The Fame and Shame of Salvador Dalí

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…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.

George Orwell

This two-part, two-hour TV documentary from 1997 has a title that makes it sound like more on an exercise in audience pandering than was typical for the BBC’s Omnibus arts strand, fame and shame being qualities that might be considered of greater interest for the general viewer than art history. But Michael Dibb’s film is more insightful than those made 20 years earlier when access to the Dalí circle, and to Dalí himself, required flattery and capitulation to the artist’s whims and attention-grabbing antics. In place of the impersonal approach taken by the BBC’s Arena documentary from 1986 we have writer Ian Gibson serving as a guide to Dalí’s life while conducting research into a major biography, La vida desaforada de Salvador Dalí (The Shameful Life of Salvador Dalí), which was published a year later. “Shame” here refers more to Dalí’s numerous fears and phobias, especially those of the sexual variety, rather than to scandal and public opprobrium, while “Shameful Life” echoes the “Secret Life” title of the artist’s autobiography. Dalí’s sexual neuroses were always to the fore in his art but they remained concealed in his personal life, although the evasions—his frequent declarations of impotence, for example—don’t prevent Gibson from speculating. I saw this documentary when it was first broadcast but had forgotten the discussions of a possible homosexual relationship with Dalí’s adoring friend, Federico García Lorca, as well as the mention of the artist’s voyeurism, all of which was explored in more detail (and with some personal experience) by Brian Sewell a decade later in the TV documentary with the most prurient title of them all, Dirty Dalí: A Private View.

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Gibson is an engaging guide, with the advantage of being a fluent Spanish speaker able to engage in conversation with those who knew or worked for the artist. Several of the interviewees are familiar faces in Dalí films: Amanda Lear, art collectors Reynolds and Ellen Morse, Dalí’s first secretary and business manager, Captain Peter Moore, and painter Antoni Pitxot. 1997 was about the last time it was possible to make a documentary about Dalí that might feature interviews with people who knew the artist in his younger days, although José “Pépin” Bello, born the same year as Dalí in 1904, lived on until 2008. Bello was the sole surviving member of a Madrid student group in the 1920s whose other members were Dalí, Luis Buñuel and Federico García Lorca. He also turns up in The Life and Times of Don Luis Buñuel (1984), another BBC film which really ought to be on YouTube, where he makes unsubstantiated claims about having contributed ideas to Un Chien Andalou. It’s easy to be sceptical about the assertions of an uncreative man whose youth had been spent in the company of three great talents but according to this obituary both Dalí and Buñuel confirmed the claims. (The image of a rotting donkey, however, had appeared in Dalí’s paintings before the film was made.)

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Among the other people talking to Gibson are Surrealist poet David Gascoyne, and also George Melly, a man who for a long time was a ubiquitous presence whenever Surrealism was being discussed on British TV. The interviews are separated by clips from other films, two of which have featured in earlier posts: Hello Dalí! (which I keep hoping someone will upload to YouTube in better quality), and Jack Bond’s film of Dalí in New York in 1965. I watched both these again last year when I followed my viewing of the Svankmajer oeuvre with a number of Surrealist documentaries. Jack Bond’s film is especially good for its verité qualities, and for Jane Arden’s attempts to persuade Dalí to talk seriously for once about his art.

The Fame and Shame of Salvador Dalí: Part One | Part Two

Previously on { feuilleton }
Figures of Mortality: Lawrence versus Dalí
Être Dieu: Dalí versus Wakhévitch
Chance encounters on the dissecting table
Salvador Dalí’s Maze
Dalí in New York
Dalí’s discography
Soft Self-Portrait of Salvador Dalí
Mongolian impressions
Hello Dalí!
Dirty Dalí
Impressions de la Haute Mongolie revisited

Weekend links 535

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The Wagnerites (1894) by Aubrey Beardsley.

• “Part of my problem with influence is that the concept is too univocal; most of us are impacted by many others during our lifetimes, but often in oblique ways. So many of the most interesting bits of cultural transmission happen nonlinearly, via large groups of people, and in zigzag mutations. Assigning influence can also have the unintentional effect of stripping artists of their own originality and vision.” Geeta Dayal reviewing Wagnerism by Alex Ross.

• “Buñuel stubbornly refused to have any group affiliation whatsoever. Even though critics always tried to categorize him, he never wanted to explain the hidden meanings of any of his films and often denied that there were any.” Matt Hanson on the surreal banality of Luis Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel.

• Next month Soul Jazz release the fourth multi-disc compilation in their Deutsche Elektronische Musik series devoted to German music from the 1970s and 80s. The third collection was the weakest of the lot so I wasn’t expecting another but this one looks like it may be better.

James Balmont chooses the five best films by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, who he calls “cinema’s master of horror”. I’ve yet to see any of these so I can’t say whether the label is warranted or not.

• At Wormwoodiana: Mark Valentine in a two-part post here and here charts the emergence of an under-examined sub-genre, the metaphysical thriller.

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• At Spine: George Orwell’s Animal Farm receives new cover designs for its 75th anniversary.

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• Mix of the week: FACT mix 775 by Sarah Davachi.

May 24th by Matthew Cardinal.

• Ry Cooder with Jon Hassell & Jim Keltner: Video Drive-By (1993) | Goose And Lucky (1993) | Totally Boxed In (1993)

Weekend links 469

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X from Theodore Howard’s ABC (1880) by Theodore Howard.

• “[Parade] has everything: joy and sadness, get-down and wistfulness, mourning and melancholia, group funk and Debussy interludes, echoes of Ellington, Joni, film music, chanson. It’s a perfectly realised whole.” Ian Penman on the enigmas and pleasures of Prince.

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This willing constriction of intellectual freedom will do lasting damage. It corrupts the ability to think clearly, and it undermines both culture and progress. Good art doesn’t come from wokeness, and social problems starved of debate can’t find real solutions. “Nothing is gained by teaching a parrot a new word,” Orwell wrote in 1946. “What is needed is the right to print what one believes to be true, without having to fear bullying or blackmail from any side.” Not much has changed since the 1940s. The will to power still passes through hatred on the right and virtue on the left.

George Packer on what George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four means today

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• RIP film-maker and author Peter Whitehead.

X is for…

X Offender (1976) by Blondie | X-Factor (1981) by Patrick Cowley | X-Flies (1997) by Mouse On Mars

Weekend links 348

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The Masque of the Red Death (1932) by John Buckland Wright.

• Thanks to MeadesShrine I’ve been working my way through Jonathan Meades’ television essays so this is timely: The Plagiarist in the Kitchen, an “anti-cookbook” by the man with forthright opinions.

• “‘Decopunk’ deserves to be bigger than Steampunk,” says Sam Reader. I consider my work on Bruce Sterling’s Pirate Utopia to be more Futurist than Deco but the period is right.

• “Celebrating the cinematically surreal, bizarre, cult, oddball, fantastique, strange, psychedelic, and the just plain WEIRD!”: 366 Weird Movies

But Fascism is also a political and economic system. Why, then, cannot we have a clear and generally accepted definition of it? Alas! we shall not get one—not yet, anyway. To say why would take too long, but basically it is because it is impossible to define Fascism satisfactorily without making admissions which neither the Fascists themselves, nor the Conservatives, nor Socialists of any colour, are willing to make. All one can do for the moment is to use the word with a certain amount of circumspection and not, as is usually done, degrade it to the level of a swearword.

George Orwell discussing the imprecise application of the “F” word

• At The Psychedelic Museum, a report on this month’s art show, Alice’s Adventures in Underground Culture.

M. John Harrison announces a new story collection which will be published later this year by Comma Press.

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Daisy Woodward on how LSD adventures inspired John Waters’ Multiple Maniacs.

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Benge presents a list of his favourite electronic albums.

Is this the underground Everest?

Strange Things Are Happening (1968) by Rings & Things | Strange Magic (1975) by Electric Light Orchestra | Strange (1977) by Wire |

Weekend links 214

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San Francisco Sound (1967). Art by Wallace Studio, Seattle.

• RIP gay porn pioneer Peter de Rome. BUTT posted de Rome’s surprisingly daring Underground (1972), a film in which two men have an unfaked sexual encounter on a New York subway train. That film and others are available on the BFI’s DVD collection. Related: Brian Robinson remembers a director of films whose supporters included Andy Warhol, William Burroughs and John Gielgud.

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How are we expected to take seriously…any work which appears to have engaged less than the whole passionate attention of its author? To be fobbed off, at the last, with something which we feel to be less true than the author knew it to be, challenges the importance of the whole art of writing, and instead of enlarging the bounds of our experience, it leaves them where they are.

Katherine Mansfield was also a book reviewer.

• JG Ballard’s Crash is reissued in August by Fourth Estate with an introduction by Zadie Smith. There’s a tantalising extract from the intro at the NYRB or you can read the whole thing if you’re a subscriber.

• “Between 1959 & 1980 Shirley Collins changed the course of folk music in England & America. Thirty years after disappearing, she’s back.”

Photos by Anne Billson of one of the more attractive Parisian arcades. Related (in a flâneur sense): Christina Scholz‘s Vancouver dérive.

• “Why did Borges hate soccer?” asks Shaj Matthew. Related: George Orwell on the same subject.

• Mixes of the week: FACT mix 447 by Forest Swords, and Programme 13 from Radio Belbury.

• At Dangerous Minds: Roland Topor’s cheerfully violent illustrations from Les Masochistes.

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• Strange Flowers looks at Oskar Schlemmer‘s Triadic Ballet designs.

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It’s All Over Now (1963) by The Valentinos featuring Bobby Womack | It’s All Over Now (1964) by The Rolling Stones | It’s All Over Now (1974) by Ry Cooder