Perhaps the monstrous success of this summer's surprise blockbuster hit Inception will yield additional surprises—like sellout crowds at the High Museum of Art's Film Series. Dalí, A Passion for Film, running in consort with the "Dalí: The Late Work" exhibition.
The three-show series begins this Friday (August 21 at 8pm) with a program hosted by Elliott King, the guest curator of "Dalí: The Late Work" and author of Dali, Surrealism And Cinema with a program that explores Dalí's interest in the movies through his collaborations with Luis Buñuel (An Andalusian Dog), Walt Disney ("Destino") and Alfred Hitchcock (the dream sequence from Spellbound)
Despite intrinsic connections between dreaming and the movies, few of Dalí's forays into filmmaking actually deliver on the promise presented by the fertile landscape. Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog), his first film, made in collaboration with Luis Buñuel, comes closest to putting into motion the Surrealistic images of static paintings.
This is due as much to the genius of Buñuel and the truly anarchic spirit of the silent film which rejects cinematic conventions like narrative logic, linear editing, crisp focus, and other totems that give audiences a frame of reference.
The eyeball motif returns in Dalí's other two collaborations, but unlike his work with Buñuel, in whom Dalí found a kindred spirit, his films with masters Disney and Hitchcock are fussy with reverence for the painter.
"Destino" is a curiosity worth taking a look at, if only to see what on earth Disney and Dalí managed to cook up together. Sadly, the film feels more like an effort to animate the master's paintings than an effort to expand the form in collaboration. At its best, "Destino" offers a glimpse into what a multi-dimensional, ever fluid and changing world built from Dalí's paintings might look like. (Doesn't the fact that his paintings are frozen in time lend to their surrealism? Inviting long, timeless, endless stares, the image of a clocks melted over rocks as if admit, yes, we've got nowhere to go). At its worst, "Destino" feels like a storyboard for a failed Cirque du Soliel performance, complete with a wandering dancer and a clever cache of visual tricks and treats. That Dalí failed to find something more interesting to do with the man who made an international superstar out of a mouse reeks of missed opportunities.
Of his collaboration with Hitchcock on the dream sequence in Spellbound, much has been written.
The Wikipedia Entry on the film summarizes it simply, "Further contention (between Alfred Hitchcock and producer David O. Selznick) was caused by the hiring of surrealist artist Salvador Dalí to conceive certain scenes of mental delusion. Hitchcock himself had very little to do with the actual filming of the dream sequence. Selznick thought that it was not Dalí's fault, for his work was much finer and much better for the purpose than he ever thought it would be, and although much of Dalí's work was used, one dream sequence depicting Bergman turning into a statue of the Roman goddess Diana was cut. Ingrid Bergman is quoted in the Hitchcock biography The Dark Side of Genius (1983) by Donald Spoto that the Dalí sequence ran for almost 20 minutes before it was cut by Selznick."
I always found the remaining dream sequence in Spellbound to be rather corny, more than a little hokey, far too literal to take seriously. To learn that Hitchcock and his producer were feuding at the time, and that Selznick hired William Cameron Menzies, who had worked on Gone With the Wind, to oversee the set designs and to direct the sequence, explains my reservations about the sequence.
Despite the limitations of the films themselves, the program itself—and the entire series—is well worth your consideration. The series cleverly builds from Dalí's partnerships in film, to an August 28th program called "Dalí's American Friends," which includes the Marx Brothers' masterpiece Duck Soup.
Anyone who hasn't had the pleasure of watching Duck Soup in a theater with an audience owes it to themselves to make it to this screening. After all, it was an accidental viewing of the Duck Soup (part of the 'joyous' declaration of war sequence is featured) that reminded Woody Allen that life is worth living in Hannah and Her Sisters.
The series concludes on September 11 with a program which I've been invited to introduce called, "Lights Camera, Dalí" in which the master basks in the spotlight of his own celebrity—as the subject of films by Jonas Mekas, Andy Warhol and others.
I'll reserve my comments about Dali and his fascination with his own celebrity for the screening, I will close with an interesting line-up of clips I uncovered on YouTube while researching my remarks. The experience of watching them below, in succession will lead you down a decidedly surreal rabbit hole (or up a case of Penrose steps?)...
The very idea of celebrity invites dream-like allusions. (We dream of being famous...) A playful notion of artifice, performance, disguise and deceit emanates from these clips, which paradoxically bristle with life and remain frozen in time.
Perspective and point of view are all on display in this post-post-modern exercise of dumpster diving for nostalgia. Following the thread feels so much like trying to make sense of the dream architecture Joseph Gordon Levitt so poetically describes as "a closed loop that helps you disguise the boundaries of the dream you create."
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