Salvador Dali influenced multiple art-forms through his uniquely surreal paintings but his impact on the cinematic medium exceeds the rest because of his direct involvement with filmmaking. His collaborations with pioneering visionary Luis Buñuel continue to inspire younger generations of artists who are blown away by the power of their images.
Dali was born in 1904 which means he was among the first artists who were deeply influenced by the power of cinema. According to Dali, cinema was so effective because it had the means to reach the masses unlike the cultural elements that were restricted within elite circles which Dali could not stand.
The films he saw during his childhood had a great impact on his own vision of the world which were later translated into paintings and iconic cinematic projects. Dali had a very specific taste in films as well. “The best cinema,” the artist argued while commenting on the art-form, “is the kind that can be perceived with your eyes closed.”
He definitely stood by his comments because that’s exactly how he came up with the ideas for his unforgettable collaboration with Buñuel – Un Chien Andalou – which is often cited as one of the greatest short films ever made. Apparently, Dali had a vision in his dreams (which were a chief source of inspiration for him) and that’s how the film came about.
Dali went on to collaborate with Alfred Hitchcock and Walt Disney but his formative influences always remained relevant to his work. During his childhood years, Dali saw many silent films but his personal favourites were the works of geniuses such as Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harry Langton who inspired him in his painting as well.
According to museum curator Matthew Gale, Dali liked how silent films affected all audiences in similar ways: “In the silent films of his time, there was no language but a universal visual language, which is exactly what Dali liked as an artist. That’s what he particularly admired about Hollywood silent film. Its universality.”
While noting down some of Dali’s favourite works, Gale cited Buster Keaton’s The Electric House and claimed that it was a huge influence on Dali’s work ‘Apparatus and Hand’ since both Keaton and Chaplin often used cinema to explore modern technology. Of course, their slapstick brand of comedy affected other areas of Dali’s artistic frameworks.
Chaplin’s genius wasn’t just admired by Dali but it was a personal favourite of Buñuel as well who listed The Gold Rush among his 10 favourite films of all time. Dali was also inspired by Harry Langdon’s work in Long Pants but he specifically enjoyed Buster Keaton’s comedy which remained a lifelong favourite for him.
Gale added: “He particularly admired Keaton for his lack of emotional expression. In his film Go West, for example, you see Keaton with a gun held to his head. He is told to ‘Smile’, and he uses his fingers to push up the corners of his mouth instead of smiling. It was this sort of direct and deadpan expression – and Keaton’s ability to convey this physically – that Dali admired.”