Deathbed Pranks of the Great Directors

Bunuel had two jokes he contemplated playing on his friends and relatives, both involving his own death. He was a funny guy.

In Joke #1, Bunuel is on his death-bed, surrounded by his subversive friends. A priest appears. Everyone except Bunuel is surprised and puzzled. What can the great non-believer want with a priest? Bunuel proceeds to make his last confession, denouncing his sinister atheistic ways and calling upon his friends to return to the faith before it’s too late.

“And then I die, and I go straight to hell, because it’s all a joke I’m playing on my friends!”

In Joke #2, Bunuel is already dead. His family gather to hear the will, the disposal of “my vast fortune!” But the lawyer says they can’t start until Rockefeller arrives. Again, puzzlement. Then Nelson appears, and the will is read, revealing that Don Luis has left his entire fortune to the world’s richest man. “And my family — out in the street!” Bunuel would chortle. “I go to my grave with the curses of all my loved ones, a fine way for a surrealist to leave the world.”

Of course, he didn’t seriously contemplate pulling either stunt, but he did express a wish to be conscious at the moment of passing, a wish which, as the previous post indicates, was granted. Not sure whether I have any hankering to experience the moment of final dissolution. A couple of Woody Allen quotes ~

“Some people want to achieve immortality through their works, or through their descendants. I want to achieve it by not dying.”


“After all these years, my feelings about death have not changed. I’m still strongly against it.”

and one from Emo Phillips ~

“I want to die like my father did, peacefully in his sleep. Not screaming in terror like his passengers.”


19 Responses to “Deathbed Pranks of the Great Directors”

  1. In the documentary A PROPOSITO DE BUNUEL included on the second disk of LA CHARME DISCRET DE LA BOURGEOSIE, Carriere notes that Bunuel tried as much as possible to remain conscious till the end, he really wanted to experience death. And yes he did spend most of his final days with a priest pal of his.

  2. He mentions the priest (who’s present) in the BBC doc which shows him talking about his little prank. “I call for a priest — not you, someone much stricter!” So the priest was present as a friend, not a confessor. But certainly Bunuel liked to keep his choices open, as encapsulated in his soundbite “Thank God I’m an atheist.”

  3. Bunuel was beyond returning to the Church and his attitude towards it is totally unambiguous but his feelings about the Church’s obsolescence is tied to his dislike towards middle class civilization and all its taboos. His feelings towards the Church stems from the fact that it embraces the very values and conservativeness that would eventually make it irrelevant in the long run(and that run is near the end these days). His most bitter yet striking statements is, “People always want an explanation of everything. It is the consequence of centuries of bourgeois education. And for everything for which they cannot find an explanation, they resort in the last instance to God. But what is the use of that? Eventually they have to explain God!”

  4. Melville is absolutely right as he always is.

    What would be Woody Allen’s response to Melville’s pronouncement – “To grow immortal and then die.”

  5. Jus tin from the new Woody Allen You Will Meet a Tall Dark Starnger.
    VERY bad.

  6. With Woody, he makes so many movies that there’s bound to be clunkers every third or fourth film he makes. Anyway his next movie will be in Paris and it stars Madame le President.

  7. My own personal favorite Emo Phillips quote (or at least close paraphrase) is “The best way to cure a child of a fear of the dark is to fill his daylight hours with as much horror as possible.” I’d think Bunuel would have appreciated that line.

  8. I think so too! He was also responsible, I believe, for what Spike Milligan said was his favourite joke, the one about his apartment having all its contents stolen and replaced with identical replicas. “I asked my flatmate, ‘What happened here?’ He turned to me and said, ‘Who are you?'”

    I love Woody Allen up until around Husbands and Wives / Manhattan Murder Mystery but I have to side with the majority on this one and say he’s been hitting clunkers more regularly than not.

    Melville arguably fulfilled his goal. Woody may end up doing it the other way around.

  9. I greatly enjoyed his last-one-before-this, Whatever Works so I thought things were looking up. Alas no.

    Still it was great to see Gemma Jones (who as we all know won cinematic immortality for The Devils — particularly its last shot.)

  10. Well I thought his run from Match Point to Vicky Cristina Barcelona was nice. Scoop isn’t as bad as people make it out to be and Match Point and Cassandra’s Dream are masterpieces, the only Anglo-American rivals to Claude Chabrol.

    I haven’t seen Whatever Works yet.

  11. The last shot of The Devils is one of the most epic moments of British cinema ever.

    What is kind of interesting with late Allen is that, while his earlier films divide audiences along fairly predictable lines, there’s little general agreement about which are the good later ones, with the spectrum running from blanket dismissal to mostly approval. And the ones I hear about being particularly bad are other people’s favourites.

  12. With Woody Allen, he was initially accepted because his films tapped into a nostalgic appeal for older, authentic popular culture(his preference for jazz and complete indifference to rock for instance) that audiences of the 70s could relate to if not entirely accept. With the 80s, when newer generations came in, he made mostly period films and when he returned to contemporary America with Crimes and Misdemeanors, Husbands and Wives it was much more harsh and tough than anything he did before. After those two you could say he’s had trouble finding his audience. It’s a problem that’s affected many of the 70s generation. Like Scorsese has lost all interest in depicting contemporary America and wants to make either period or art films, the exceptions like Bringing out the Dead, The Departed being very striking for betraying the norm.

    With Match Point and Cassandra’s Dream he’s found his focus in England, namely twenty-first century capitalism and how it determines everything from family, friendship and romantic relationships. And its very significant that he made these movies in England during the years of Bush’s first term where he was questionably elected and the second where he was re-elected legitimately. He’s letting off much needed steam and yelling to his homeland from across the pond in the tradition of the many ex-pat film-makers who came to England and left masterpieces behind.

  13. I dunno, a big part of Allen’s appeal was the idea of cerebral humour, which fitted in at the time. I suspect a lot of his audience would have liked him MORE if he’d dug rock n roll and counterculture stuff more. Same with Robert Crumb.

    He lost his constituency muchly because of the messy marital break-up… the shift in his filmmaking hasn’t been consistently away from the gentle to the harsh (Deconstructing Harry being maybe the harshest). He made the charming Manhattan Murder Mystery right after Husbands and Wives. I sincerely think his comedies aren’t as funny as they were, though — Small Time Crooks was pretty lame.

    Actually, what I like about ex-pats like Lester and Losey is their engagement in the culture they found here. I don’t see there focus as being on the US, that often.

    As for Scorsese, even Bringing Out the Dead is a period movie, set in the recent past when NYC was a hive of scum and villainy.

  14. kevin mummery Says:

    Speaking of Woody Allen, he’s in the hospital. Waiting for his next wife to be born.

    Thank You, I’ll be here all week.

  15. “the one about his apartment having all its contents stolen and replaced with identical replicas.”

    That was Steven Wright the other great modern absurdist; “Some people have a fear of heights, I have a fear of widths.”

    Emo; “when I was growing up my parents said, ‘Don’t open the cellar door, don’t open the cellar door.’ Eventually I did and I saw wonderful things, grass, trees, the sun… “

  16. Also, just found out that Emo Phillips wrote and produced an indie comedy called Meet the Parents that was bought and remade with DeNiro and Stiller. Apparently everyone died at the end of his version.

    I wonder if he got a credit.

  17. Ah, you’re right re Wright. I seem to recall the Emo short playing in Edinburgh. Never saw it, and forgot all about it until now.

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