Thanks to the Museum of Modern Art’s recent exhibit Dali: Painting and Film (through 9/15/08), which features over 130 of the artist’s paintings and drawings, scenes and films brilliantly juxtaposed side by side, I feel I now understand Salvador Dali for the very first time. Though erotic Freudian imagery, sexed up amoebas and disembodied cocks, may be what draws one into the Surrealist’s paintings, it’s his use of lighting and perspective that keeps you coming back for more. For Dali never was a painter at heart, but a man possessed with (by?) a cinematographer’s eye. Within the limits of the flattened canvas Dali’s mind was able to create – see into the future – that which modern day CGI allows for the screen. In fact, both showman and visionary, this master of the bizarre does not even make sense outside of filmmaking! A piece of the puzzle is missing when his paintings are seen alone and static, not in conversation with Bunuel or Hitchcock (or even Cocteau). Viewing Dali’s artwork without a cinematic context is like trying to talk about (his friend and sometime collaborator) Warhol without mentioning The Factory. Now that I’ve seen “The First Days of Spring” holding severed hands with “Un Chien andalou,” I don’t desire to ever view “The Persistence of Memory” again unless Hitchcock’s “Spellbound” is somewhere close by. Or unless the wall it’s hanging on is actually moving.
And for another “eye opening” take on Dali and Bunuel’s classic study in sexual frustration, the erotically surreal “L’Age d’Or,” head trip on over to my column at Spout.