(Directed by David Pujol) (2018)
Mercury Cinema, Adelaide, 17 February 2020
As Dalí maintained, he was surrealism. It was probably his only constant in life. He was born 11 May 1904 in the Catalonian town of Figueres, named (‘reincarnated’) after a brother who had died a year before, aged two, doted on by his mother (who died when he was 16: “the greatest blow I had experienced in my life. I worshipped her… I could not resign myself to the loss of a being on whom I counted to make invisible the unavoidable blemishes of my soul.”) His father was a martinet, but he allowed Dalí to attend art school where he showed great drawing skills (a talent in which he exceeded all other surrealists and every abstract dauber to hold a brush ever since).
His influences ranged from the classical (Raphael) to the baroque (Vermeer) to Spanish Masters such as Zurbarán and Velázquez, thence to Picasso, Miró and Cubism. His work became increasingly vivid, detailed, and impenetrable; revealing, in Gombrich’s apt phrase, “the elusive dream of a private person to which we hold no key.”
He met and married Elena Ivanovna Diakonova (“Gala”), 10 years his elder, his muse, mother-figure, protector and agent, who seems to have suffered him through the years, in exchange for fortune and fame (there must be compensation for being wooed by a self-confessed charlatan using a love unguent comprised of goat excrement and fish glue). Repudiated by his father (they later reconciled), he and Gala decamped to a fishing hut in Port Lligat, on the Costa Brava, in 1929. His success enabled him to buy the hut, and then another, and so on, such that eventually, the additions meant, like the priest in “Father Ted,” his house was in a circle. He added to and decorated his beloved villa over the decades, including the building of a high studio with all mod cons. It eventually became Camp Dalí:
This documentary has several very good things going for it, and some drawbacks. Of the former, a wonderful array of stills and footage of Dalí and his cohort; sumptuous visual guides through his house and gardens at Port Lligat, the castle he bought and renovated for Gala in Púbol, and his Theatre and Museum in Figueres (where he ended his days on 23 January 1989, listening to Tristan und Isolde, where he is buried, across the street from the church where he was baptised, and up the street from where he was born). There are nice photographs of some of his more celebrated works, and we are given hints about the psychological stimuli behind them (his confused religious feelings, his relationships with his family, the influence of Gala, his need for comfort and succour, his striving after immortality).
We do not get much true biographical detail (hence our little sketch above) and we have even less information about his method, his fanatical egotism, his madness, or his views. Of the latter, we concede that he was wildly inconsistent and elusive about that: much derided by his surrealist colleagues who attacked him from the left, he earned scorn for bugging out of (or returning to) war zones in Spain and France (Orwell wrote of him that “One ought to be able to hold in one’s head simultaneously the two facts that Dalí is a good draughtsman and a disgusting human being.”)
The editing might have been a tad tighter – there is repetition without effect, the piece is about twenty minutes too long and the soundtrack is a little slurpy. There’s no particular argument in play; the film takes a curiously passive approach for such a controversial figure. And we could do without the wittering circle of experts…talking in endless metaphysical circles, here on the beach at Port Lligat, there on the terrace at Casa Dalí…in the rooms they come and go, not talking about Michelangelo…One can picture Dalí, the great poseur yet one of genius, delighting in all the attention but inwardly smirking at the faux exegeses on his life and art.