Soft Self-Portrait of Salvador Dalí

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Yet another Dalí documentary, Soft Self-Portrait of Salvador Dalí is a welcome arrival at the splendid Ubuweb for its being the source of a number of sequences that turn up in later Dalí documentaries, notably the scenes of the artist and wife Gala emerging from giant eggs, and Dalí clattering away at a piano in which a number of unfortunate cats have been imprisoned. Jean-Christophe Averty is the director, and the narration for the English version is by Orson Welles. Ubuweb gives the date as 1967 but it’s listed as 1970 on IMDB. Whatever the year, it’s certainly the end of the 1960s with Dalí appearing a little more sprightly than in the Russell Harty film. He also appears wearing a shaggy wig out of sympathy for the youth of the day. (We know now that his sympathy for young men and women was more than a cultural interest.) Amid the usual boasting, tantrums and rather tiresome antics the filmmakers manage to come away with a couple of insights: at this point Gala was still appearing in public with Salvador, something she refused to do in later films. And there’s a trip by boat to a rocky coastline which Welles’ narration asserts was the inspiration for a number of the famous paintings. In all, it’s 52 minutes of craziness that’s recommended for anyone interested in Dalí’s art.

See also: Photographer David McCabe’s best shot in which that wig makes an appearance in the presence of another wig-wearing artist.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Mongolian impressions
Hello Dali!
Dalí and the City
Dalí’s Elephant
Dalí in Wonderland
Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune
Dirty Dalí
Impressions de la Haute Mongolie revisited
Dalí and Film
Salvador Dalí’s apocalyptic happening
Dalí Atomicus
Impressions de la Haute Mongolie

Hello Dali!

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Russell Harty and Salvador Dalí, 1973.

This would have been a real find if the quality wasn’t so poor. Hello Dali! was a 50-minute documentary film about Salvador Dalí broadcast in the UK in 1973 as part of ITV’s Aquarius arts strand. The whole thing is on YouTube chopped into five parts and is unfortunately blighted by severe ghosting throughout. Apart from that it’s perfectly watchable.

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Some conversations are subtitled so viewers are better able to make sense of Dalí’s English/Spanish/French dialect.

Brits who are old enough may remember Aquarius which was replaced in the late 70s by The South Bank Show, a programme using the same format of a short studio introduction followed by a self-contained film. In place of the SBS‘s Melvyn Bragg we have Humphrey Burton introducing a film directed by Bruce Gowers. Russell Harty is the front man, seen here in the days before he achieved greater fame as a gossipy chat-show host. I’d been wanting to see this for a long time, having lost a video tape of it years ago. I never saw the original broadcast but it was screened again after Dalí’s death in 1989, and I remembered it as being particularly good for showing a slightly more human side to the eccentric and occasionally annoying artist. So it is, giving us a brief portrait of Dalí in his 69th year, preoccupied at that time with the construction of his museum in Figueres. The nature of Harty and Gowers coup in getting the artist to allow a film crew into his home can be found in subsequent documentaries many of which use uncredited extracts from these interviews. It’s the brief moments of interview which make this even though they reveal little, it’s refreshing seeing Dalí talking conversationally rather than putting on a performance.

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The early 70s saw the last flare of real interest in Dalí from the world at large. Dalí and Surrealism in general had a resurgence of popularity in the late 60s as a consequence of psychedelic culture: a number of books by or about the artist were published or reprinted, among them Peter Owen’s 1973 revival of the novel Hidden Faces which Dalí had written in 1944. About the same time Alejandro Jodorowsky was circling the Dalí camp trying to inveigle the artist into portraying the Emperor in his planned film adaptation of Dune. One detail worthy of note in the conversation with Russell Harty is mention of a golden toilet, something which Jodorowsky says Dalí wanted as his throne if he was going to be filmed. We never got to see Jodorowsky’s Dune but it’s good to find this documentary available once again. Here’s hoping a better copy turns up eventually.

Hello Dali! Pt 1 | Pt 2 | Pt 3 | Pt 4 | Pt 5

Previously on { feuilleton }
Dalí and the City
Dalí’s Elephant
Dalí in Wonderland
Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune
Dirty Dalí
Impressions de la Haute Mongolie revisited
Dalí and Film
Salvador Dalí’s apocalyptic happening
Dalí Atomicus
Impressions de la Haute Mongolie

Weekend links 66

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A design by Emma Kunz (1892–1963).

• Following the news this week it’s worth reminding people of a great post put together by Adam Curtis back in January, Rupert Murdoch—A portrait of Satan. One detail there concerns the death of chat show host Russell Harty in 1988. This week the London Review of Books posted an extract from Alan Bennett’s diaries referring to the Harty episode where he notes how the tabloid practice of getting private phone numbers from the police was common and widespread, not simply the actions of a single newspaper. For more about the deathbed hounding of Russell Harty (and Bennett’s loathing of Murdoch) see Writing Home. Related: Dennis Potter shortly before his death discussing his desire to kill Rupert Murdoch.

• Don’t get mad, get even: Hakim Bey’s Black Djinn Curse: “How to invoke a terrible curse on a malign institution.” See also: Black magic as revolutionary action.

Village Voice talks to Linda Manz about her experience as a young actor in Days of Heaven, The Wanderers and Out of the Blue.

Truth Wins Out infiltrates the “ex-gay” clinic run by Michelle Bachmann’s husband.

Free Situationist booklets by Larry Law. Related: films by Guy Debord at Ubuweb.

• Have tea with Doctor Dee in Mortlake, London, next Wednesday.

Publisher Peter Owen: Sixty years of innovation.

Wilhelm Reich: the man who invented free love.

A conversation with Brian Eno by Ben Sisario.

The mysterious minaret of Jam, Afghanistan.

Stereolab cover designs at Hardformat.

Orgone Accumulator (1973) by Hawkwind | Cloudbusting (1985) by Kate Bush | Orgasmatron (1986) by Motörhead | Orgasmatron (1993) by Sandoz | Orgone Donor (2004) by Deathprod.

Dirty Dalí

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The paranoiac-critical gaze: Dirty Dalí.

I finally managed to see this fascinating documentary this week. Since my TV broke down some time ago I refused to waste money buying another, partly for the reason that films such as this are increasingly rare and most of them have been shunted to minority channel BBC 4 which I can’t receive. Thanks to BitTorrent you can still find the worthwhile stuff, of course, but this often requires patience.

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The Wines of Gala and of God (1977).

Dirty Dalí: A Private View was a reminiscence by art critic Brian Sewell about his encounters with Dalí and wife Gala at their home in Port Lligat in the late Sixties and early Seventies. What’s interesting about it is the first-hand light it throws on Dalí’s complicated sexuality which has been the source of speculation in biographies (notably Ian Gibson’s The Shameful Life of Salvador Dalí) but which is confused by the artist’s simultaneous revealing of his obsessions in his art and the veiling of his interests in public statements, not least the frequent declarations of impotence. Sewell confirms that Dalí was interested in both men and women although purely as a voyeur, and recounts how his first encounter with the artist led to his having to lie naked in the armpit of a giant Christ sculpture in Dalí’s garden, masturbating while Dalí took photographs. Sewell also examines Dalí’s affair with Federico García Lorca, the closest the artist came to a gay romance, and his subsequent relationship with Gala, which became one where the pair used the artist’s celebrity to attract delectable people of both sexes, like a pair of art world super-swingers. According to Sewell, Dalí’s physical ideal was the hermaphrodite which would possibly explain his attraction to (alleged) transsexual Amanda Lear during this time.

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The Great Masturbator (1929).

As a piece of television the film struggles to fill out its running time by resorting to animating photographs, a persistent hazard for documentaries that lack the relevant raw material. All the footage of Dalí is lifted from previous documentary films including a large chunk of Russell Harty’s Aquarius interview, Hello Dali! (that camp double-entendre now seems very apt), from 1973. The overall effect of Sewell’s narrative is to add to Dalí’s already considerable feet of clay but that’s the inevitable outcome of nearly any biography; real lives are always messy. Sewell nonetheless ends by reaffirming Dalí’s principal importance as one of the great painters of the 20th century and, in an interesting side note, declares him to be the last great painter of a religious work with his Christ of St John of the Cross. A great religious artist and also one who produced hundreds of pornographic drawings, some of which are seen in the film. In art, as in the life, the contradictions are everywhere.

Dirty Dalí at Grey Lodge
Homage to Catalonia: Robert Hughes on Dalí

Previously on { feuilleton }
Impressions de la Haute Mongolie revisited
Dalí and Film
Ballard on Dalí
Fantastic art from Pan Books
Penguin Surrealism
The Surrealist Revolution
The persistence of DNA
Salvador Dalí’s apocalyptic happening
The music of Igor Wakhévitch
Dalí Atomicus
Las Pozas and Edward James
Impressions de la Haute Mongolie