Dalí, Surrealism and Cinema
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Dalí, Surrealism and Cinema

Elliott H. King

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eBook - ePub

Dalí, Surrealism and Cinema

Elliott H. King

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About This Book

Salvador Dali is one of the most widely recognised and most controversial artists of the twentieth century. He was also an avant-garde filmmaker -- collaborating with such giants as Luis Bunuel, Walt Disney and Alfred Hitchcock -- though the impetus and endurance of his fascination with film has rarely been given the attention it merits. King surveys the full range of Dali's eccentric activities with(in) the cinema. Influenced by the Marx Brothers, Buster Keaton and Stanley Kubrick, Dali used the cinema to bring the 'dream subjects' of his paintings to life, providing the groundwork for revolutionary forays into television, video, photography and holography. Dali's writings continue to be relevant to discourses surrounding film and surrealism, and his embrace of academic technique partnered with contemporary technology and pop culture is a paradox still relevant today. From a movie-going experience that would incorporate all five senses to the tale of a woman's hapless love affair with a wheelbarrow, Dali's hallucinatory vision never fails to leave its indelible mark.

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Although the title ‘Surrealist’ was more or less bestowed and revoked at André Breton’s discretion, the aesthetic rupture between Dalí’s ‘Surrealist’ and ‘Ex-Surrealist’ painting was largely delineated – and exaggerated – by Dalí himself. The painter was not reticent to directly oppose his ‘classical’ outlook – heralded in the catalogue for his 1941 exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery, in his essay ‘The Last Scandal of Salvador Dalí’ – with his 1930s production, which he belittled as merely ‘experimental’.1 Over the next 40 years he declared his work was no longer ‘Surrealist’, yet he abandoned neither the paranoiac-critical method nor identifying himself as the only true Surrealist. Certainly his 1941 partition provides a convenient means of identifying a turn in his work: Thinly-veiled Freudian symbols give way to geometrically-organised mythological subjects. But while esteemed commentators have emphasised the severity of the 1941 ‘classical’ shift, closer examination reveals as many continuities as differences between the artist’s ‘Surrealist’ and ‘classical’ styles. While the case can – and, in my opinion, should – be made that Dalí’s 40 years of pictorial output following his break with Surrealism in 1939 was neither the aesthetic chasm he pretended it to be nor the hollow commercialism critics have judged it, the evidence for continuity is all the more persuasive with regards to his film scripts – particularly those classified here as ‘later films’ – due largely to his habit of taking from past projects. Impressions of Upper Mongolia – Homage to Raymond Roussel (1975) is perhaps the cinema’s most exhaustive use of the close-up that Dalí had lauded in the 1920s, launching its story from a microscopic zoom that focuses on the scratches and stains on a ballpoint pen. Also in the legacy of ‘anti-art film’, both The Wheelbarrow of Flesh (1948–1954) and The Prodigious Story of the Lacemaker and the Rhinoceros (1954–1962) were described as ‘exactly the opposite of an experimental avant-garde film, and especially of what is nowadays called “creative”, which means nothing but a servile subordination to all the commonplaces of our wretched modern art’.2 It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that certain scenes in The Prodigious Story of the Lacemaker and the Rhinoceros bear a striking resemblance to Un Chien Andalou – indeed, as the ultimate in auto-pilfering, in 1959 Dalí had his archivist Albert Field request permission from Buñuel for scenes from Un Chien Andalou to be recycled in The Prodigious Story of the Lacemaker and the Rhinoceros.3 Though this bid was unsuccessful, Un Chien Andalou’s famous opening would be resurrected in 1975 for the introduction to Impressions of Upper Mongolia – Homage to Raymond Roussel.
Such continuities confirm that the artificial partitions that have been constructed amongst Dalí’s early, Surrealist and long-censured ‘late’ production have been unnecessarily exaggerated. What is perhaps more true, at least in terms of cinema, is that after L’Âge d’Or, Dalí simply never again had access to a director as talented as Buñuel who could help bring his eccentric ideas to the screen; he was never able to single-handedly direct a picture. It is undoubtedly for this that over the years Dalí repeatedly tried to persuade Buñuel to collaborate on another film, though he wouldn’t receive a response until his last pitch in 1982, ‘The Little Demon’, by which time both were too aged to embark on any such venture.
Dalí filming the ‘Happening’ at the conclusion of Impressions de la Haute Mongolie – hommage à Raymond Roussel, 1975. Directed by José Montes-Baquer; Produced by Westdeutsches Fernsehen.
In this last section I often employ the term ‘film’ in favour of ‘cinema’. Despite Dalí’s access to the top names in the industry – Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Samuel Goldwyn, Marlene Dietrich, Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, Jacques Tati, Shirley Maclaine, Warren Beatty, Yul Brynner, Mia Farrow, Ali MacGraw, Brigitte Bardot, Darryl Zanuck and Otto Preminger, to name only a few – of his ideas that did come to fruition after Father of the Bride, none was made expressly for the silver screen. The Prodigious Story of the Lacemaker and the Rhinoceros was, as we’ll see, less a cinematic project than a visual sketchpad, Chaos and Creation (1960) pioneered video art rather than cinema and Impressions of Upper Mongolia – Homage to Raymond Roussel was made for television, raising the question of how Dalí viewed TV – as a purely vulgar medium, as Amanda Lear suggests, or as a platform potentially on a par with cinema when the right eye is behind the camera. One may remember the 1956 CBS programme Dalí directed at the height of his ‘atomic period’ that superimposed a cauliflower onto a rhinoceros horn, Jean-Christophe Averty’s television documentary Soft Self-Portrait of Salvador Dalí (1967), the wonderfully amusing ‘Happenings’ he shot for French television in the 1970s, his Emmy Award-winning 1972 interview with Russell Harty for the UK television programme Aquarius and his 1978 television special, 1001 Visions de Salvador Dalí, in which he interviewed the Romanian philosopher Stéphane Lupasco and Professor André Robinet, an expert on Nicolas Malebranche; he is also said to have worked on a stereoscopic television channel with the American company Video Head. I touch on only a few of these projects here, but if Robert Descharnes is correct in saying, ‘For Dalí, a camera was a camera […] The important thing was the film when he intervened’, mightn’t one be just in describing them all as mini-‘films’? Further, how many of these actually survived? When Russell Harty asked Dalí, ‘When was the last time you made a film like the one we’re doing?’ Dalí quickly answered, ‘One everyday.’ This must be an exaggeration, but certainly he had the equipment and means to make a short documentary of himself as often as he liked. Pushing the boundaries yet further, what about the TV advertisements he made for Braniff Airlines and Lanvin Chocolates – who can forget his expression when he declares himself ‘fou de chocolat Lanvin’? One of the agents who worked with Dalí on his 1974 commercial for Alka-Seltzer, in which he painted the medicine’s effect (literally) on the Spanish model Natividad Abascal, remembers that the artist ‘had no understanding of the 30-second time frame. He assumed that the commercial would start when he did and end when he was finished. Four minutes, five minutes, whatever’;4 it sounds like Dalí had more of a film in mind than a short advert, doesn’t it? While I have tried to make this introductory guide to Dalí and the cinema as complete as possible, the subject is potentially far-reaching, encompassing his work with television, photography, stereoscopy and even holography. Plainly all this is beyond my scope, but to gain a true appreciation for Dalí’s film work, one would be well-advised to explore these other relevant areas, too.

Wheelbarrow of Flesh, 1948–1954

I have positioned Dalí’s unrealised script Wheelbarrow of Flesh here to launch his ‘later films’, though the script touches on many areas of his cinematic development and might equally have been inserted into one of the other sections: Its themes are perhaps most closely aligned with his ‘Surrealist’ scripts – the symbol of the wheelbarrow was directly derived from his writings of the early 1930s; at the same time, it was conceived in California and was originally to star Paulette Goddard, one of Paramount’s top actresses, and thus might have capped Dalí’s ‘Hollywood’ period, though this wouldn’t be fully accurate as it almost immediately became a chiefly European venture, perhaps due to Dalí’s inability to interest the Hollywood establishment with his scenario. Justifying its presence in this section, Dalí touted Wheelbarrow of Flesh as the first ‘Neo-mystical’ film, by which he meant that it would ‘integrate in realism […] the tradition which is typical to the spirit of Spain’.5 This suggests that the film should foster a fecund rapport with his ‘later films’ conceived under the rubric of ‘Nuclear Mysticism’ – specifically The Prodigious Story of the Lacemaker and the Rhinoceros, with which Wheelbarrow of Flesh seems to have had some cross-over.
As Dalí tended to elaborate on his projects the longer he worked on them, the first version of Wheelbarrow of Flesh, a script in English preserved at the Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, is the most straightforward. It features only four unnamed principal characters: a shepherdess and young man, a hunter and a convict. The film opens with the young man working alone on the stone wall of his vineyard far from the village. He is approached by the shepherdess, who flirts with him and uses the wheelbarrow as a table for meals between them. At one point the young man is overcome by desire and lunges at the shepherdess. A nearby hunter witness to the man’s attack shoots and kills him, then escapes into the forest. The shepherdess puts the young man’s body in the wheelbarrow and takes it to the village, where the hunter confesses his crime, explaining that he was only preserving the shepherdess’s honour; he is sentenced to three years in prison. The shepherdess then joins a band of gypsies, during which time she becomes deliriously attached to the wheelbarrow, which she fills with all her small possessions. When the caravan makes plans to leave and the gypsies tell her that she must leave the wheelbarrow behind, she refuses, opting instead for a solitary life completely centred on the wheelbarrow. After various hallucinations of her lover and the hunter, the shepherdess visits the hunter in prison, where he promises to marry her. She accepts, but soon after she is admitted to a mental hospital. Upon leaving the hospital, she finds her wheelbarrow again, which has now inexplicably become flesh – as Dalí notes, ‘it breathes and bleeds’.6 The hunter’s friend, a convict, meanwhile seeks out the shepherdess to tell her that her fiancé is soon to be released. The hunter is released a day early, however, and when he goes to the shepherdess’s house to surprise her, he finds her with hi...

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Citation styles for Dalí, Surrealism and Cinema
APA 6 Citation
King, E. (2010). Dalí, Surrealism and Cinema ([edition unavailable]). Oldcastle Books. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/1707387/dal-surrealism-and-cinema-pdf (Original work published 2010)
Chicago Citation
King, Elliott. (2010) 2010. Dalí, Surrealism and Cinema. [Edition unavailable]. Oldcastle Books. https://www.perlego.com/book/1707387/dal-surrealism-and-cinema-pdf.
Harvard Citation
King, E. (2010) Dalí, Surrealism and Cinema. [edition unavailable]. Oldcastle Books. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/1707387/dal-surrealism-and-cinema-pdf (Accessed: 14 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
King, Elliott. Dalí, Surrealism and Cinema. [edition unavailable]. Oldcastle Books, 2010. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.