From Paris n’existe pas to Berkeley Square
Surrealism, time travel, and ‘second sight’
in Surrealism and film after 1945
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The post-war surrealist Robert Benayoun acknowledged in an interview the importance of a certain strain of science fiction to his film Paris n’existe pas (1969), but also its indebtedness to the fiction of modernist author Henry James and the 1933 mainstream movie Berkeley Square, lauded by André Breton around the time of its release. In this essay, I bring together the two films for the first time, reading Paris n’existe pas initially against the background of SF, but more as an updated version of Berkeley Square. That is to say, I interpret Paris n’existe pas as a film that is immersed in a history of mediumism as that has been understood in the theoretical and anecdotal history of surrealism. In this sense, the commonalities between the ‘time travel’ on view in both Paris n’existe pas and Berkeley Square are shown to be nothing less than the second sight observed by Breton in his longer theoretical tracts, such as Nadja (1928) and Mad Love (1937). Consequently, these can then be related to the novels of James in a comparison of surrealism and high modernism made on only one previous occasion, in the writings of none other than Benayoun himself.

Surrealism and film after 1945

Absolutely modern mysteries

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