Salvador Dalí Explains Why He Was a “Bad Painter” and Contributed “Nothing” to Art (1986)

Not so very long ago, Salvador Dalí was the most famous living painter in the world. When the BBC's Arena came to shoot an episode about him in 1986, they asked him what that exalted state felt like. "I don't know if I am the most famous painter in the world," Dalí responds, "because lots of the people who ask for my autograph in the street don't know if I'm a singer, a film star, a madman, a writer — they don't know what I am." He was, in one sense or another, most of those things and others besides. But we can safely say, more than thirty years after his death, that Dalí will be remembered first for his visual art, with its vast seas and skies, its impossible beasts, its melting clocks. And what did Dalí himself believe he had contributed to art?

"Nothing," he says. "Absolutely nothing, because, as I've always said, I'm a very bad painter. Because I'm too intelligent to be a good painter. To be a good painter you've got to be a bit stupid, with the exception of Velázquez, who is a genius, whose talent surpasses the art of painting." In other words, when Dalí's ever-present detractors said he was no Velázquez, Dalí's wholeheartedly agreed.

Over the past few decades, appreciation of the distinctive combination of vision and technique on display in Dalí's paintings has won him more official respect (as well as a lavish new collection published in book form by Taschen), but the debate about to what extent he was a true artist and to what extent a calculatedly eccentric self-promoter will never fully simmer down.

Dalí also claimed to owe his life to painting badly. "The day Dalí paints a picture as good as Velázquez, Vermeer, or Raphael, or music like Mozart," he says, "the next week he'll die. So I prefer to paint bad pictures and live longer." That he had already entered his ninth decade by the time Arena came calling suggests that this strategy might have been effective, though he wasn't without his health troubles. In his first public appearance after having had a pacemaker implanted that same year, he declared that "When you are a genius, you do not have the right to die, because we are necessary for the progress of humanity." Dalí's kept his askew arrogance to the end, even through the controversial final years that saw him sign off on the large-scale production of shoddy lithographs of his paintings. About the people who made them and the people who bought them, Dalí had only this to say: "They deserve each other."

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When Salvador Dali Met Sigmund Freud, and Changed Freud’s Mind About Surrealism (1938)

When The Surrealists Expelled Salvador Dalí for “the Glorification of Hitlerian Fascism” (1934)

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The Most Complete Collection of Salvador Dalí’s Paintings Published in a Beautiful New Book by Taschen: Includes Never-Seen-Before Works

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Carl Reiner & Mel Brooks’ Timeless Comedy Sketch: The 2000-Year-Old-Man

I read the obits. If I’m not in it I’ll have breakfast. —Carl Reiner

Up until this week week, it seemed as if Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner could keep their 2000-Year-Old Man routine going forever.

The premise was simpleReiner as the serious minded announcer, interviewing Brooks as an elder with a Middle European Yiddish accent about some of the historic moments, trends, and celebrities he’d had personal contact with over the years.

The idea originated with Reiner, who, as a young staff writer for Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows, thought there was comic gold to be mined from We the Peoplea weekly news program that dramatized important current eventsnotably a plumber who claimed to have overheard some toe curling plans while repairing a faucet in Stalin’s bathroom.

Unfortunately, or rather fortunately, no one else in the writers room had caught the show, so he drafted coworker Brooks to play along, interviewing him as if he were the host of We the People, and Brooks were an average Joe who’d been at the Crucifixion:

Mel, aging before our eyes, sighed and allowed a sad “Oooooh, boy” to escape from the depths of his soul…

I pressured the Old Man and asked, “You knew Jesus?”

“Jesus … yes, yes,” he said, straining to remember, “thin lad … wore sandals … always walked around with twelve other guys … yes, yes, they used to come into the store a lot … never bought anything … they came in for water … I gave it to them … nice boys, well-behaved… .”

For a good part of an hour Mel had us all laughing and appreciating his total recall of life in the year 1 A.D. I called upon Mel that morning because I knew that one of the characters in his comedy arsenal would emerge. The one that did was similar to one he did whenever he felt we needed a laugh break. It was a Yiddish pirate captain who had an accent not unlike the 2,000-Year-Old Man.

The durable, always unscripted 2000-Year-Old Man made an instant splash with friends and family, but his accentwhich came quite naturally to the Brooklyn-born Brookscaused the duo to question the wisdom of trotting him out before a wider audience.

In the 20’s and 30’s Yiddish accents had been a comic staple on the radio, and in Broadway, vaudeville, and burlesque houses, but that changed when the Nazis came to power, as Reiner recalled in his 2003 memoir, My Anecdotal Life:

…when Adolf Hitler came along and decreed that all Jews were dirty, vile, dangerous, subhuman animals and must be put to death, Jewish and non-Jewish writers, producers, and performers started to question the Yiddish accent’s acceptability as a tool of comedy. The accent had a self-deprecating and demeaning quality that gave aid and comfort to the Nazis, who were quite capable of demeaning and deprecating Jews without our help. From 1941 on, the Yiddish accent was slowly, and for the most part, voluntarily, phased out of show business.

Eventually, however, the character found his way onto their 1961 LP 2000 Years with Carl Reiner & Mel Brooks.

They buttressed his 12-minute appearance with sketches involving astronauts, teen heartthrob Fabian, and Method actors, hedging their bets lest the accent flop with both reference-challenged WASPs and fellow Jews nervous about reinforcing problematic stereotypes.

One wonders what the 2000-Year-Old Manwho as a caveman had trouble determining “who was a lady”would have had to say about the movements for Trans Equality#MeToo, and Black Lives Matter.

A quote on Brooks’ website may provide a hint:

It’s OK not to hurt the feelings of various tribes and groups, however, it’s not good for comedy. Comedy has to walk a thin line, take risks. It’s the lecherous little elf whispering in the king’s ear, telling the truth about human behavior.

Brooks delighted by putting imminently quotable, off-the-cuff punchlines in the mouth of the 2000-Year-Old Man, hooking many young listeners, like veteran comedian and stand up comedy teacher Rick Crom:

The 2000-Year-Old Man was the first comedy album I ever listened to. I was quoting it at 10. I told my Sunday school teacher that before God, people worshipped "a guy...Phil.”

But it was Reinerwho maintained a wish list of questions for the 2000-Year-Old Man and who left us earlier this week at the not-too-shabby age of 98who steered the act, often by pressing his subject to substantiate his wild claims.

As Anne Libera, Director of Comedy Studies at The Second City and Columbia College Chicago, notes:

Carl Reiner was a master of the underrated art of the setup. Most "straight men" are known for their responses that release the laugh. Carl did that too, but even more brilliantly, he subtly puts all of the pieces into play for Mel Brooks to push off of into the comedy stratosphere. You see it in the Dick Van Dyke Show as well —he knew how to create the exact space for a comic character to do their best work.

Copies of the Complete 2000 Year Old Man can be purchased on Amazon.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Here latest project is an animation and a series of free downloadable posters, encouraging citizens to wear masks in public and wear them properly. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Michael Jordan’s “The Last Dance” and Hero Worship: A Pretty Much Pop Culture Podcast Discussion (#50)

The 10-part ESPN documentary dissecting Michael Jordan and the Bulls' six championships has provided some much needed sports during the pandemic, roping in even sports haters with a mix of game highlights and behind-the-scenes drama.

Your hosts Brian Hirt, Erica Spyres, and Mark Linsenmayer are joined by Seth from The Partially Examined Life to interrogate the event: Was it actually worth 10 hours of our time? Did its "time-jumping" structure work? Its its treatment of Jordan really "hagiography" sanctifying the man, or is the picture of grudge-holding ultra-competitiveness actually pretty repulsive? Why was he like that? Why are sports amenable to creating cultural icons out of its heroes in a way that, say, physics isn't? Are we going to see many more of these long-form treatments of sports heroes?

For more discussion, here are some articles we looked at:

If you enjoyed this, check out our episode #25 with sportscaster Dave Revsine.

Learn more at This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

A 1947 French Film Accurately Predicted Our 21st-Century Addiction to Smartphones

When we watch a movie from, say, twenty years ago, it strikes us that both nothing and everything has changed. Apart from their slightly baggier clothes, the people look the same as us. But where are their phones? Compared to the recent past, the look of life today hasn't changed much, but thanks to the internet and even more so to smartphones, the feel has changed enormously. Most literary and cinematic predictions of the future got this exactly wrong, envisioning flamboyant aesthetic transformations atop completely unchanged forms of human behavior and society.

But more than 70 years ago, J. K. Raymond-Millet's film Télévision: Oeil de Demain ("Television: Eye of Tomorrow") seems to have scored the bullseye few other visions of the world ahead even aimed for.  "This is one extraordinarily accurate prediction in a work of science fiction," wrote William Gibson as he tweeted out a four-minute clip of the film that has recently gone viral. Though long regarded as a sci-fi prophet, Gibson is the first to admit how little about technology he's accurately foreseen: his breakout novel Neuromancer, for instance, features 21st-century hackers making calls from public telephone booths.

Hence the impressiveness, here in the actual 21st century, of this vision of a future in which people stare near-constantly down at the screens of their handheld devices: on the train, at the café (visited, at 0:13, by what appears to be a time-traveling Gibson himself), in the street, on collision courses with fellow screen-watchers on foot and in cars alike. These handheld televisions remind us of our mobile phones in more ways than one, not least in their being scuffed from sheer use. As with every astute prediction of the future, all this may at first strike us denizens of the actual future as mundane — until we remember that the prediction was made in 1947.

Produced as an educational film, Télévision (viewable in full here) first shows and tells how the eponymous, still-novel technology works, then goes on to imagine the forms in which it could potentially saturate modern society. These include not just the aforementioned "miniature-television devices in public places," as scholar of television Anne-Katrin Weber puts it, but "professional meetings conducted via picture-phones," "cars equipped with television screens," and "shops promoting their goods on television."

We also see that "the small handheld portable devices replace newspapers and air ‘the information broadcast, or the political comment, the fashion show, or the sports bulletin’, while the television set at the travel agency replaces the paper catalogues and invites potential clients to ‘televisually’ visit vacation destinations." Such technology will also offer more "intimate sights," as when "the young woman, stepping out of the shower, has forgotten to turn off her telephone-camera and reveals herself naked to the caller." Yes, of course, "forgotten" — but then, this approaches aspects of the future in which we live that even the boldest technological prophets never dared consider.

via Kottke/William Gibson

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Rewatch Every Episode of The Sopranos with the Talking Sopranos Podcast, Hosted by Michael Imperioli & Steve Schirripa

The Sopranos premiered on January 10, 1999, and television did not change forever — or rather, not right away. Though its treatment of the life of mid-level New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano drew large numbers of dedicated viewers right away, few could have imagined during the show's eight-year run how completely its success would eventually rewrite the rules of dramatic TV. More than twenty years later, nearly all of us place the beginning of our ongoing televisual "golden age" at the broadcast of The Sopranos' first episode. You can hear that epoch-making 50 minutes discussed in depth on the first episode of the new podcast Talking Sopranos (YouTube - Apple - Spotify), whose hosts Michael Imperioli and Steve Schirripa know the series more intimately than most — not least because they were on it.

Fans know Imperioli and Schirripa as Tony's protégé Christopher Moltisanti and Tony's brother-in-law Bobby Baccalieri. On Talking Sporanos they "follow the Sopranos series episode by episode giving fans all the inside info, behind the scenes stories and little-known facts that could only come from someone on the inside," announces the podcast's description, which also promises "interviews with additional cast members, producers, writers, production crew and special guests."

Among these voices there is, of course, one sizable absence: star James Gandolfini, Tony Soprano himself, who died in 2013. But it shows promise that, just fourteen episodes in, the podcast has already brought on Edie Falco, who played Tony's wife Carmela; Robert Iler, their son A.J. Soprano; Jamie-Lynn Sigler, their daughter Meadow Soprano; and Michael Rispoli, the first season's short-lived Jackie Aprile Sr.

None of these actors would have made their mark on the show without the work of casting directors Georgianne Walken and Sheila Jaffe, who also make an appearance on the podcast, as does co-executive producer and sometime director Henry Bronchtein. You can download Talking Sopranos on its web site, subscribe to it on Apple Podcasts and elsewhere, or even watch it on Youtube. If you'd like to supplement all this with an even greater wealth of detail, pick up a copy of Matt Zoller Seitz and Alan Sepinwall's book The Sopranos Sessions, an episode-by-episode analysis featuring interviews with figures including series creator David Chase. Never has there been a better time to do a Sopranos re-watch of your own — and if you never watched it in the first place, well, better a couple of decades late than never.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Get a First Glimpse of Foundation, the New TV Series Being Adapted from Isaac Asimov’s Iconic Series of Novels

Five years ago we told you about the plans to create a mini-series out of Isaac Asimov’s classic sci-fi series Foundation, while also pointing you in the direction of the 1973 BBC radio dramatization. Back in 2015, Jonathan Nolan, brother of Christopher, was attached and HBO was set to produce. And then we all forgot about it. (Well I did, anyway.)

Fast forward into the COVID tsunami of this week and AppleTV just dropped the first trailer for the series. Nolan is out and David Goyer is in as showrunner. Goyer loves his pulp, and wrote or co-wrote the Blade trilogy, the Dark Knight trilogy, Dark City, and a lot of the recent DC Universe films. Also on board as executive producer is Robyn Asimov, Isaac’s daughter.

Production had started in Ireland on the series, but it closed up shop in March due to COVID-19. We have no idea how much of the 10-episode first season was shot, which might explain a preponderance of footage in the above trailer of people walking down corridors, walking into rooms, and staring out of windows, along with purely CGI establishing shots of spaceships and a black hole straight out of Interstellar.

On the other hand, we get a glimpse of Jared Harris (Mad Men, Chernobyl) as Hari Seldon, a mathematician who has developed a theory called “psychohistory” that allows him to see the future. And he does not like what he sees--empires collapsing, and a long dark age of 30,000 years. There’s also his protege called Gaal, played here by newcomer Lou Llobell; Lee Pace (Halt and Catch Fire) plays Brother Day, the emperor; and Leah Harvey plays Salvor, the warden of Terminus, where Seldon and Gaal are exiled. (Spoiler alert...we think.)

Two large questions to ask right now: will this ever get finished? And do we really need Foundation, or has its time passed?

For the first, AppleTV has put a date of 2021 for the hopeful premiere, but all the arts are on hold now. We might be looking at films that are even more CGI than they are now, shot totally on greenscreen in large socially distant studios, and assembled by a gigantic crew of remote animators. (Ireland is down to less than 10 cases of COVID-19 per day, so who knows.)

The second is more a matter of taste and a case of who’s adapting the books. Goyer’s filmography shows he’s much more of an action guy, and Asimov was more of an intellectual. We might see something between the international trade tariff skullduggery of The Phantom Menace and some Game of Thrones court intrigue.

The discussion on Metafilter certainly deserves a look, as it brings up issues like Asimov’s history of sexual harassment, the idea of Grand Old White Men of Sci-Fi, and a need to keep prestige television churning out product. And, of course, there’s a discussion of how much we might need some of Asimov’s optimism.

Asimov’s Foundation series was influenced by Edward Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and we are certainly thinking about empires falling right now, especially as we can hear Nero’s fiddle off in the distance, getting louder every day.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

Tom Jones Performs “Long Time Gone” with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young–and Blows the Band & Audience Away (1969)

Welsh crooner Tom Jones made an unlikely comeback in the late 80s, covering Prince’s “Kiss” with Art of Noise. Then in the mid-90s, he showed up on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air to sing mid-60s hit “It’s Not Unusual” for superfan Carlton Banks. This was a time of 60s comebacks all around, but Jones’ resurgence was a little odd (though perfectly in character for Carlton Banks). Tom Jones had been a big star in the mid to late 60s, with his own TV show and a string of international hits. But Tom Jones was never exactly cool in the way that, say, Neil Young was cool in 1969, the year he and Jimi Hendrix stole a truck to get to Woodstock.

“Tom Jones and his show might’ve been seen as somewhat ‘square’ by the rockstar standards of CSNY,” writes Dangerous Minds,” but when the foursome agreed to appear in September of that year, just weeks after the massive festival in upstate New York, it turned into a memorable television event, with Jones taking lead vocals on “Long Time Gone” and blowing the audience and the band away. “The man’s mighty lungs inspire the rest of them to keep up, it must be said,” even Young, whose “face goes from one of disdain/’What am I doing here?’ to ‘This fucking rocks’ about halfway through.”

Even stranger than this combination is the fact that Young agreed to do it at all. He had become notoriously averse to doing television, even turning down The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and citing his hatred of TV as a reason for leaving Buffalo Springfield two years earlier. Though he may have been caught up in the moment, he later regretted it, as his longtime manager Eliot Roberts told biographer Jimmy McDonough: “Neil went, ‘The Tom Jones show! What possessed you? It’s that shit.’ He always used to say ‘that shit.’ Crosby had this weed of doom… Neil never forgave me for that. He ripped me about it for a very, very long time. Years.”

“It was highly rated,” says Roberts, “sold a lotta records, but in retrospect it was embarrassing.” Young probably shouldn’t have worried. Weed of doom or no, it didn’t seem to hurt his credibility as much as his bewildering (though critically re-appraised) 1982 New Wave record, Trans. Jones has done just fine, reinventing himself in the 80s and 90s in good-humored self-parodies, then becoming a bona fide pop star once more. He has yet to appear again with Neil Young. See CSNY play “You Don’t Have to Cry” from earlier in the broadcast, just above.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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