Surrealism - loosely understood as the use of (perhaps physically impossible) emotionally charged imagery structured via "dream logic" or free association (often manifest as apparent non sequitur) - has been a part of cinema from its earliest days. Many of the earliest manifestations, however, (perhaps most notably Un Chien andalou) are shorts and, as such, more amenable to inducing the patience for a lack of narrative structure characteristic of the consumption of paintings or music.
Beginning in the 1960s, however, feature-length surreal films began to appear with more frequency, demanding a genre unto themselves. (Admittedly, L'Age d'Or, 1930, at 60 min., is already long-form, but unlike in, say, painting, the golden age for surreal cinema only arrived in the 1960s.) This phenomenon invites, however, an analysis of what exactly it is that is appealing about 90 - 140 minutes of dream logic, how, in other words, one is to watch / appreciate / understand these films.
We will examine the problem in more detail by looking at a variety of case studies:
1. The Phantom of Liberty (coming soon)
Briefly, for now, the thesis is, roughly, something like this: Narrative cinema presents us with a sequence of events which, when knit together via the structure of the film, take the viewer through an emotional arc (the shape of which may be quite different from film to film, certainly from genre to genre: the emotional arc of action films is usually quite different from that of romantic comedies). Similarly, long-form surrealist films take the viewer through an emotional arc. This arc is to imposed upon the viewer, not through a literal structure of physically-plausible events, however, but rather through a sequence of images, which, in virtue of being emotionally charged, nevertheless create an emotional arc, albeit one at a very abstract level.
Hopefully, this loose claim will be made more rigorous and convincing as we examine some examples.