Impressions of Upper Mongolia : Salvador Dalí’s Last Film About a Search for a Giant Hallucinogenic Mushroom

Sal­vador Dalí and his fel­low sur­re­al­ists owed a great debt to the wealthy, dandy­ish French writer Ray­mond Rous­sel, as much as mod­ernist poets owed the Sym­bol­ist Jules Laforgue. But like Laforgue, Rous­sel is much more often ref­er­enced than read, and he isn’t ref­er­enced often. A her­met­ic, insu­lar writer who seems to belong to a pri­vate world almost entire­ly his own, Rous­sel despaired of his lack of suc­cess and com­mit­ted sui­cide in 1933. His aes­thet­ic prog­e­ny, on the oth­er hand— Dalí, Mar­cel Duchamp, André Bre­ton—were show­men, self-pro­mot­ers and media genius­es. So it’s par­tic­u­lar­ly poignant, in the quirki­est of ways, that Dalí chose for his final film project a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Jose Montes Baquer in 1976 called Impres­sions of Upper Mon­go­lia (“Impres­sions de la haute Mongolie”—above with Eng­lish sub­ti­tles), an homage to Roussel’s self-pub­lished 1910 nov­el Impres­sions of Africa.

Rous­sel, who trav­eled wide­ly, nev­er trav­eled to Africa, and his “impres­sions” are whol­ly cre­ations of the kind of word­play that Dalí made visu­al in his paint­ing (includ­ing a can­vas with Rous­sel’s title). Like Roussel’s nov­el, Impres­sions of Upper Mon­go­lia is a sur­re­al­ist fan­ta­sy with only the most ten­u­ous con­nec­tion to its osten­si­ble geo­graph­i­cal sub­ject.

The entire 50-minute adven­ture takes place, MUBI tells us, “in [Dalí’s] stu­dio-muse­um in Cadacès (Spain).” The film opens with an epi­taph for Rous­sel in Ger­man, French, and Eng­lish that lion­izes the pro­to-sur­re­al­ist as “the mon­strous mas­ter of mys­ti­cal lan­guage.” “Mys­ti­cal” is indeed the mot juste for this film. Dalí nar­rates a sto­ry about an expe­di­tion he sup­pos­ed­ly sent to the tit­u­lar region in search of a giant hal­lu­cino­genic mush­room. Fla­vor­wire describes the “qua­si-fake doc­u­men­tary” suc­cinct­ly: “…it’s every bit as trip­py as you would expect it to be. Along the way, there’s a lot of mus­tache-wag­gling, yelling at Hitler, dis­cus­sions about Out­er Mon­go­lia and Ray­mond Rous­sel, intense close-ups of insects, and oth­er eccen­tric addi­tions — like Dalí’s over­act­ing.”

For all his ease with film, and his out­sized rep­u­ta­tion in film his­to­ry, Dali only ever col­lab­o­rat­ed with oth­er film­mak­ers, first Luis Buñuel, then Walt Dis­ney, and final­ly Baquer (who called him, approv­ing­ly, “an intel­lec­tu­al vam­pire”). In an inter­view, Baquer reveals that Dali chose the title and the Rous­sel ref­er­ences. He also “com­mis­sioned” the film, in a way, by hand­ing Baquer a pen that he had been uri­nat­ing on for sev­er­al weeks after “observ­ing how the uri­nals in the lux­u­ry restrooms of [the St. Reg­is Hotel] have acquired an entire range of rust colours through the inter­ac­tion of the uric acid on the pre­cious met­als.”

Baquer recounts that Dali cer­e­mo­ni­ous­ly told him to “take this mag­i­cal object, work with it, and when you have an inter­est­ing result, come see me. If the result is good, we will make a film togeth­er.” The result is most cer­tain­ly inter­est­ing. A fit­ting trib­ute to Rous­sel, it recalls Trevor Winkfield’s com­ments on the world of the writer, one that “belongs entire­ly to the imag­i­na­tion. Noth­ing real intrudes; it all derives from his head. Like a fairy tale, but a believ­able one.”

You can find this film list­ed in our col­lec­tion of 625 Free Movies Online.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Two Vin­tage Films by Sal­vador Dalí and Luis Buñuel: Un Chien Andalou and L’Age d’Or

Des­ti­no: The Sal­vador Dalí – Dis­ney Col­lab­o­ra­tion 57 Years in the Mak­ing

A Soft Self-Por­trait of Sal­vador Dali, Nar­rat­ed by the Great Orson Welles

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

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.