Spanish painter Salvador Dali lived from 1904 until 1989. That means he was around for most of the 20th century and he became one of the most popular artists of his time. There has been some debate about his talent and popularity as some have claimed that he is merely a product of his own tireless self-promotion. Whatever side of the fence you sit on this documentary about his life and career is certainly an informative and entertaining one.
Besides Picasso Dali is the most famous Spanish painter of all history. Dali was considered part of the Surrealists despite his fights with the members of that painting movement. François Levy-Kuentz’s film examines the man, the myth, his personality, the many artistic mediums he worked in like painting, sculpture, film, and theatre, places that were important in his life like Cadaqués, Paris, Madrid, Perpignan, and New York, and his upbringing.
You cannot talk of Dali without mentioning his relationship with psychoanalysis. Many of his works drew upon the canons of this science like man’s death wish, analysis and the subconscious. Subconsciousness and the symbolism of shapes became supremely important in his art. They were of his erotic fantasies.
Dali was born in Figueras and his family spent every summer in Cadaqués. He was brought up by his authoritarian father and his mother, who he described as “the greatest madwoman”. Lydia was a paranoid who had a large influence on Dali and what he believed in spiritually. He suffered greatly when his mother died when he was seventeen. The Dalis were a bourgeoisie family. From an early age the ordinary bored Dali and he was drawn to the exceptional. He was a young man who wanted to be noticed whatever it took.
In regards to his more formal training Dali attended the Madrid Academy of Painting. There he caused so much trouble that he caused a riot and was arrested. There though he met the poet Federico Garcia Lorca. Lorca fell in love with Dali. Dali, not a homosexual, never became physical with him, but was faithful to him in friendship. After declaring that his teachers were unfit to mark him, Dali was expelled from the Academy of Painting.
From there he went to Paris to meet the great painter, Picasso. After spending some time with the man and seeing his studio Dali stated that he finally understood what “modern” meant. In 1929 at the Ursulines Studios a film was screened by Dali and his friend Luis Bunel. The irrational but at the same time poetic images shocked those who saw it. It caused a scandal, but was loved by the Surrealists.
Upon his return to Spain Dali fell in love with a married woman named Gala. She became his companion and his muse. His father disapproved of the relationship and threw him out of the house. Gala and Dali moved into a tiny house. They were basically shunned by everyone. It was during this time he began to paint like a madman. Dali developed his “paranoid-critical” method that was inspired by Freud. He claimed that the painting style was a method of self-analysis.
During the summer of 1930 Magritte and others went to Cadaqués to invite Dali to join the Surrealists. This despite the fact that some of the group was taken aback by his early work. In his work Dali dealt with sexuality, desire and love. Because he lived a life in which he seemed to respect nothing and no one. The leader of the Surrealist movement, André Breton, took Dali under his wing. Though his work sometimes would alarm them the Surrealists loved Dali’s work. The relationship was definitely a rocky one.
During the Spanish Civil War Dali refused to take sides and fled with Gala to Italy. The Surrealists sided with the Communists, but Dali refused to follow. He was expelled from the Surrealist movement due to what was called “counter-revolutionary acts”. This did not stop him from calling himself a Surrealist. Quite the opposite as for the rest of his career he insisted that he was surrealism.
During World War II he lived in exile in New York with Gala. He worked tirelessly at getting the attention of the art world and the public. Dali worked ceaselessly as he was obsessed with making money. As a result he became one of the richest young painters in the world. During this period besides painting he wrote his autobiography (The Secret Life of Salvador Dali), created a pavilion for the World Fair and collaborated with Alfred Hitchcock on his film Spellbound.
After the War he returned to Spain with Gala. Spain was now a country ruled by the fascists. Dali just went on with his work. He renovated and enlarged his house into a baroque palace imagined as a work of art. This would continue to be his only studio until the time of his death.
The black and white film is in French with English subtitles. It goes a long way towards showing what a mad talent Dali was. He thought of himself as a provocateur and the saviour of modern art. Thought of as a narcissist, he did not care and forged his own path in the art world. No matter what his methods were or what he believed in there is no denying that the man had talent and a vision. Dali became so popular that his name is one of best known in the art world. Not bad for a man who when he was a young boy wanted first to be a chef and then Napoleon. In a strange way he accomplished the latter as he became a leader and a ruler of the art world.