Hello Dali!


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.


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.


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

The South Bank Show: Francis Bacon


Non-Brits may not be aware that The South Bank Show is a long-running arts programme (or “show”, as Americans prefer) and the last bastion of cultural broadcasting on the otherwise completely moribund ITV channel. Over the years the SBS has produced some great documentaries and this one from 1985 is particularly good, capturing artist Francis Bacon in fine form, both as combative critic and sozzled pisshead when he and presenter Melvyn Bragg drink too much wine in a restaurant. Highlights include his funny dismissal of Mark Rothko whilst viewing paintings at the Tate, their tour of his cramped studio, and his drunken pronunciation of the word “voluptuous” when describing Michelangelo’s male figures.

I taped this programme when it was repeated after Bacon’s death in 1992 but you lucky people can now see and download it from Ubuweb. (Their note says the SBS is a BBC production but this is incorrect.)

Part of The South Bank Show series, David Hinton directs this documentary about British painter Francis Bacon, known for his horrifying portraits of humanity. The program consists of a series of conversations between Bacon and interviewer Melvyn Bragg, starting with commentary during a side-show presentation at the Tate Gallery in London. Later in the evening, Bacon is followed through various bars hanging out, drinking, and gambling. In another segment, Bacon provides a tour of his painting studio and a glimpse at his reference photographs of distorted humans. The artist discusses his theories, influences, and obsessions. This title won an International Emmy Award in 1985.

This isn’t necessarily the best Bacon interview, that accolade would probably have to go to the 1984 Arena documentary (which was a BBC production) Francis Bacon: The Brutality of Fact where FB is interviewed by art critic and long-time supporter David Sylvester. Sylvester interviewed Bacon many times over twenty years or so and Thames & Hudson printed the Arena interview along with several of their other talks in Sylvester’s book of the same name. Essential reading for anyone interested in the artist’s work.

Bacon’s work has affected my own on a number of occasions. The cover to Reverbstorm #4 borrowed the carcass from his Painting (1946); some of the paintings I was doing in 1997 (like this one and this one) are distinctly Bacon-esque and we used two of his paintings on the cover design for Savoy’s edition of The Killer (Dave Britton’s idea on that occasion).

His work remains popular for the over-inflated art market. Sketches and unfinished paintings that he was throwing out, and detritus like discarded cheque books, sold for nearly a million pounds last month. And earlier this week his Study from Innocent X (1960) went for $52.6m in a New York auction. Bacon once said that “some artists leave remarkable things which, a hundred years later, don’t work at all. I have left my mark; my work is hung in museums, but maybe one day the Tate Gallery or the other museums will banish me to the cellar—you never know.” I think we can assume this won’t be happening for a while yet.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The gay artists archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
T&H: At the Sign of the Dolphin
20 Sites n Years by Tom Phillips