The Wild Medium: Anarchism and Surrealist Cinema

  • Kristoffer Noheden Stockholm University


In an earlier article, I discussed the surrealist reception of film in relation to the movement’s affinities with anarchism, which I further aligned with the surrealists’ fascination with occultism and ecological tendencies. My article extends that analysis to films made by surrealists, or those in close proximity to the movement. I focus primarily on four filmmakers – Jean Vigo, Luis Buñuel, Nelly Kaplan, and Jan Švankmajer – whose films span a period of nearly a century, from the late 1920s to the early 2020s. Here, I make the argument that their approach to surrealism in film aligns them with anarchism.


The surrealists were initially attracted to film because it appeared to them as free from aesthetic conventions and hierarchies, and they thought of cinema as an intervention in the closed-off classical and rationalist idea of neatly ordered space and time. I propose that the surrealists viewed film as a “wild medium,” free from the elitism characterizing the classical arts. In his 1951 film-theoretical essay “As in a Wood,” André Breton laments the fact that following the transition to sound, film settled into “a theatrical type of action.” For Breton, film had been domesticated: surrealist filmmakers, however, continued to draw on film’s wild potential. Narratives of revolt, montage employed to subvert the conventional order of the world, and, for some of the filmmakers, an affinity with magic and occultism, ally them with broader anarchist tendencies in surrealism.

Author Biography

Kristoffer Noheden, Stockholm University

Kristoffer Noheden is a Reader in Cinema Studies and Research Fellow in the Department of Media Studies, Stockholm University. He is co-editor of Surrealism and Film after 1945: Absolutely Modern Mysteries (Manchester University Press, 2021) and has published widely on surrealism across the art forms. His current research examines the intersection of surrealism and documentary as well as the Canadian-Mexican painter and assemblage artist Alan Glass.