclude the better quantity of interesting observations. So this is an individual statement, and it is very much out of what I learned as a surrealist cinéaste in the 80s and can only partially recollect now, with some recent additions, but lots of obliterated findings in-between, so several of my best examples are probably not there.
I have included a number of swedish examples, but if you’d need further suggestions regarding swedish cinema I’d be happy to provide some more examples and some overview, for both before and after 1963. It is a pity that Kyrou did not emphasise the contradiction, included in the classic surrealist ”Voyez… ne voyez pas…” tract, of Stiller on the surrealist side and Sjöström on the antisurrealist. And it is really a mistake of him to mention ”Lattjo med Boccacio” of ”Casinogänget” from the swedish revue cinema instead of the usually much better, more delirious, absurd and sometimes radical works of Povel Ramel or Nils Poppe. Etc.

"1. Kyrou asserted that the cinema experience is fundamentally surrealist. Do you consider this still to be true, or have changes in the way the cinema is experienced (due to the development of TV, video etc., and the emergence of the multiplex for example) made this no longer the case?"

I believe the cinematographic experience has retained its surrealist characteristics and surrealist potential in its traditional form of ritual of the dark room in the theatre. Some people have individually developed creative ways of utilising movies or other animated material on TV, video, computers, virtual reality etc, but all that seems still to be on the level of purely personal methods and I´ve never heard of or experienced such phenomena of broader interest. The development of the images industry and desire-simulation industry in general have of course influenced the ways of watching, but probably primarily in terms of making other types of use of the cinema common, not in extinguishing the possibility of the ”oneiric communion” or ”experimental dreaming” of traditional watching. The quantitative impact of different ways of viewing is more of a question for sociology, and distinguishing the other specific uses of cinema in various social interactions (possibly revolt too) is more of a question for anthropology. We’ll dream on. Many do it along with us.

"2. Which film makers working today (or since 1963, when Kyrou made the last revision of his book) do you consider to express a certain surrealist sensibility? What aspects of their work do you consider ‘surrealist’?

3. Which films made over the past forty years do you particularly consider display evidence of an involuntary (or even voluntary) surrealism? In what ways?"

Actually, if we reply in the affirmative to the previous question, and generally agree with Kyrou’s and others’ notion that cinema is a field of great surrealist potential, a potential which is quite widespreadly partially fulfilled – then it becomes less important to delineate and name the relatively ”more surrealist” films. It could perhaps be more interesting to discuss phenomenology of reveries, associations, suggestions in cinema-viewing, or certain more or less widespread cinematic elements, or such yet unrealised. However questions such as these target my personal historiographic and collecting inclinations in an irresistable way and I’ll keep namedropping.
I’m not able to discuss these two questions separately, since I don´t see the distinction between ”conscious” and ”unconscious” surrealist spirit as being of great interest (except for cases of actual communications and collaborations, of course).
Out of educated sloppiness some might expect ”conscious” surrealist spirit in european-style auteur cinema, and ”unconscious” in commercial Hollywood cinema, but that’s obviously an obscuring prejudice. Let´s just say that the auteurs and the Hollywood directors alike have access to – and are actually very often inspired by – visions and fantasies out of the surrealist tradition as well as poetic visions etc out of their own minds. Then the film industry is probably too money-intensive for anyone to be able to keep up any mentally subversive aims throughout the process, the auteurs will focus more on satisfying critics, academics and bureaucrats while the hollywoods go for money – but images will survive, and new possibilities will emerge from the encounter with the spectator. (Actually I believe it might be slightly easier for people in Hollywood to stick to personal visions and subversive aims, since entertainment industry will try to enlist a lot of things it can’t understand or morally support in search for what might be or become the latest trend, while the auteur side of the business require long hard conditioning in current aesthetic values.)

When Kyrou revised his book in 1963 he had the opportunity to name a few directors who were then the young among auteurs, whom subsequently have added both gold and dirt to their merit lists while having become top-dog auteurs. He included for example Antonioni, Bergman, Wajda, Kubrick, Malle and Resnais, and as far as I remember not Kurosawa, Pasolini, Lindsay Anderson, Tarkovskij etc. Of course they all produced surrealist atmospheres now and then and a Kyrou would probably have made a case of trying to snatch them back from the embracing hands of the academia. This would probably also be true of the great mannerists; Greenaway, Jarman, Cronenberg. Regarding all of these we may have endless discussions about what’s empty gestures and what’s true imagination. I do regard some of their films as candidates for surrealist masterpieces, but I suspect it’s much connected to individual cinema experiences and personal associations that perhaps don’t matter much here.
Of somewhat more general surrealist interest I’d call some of Wim Wenders’ work (his unscrupulous and serious curiosity in Alice in den Städten and Falsche Bewegung (but also in Wings of Desire!) seems to represent a strong candidate of a romanticism for the present) and most of Werner Herzog’s, but I’d start speaking of undisputable surrealist values only in the cases of Peter Weir’s australian films, of much of Polanski’s work (his first movies were noticed by Kyrou, but they are quite different from the later ones, where I personally give ”The Tenant” the highest rank, the perfect surrealist thriller of paranoiac personal mythology), of the neo-bunuelian Jodorowsky, and also of the swedish low-budget director Håkan Alexandersson (both in his full-length films and in his earlier children’s TV serials, most in collaboration with Carl-Johan DeGeer, he persistently combined the traditional surrealist unexpected with burlesque absurdism, psychoanalytic humour and low materialism (dust & dirt, lumpenproletariat, incapacity), while his later shorts are usually more of individual lightnings of black humour. He collaborated with the Surrealist group in Stockholm on Stora Saltet and sadly, recently died).
A new genre that can’t pass unnoticed is the modern fairy tale of Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam, Jean-Pierre Jeunet & Marc Caro, and occasionally others. While they now and then keep plunging into banal sentimentality or naïve effect show-off, the fundamentally surrealist character of their imagery and vision is undisputable (put perhaps traditional enough not to have much to teach us?).
Another important contemporary genre, which is more problematic, is intelligent dystopian action. Inspired by the best SF authors and often also by radical theorists, these films (Matrix, Fight Club, Total Recall, Robocop etc, also including Carpenter’s classic They live! and probably even older films) disclose successive layers of sensory and social manipulation and thus suggests real conspiracies and inspire attempts to break out from spectacle and brainwash. Of course they are part of a ”radical chic” fashion, actively recuperating radical theory, but as the situationsts pointed out recuperation has dual edges, and the radical elements widely distributed as commodities may very well backfire and turn against society again. Another important question in this connection is whether purely paranoid visions are necessarily restricted and repetitive, or represent a line of imagination capable of poetic blossoming like others. (It was indeed a revelation to find in Michael’s book the startling fact that Paul Verhoeven had been involved in the dutch surrealist group!)
These new genres do also (along with other genres and most notably super hero films like Hulk, Daredevil, Spiderman and Spawn – and also Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon!) profit from the fact that computer animation nowadays is sufficiently good to convincingly visualise most fantasies, including long-dreamt and all kinds of ”true” (in a Bachelardian sense) ones. In early cinema (and low-budget and ”artistic” cinema) such wish-fulfillments could be equally convincing when only hinted at or symbolically represented, but for a long time the overall ambition has been to show explicit visualisations, and only recently this ceased to be an obstacle and instead turned into a possible lever of new fantasies.
For similar reasons I always appreciate a good natural catastrophe on film. Though I’m dissatisfied with how little use is made of landscapes and animals, both as acting agents and as objects of wonder and oneirism. Well, a lot of stories play in rainforests and mountains (perhaps fewer in deserts, polar areas and at sea?), and some domestic animals get their share of exposure with their tricks, but it’s rather rare to see these elements in their own right unless we turn to documentaries where it’s almost always accompanied by ridiculous rationalisations and banalised versions of recent scientific theories (”popular science”). There are numbers of exceptions though, and I’ll mention a swedish example each of creative use of landscapes and animals: landscape in Troell’s Ingenjör Andrées luftfärd, an epic of Andrées obsessive quest for the north pole; animals in Kristersson’s Pica pica, a portait of the life of the magpies in a Stockholm suburb without added narrator’s voice.
The subject of love isn’t one of the big issues in contemporary western cinema. Since at least one case of heterosexual severe romantic attachment is a compulsory ingredient in most types of movies, poetically inspired/inspiring elements in this sense may be found where they are least expected, like in horror or super-hero movies. On the other hand the ”romance” genre seems to be the perhaps worst place to look, usually having less to offer than superficially sentimentally preaching conformism and family values, thus being entirely antiromantic.
What we are used to regarding as a perfectly surrealist film is one where love is combined with imagination and revolt and at least one of these elements goes far beyond common acceptance. Most often this is done by psychologically portaying the reality-transforming potential of obsessed male desire, which gets rather tedious and probably isn’t as emancipatory as was once thought, but nevertheless have made several directors stage their most surrealist visions (including one that may not have reached international attention; the best movie by Arne Mattson, a swedish director mentioned by Kyrou, Skyltdockan about a night watchman falling in love with a mannequin). It would seem that binding the element of love closer with the element of revolt keeps yielding better results like Papatakis’ Les Abysses and Peter Jackson’s Heavenly creatures, (from Sweden Alfredson’s Tic-tac and Moodyson’s Fucking Åmål - both somewhat lacking in imagination but still quite beautiful), and finally the most beautiful cinematic eulogy of revolt ever made (which the Stockholm group in Stockholm suggested for the Leeds surrealist film festival in the 90s and keeps returning to), Claude Faraldo’s Themroc.
And while we are speaking about wish-fulfillment I should add something about pornography: if for a moment disregarding the social and moral implications of the genre it’d still seem that it’s almost exclusively devoted to simplistic wish-fulfillment in the most banal, unimaginative and degrading way.
Buñuel’s late movies show at the same time the triumph and the limits of traditional surrealist cinema. Fundamentally built upon the element of surprise, they proceed through industrious gags and absurdities (actually rather close to popular ”misconceptions” of surrealism); drawing on dreams, simplistic anti-bourgeois sentiments, more or less outdated anticlerical reflexes and murky banal eroticism. They are beautiful, marvellous, instigative, but they also represent an obvious cul-de-sac.
So, finally I get to the field where I still detect most of surrealist imagery and atmosphere, which is horror. More than anywhere else, the realisation of the imaginary, and the proximity and ambiguity of the border between everyday life and the fantastic, supernatural or just the extremely unusual and intense, is the main theme in horror movies, and several of the basic surrealist strategies and themes are also horror standard elements: obsessive imagery, objective chance, paranoiac-criticism, the search for unusual experiences, analogical thought, dreaming, and the whole aggressive side of wish-fulfillment; furthermore, the uncanny, assemblage objects, strange juxtapositions, the life of objects poutside the utilitarian sphere, new myth, old myth, inventing creatures, the return of the repressed, creative rage, automatism and medialism, etc etc. Horror movies actually seems to be the only field in contemporary cinema where the unknown is invoked, and associations without rational excuses are allowed and sometimes abundant.
If the 60’s remakes of the classic monster movies (and the whole Hammer output) were weaker than the originals, they still have surrealist qualities, and even more so have Corman’s Poe adaptations. Both these are mentioned by Kyrou I think but continued throughout the 60s. Then Romero’s zombie films and Hooper’s beautiful Texas chainsaw massacre revived the genre, and if we disregard the commercially successful but poetically weak Halloween (and its whole subsequent subgenre of ”psychopath thrillers”) and the Exorcist(which is quite boring but perhaps might be important for those who still get excited by simple blasphemy?), this soon led to what might be regarded as the surrealist masterpieces of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser and Hellbound and Wes Craven’s A nightmare on Elm Street & Wes Craven's New Nightmare, and Dario Argento’s entire work (Argento himself explicitly recognising his work as surrealist).
The boundaries of the genre are delineated by "transitory" subgenres of for example splatter comedy (where Wes Craven and Peter Jackson made poor stuff, while Sam Raimi and especially Stuart Gordon made good things), horror fantasy (including Tim Burton among others), horror SF (including the Alien sequel and Tobe Hooper's Life Force), and a sort of manneristic dystopian perverse-daliesque aestheticism running wild (with which I mostly mean Cronenberg; a personal vision of the kind that may or may not be annected for surrealism depending on one's taste and criteria). Again I'm not interested in discussing the pointless psychopath thrillers. Even high-finance Hollywood horror can make atmospheres and good fantasies; like in some of the remakes of monster classics, in bagatelles like The Others (for sure poorer than its source of inspiration The Innocents but nevertheless!), and even in cheap adaptions of computer games like the recent Silent Hill (despite stupid script flaws).
The thing is that the elements in my long list above do occur widely in the genre. But of course many of the worst ones are characterised by bad directing and bad acting, standardised scripts, simple genre markers, quite cheap startle/disgust shock effects, sometimes cheap fan-complementing allusions, sometimes rampant misogyny and pointless sadism, etc. But horror movies, like it or not, must be recognised as the genre which even in its most conventional form retains the largest numbers of surrealist elements!

some ghosts by Niklas Nenzen