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(Credit: Roger Higgins)


Exploring the enigmatic film career of Salvador Dalí

The paintings and artworks of the great surrealist master Salvador Dalí have been endlessly celebrated, studied and referred to in popular discourse. His ability to conjure up unforgettable images littered with philosophical and political motifs have inspired other schools of art as well, including pop art of the 1950s as well as many modern artists.

However, Dalí’s penchant for constructing striking images aren’t just restricted to his paintings. He has explored his ideas of symbolism and surrealism through iconic sculptures such as the Lobster Telephone which was intended to be an erotic interaction between two wildly different objects as Dalí believed that food and sex were intricately connected.

In addition, he worked in the realm of fashion as a designer and also wrote extensively on art criticism and embarked on other literary investigations. Some of his most interesting contributions outside the world of paintings and sculptures came when he decided to venture into the domain of theatre and the fledgling art-form that was cinema at the time.

While Dalí started out as a set designer for theatrical productions such as or Federico García Lorca’s Mariana Pineda and had been interested in theatre as a child, he soon realised that cinema had the unimaginable potential of showing people “the unlimited fantasy born of things themselves”. This fascination with the cinematic medium led to pioneering developments for the surrealist movement.

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Dalí ended up collaborating with another pioneer named Luis Buñuel and together, they made what is now cited as the greatest short film of all time. Titled Un Chien Andalou, the film was actually funded by Buñuel’s mother and it featured an unprecedented investigation of surrealism as well as voyeurism. According to Buñuel, they had decided to make something which would resist any and all rational explanations.

Dalí was a huge advocate of enhancing creativity through dreams and Un Chien Andalou actually originated there as well. “We had to look for the plotline,” Buñuel once explained in a letter sent to a friend in 1929. “Dalí said to me, ‘I dreamed last night of ants swarming around in my hands’, and I said, ‘Good Lord, and I dreamed that I had sliced somebody or other’s eye. There’s the film, let’s go and make it.”

They reinforced their filmography by following it up with a feature film called L’Age d’Or in 1930 after their debut showed the world what they were capable of. Fuelled by anti-establishment views, the film was actually banned when right-wing groups started rioting after realising what Dalí and Buñuel were criticising in their enigmatic satirical comedy.

After his fantastic partnership with Buñuel, Dalí had many ideas for films which would remain unrealised. He even collaborated with Alfred Hitchcock for a dream sequence in Spellbound (neither of them liked it) and wrote a sketch exclusively for Harpo Marx, before working with Walt Disney on Destino which would be abandoned and eventually completed in 2003.

Dalí continued to work with documentary filmmakers but the greatest unrealised project of his cinema career was the missed opportunity of starring in Alejandro Jodorowsky’s fabled interpretation of Dune. The film never got made but Jodorowsky had also changed his mind about casting Dalí as Padishah Emperor after Dalí had voiced his comments in support of the execution of individuals who were thought to be ETA terrorists.

The apotheosis of Dalí’s experiments with the cinematic medium remains his collaborations with Buñuel, unique achievements in the world of cinema which went on to inspire others such as Akira Kurosawa.