Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel reportedly carried rocks in their pockets during the premiere of their first film Un Chien andalou, anticipating a violent reaction from the audience.
It was a fair concern. The movie might be almost 90 years old but it still has the power to provoke – the film features a shot of a woman getting her eye slashed open with a straight razor after all. As it turned out, rocks weren’t needed. The audience, filled with such avant-garde luminaries as Pablo Picasso and André Breton liked the film. A disappointed Dalí later reported that the night was “less exciting” than he had hoped.
Un Chien andalou featured many of Dalí’s visual obsessions – eyeballs, ants crawling out of orifices and rotting animals. Dalí delighted in shocking and inciting people with his gorgeous, disturbing images. And he loved grandiose spectacles like a riot at a movie theater.
Dalí and Buñuel’s next movie, the caustic L’Age d’or, exposed the differences between the two artists and their creative partnership imploded in pre-production. Buñuel went on to make a string of subversive masterpieces like Land Without Bread, Exterminating Angel and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeois; Dalí largely quit film in favor of his beautifully crafted paintings.
Then Hollywood came calling.
Alfred Hitchcock hired Dalí to create a dream sequence for his 1945 movie Spellbound. Dalí crafted over 20 minutes of footage of which roughly four and a half minutes made it into the movie. “I wanted to convey the dream with great visual sharpness and clarity–sharper than film itself,” Hitchcock explained to Francois Truffaut in 1962. The sequence, which you can see immediately above, is filled with all sorts of Daliesque motifs – slashed eyeballs, naked women and phantasmagoric landscapes. It is also the most memorable part of an otherwise minor work by Hitchcock.
Dalí’s follow up film work was for, of all things, the Vincente Minnelli comedy Father of the Bride (1950). Spencer Tracy plays Stanley Banks whose beautiful daughter (Elizabeth Taylor, no less) is getting married. As Stanley’s anxiety over the impending nuptials spirals, he has one very weird nightmare. Cue Dalí. Stanley is late to the wedding. As he rushes down the aisle, his clothes mysteriously get shredded by the tiled floor that bounces and contorts like a piece of flesh.
This dream sequence, which you can see at the top of the article, has few of the visual flourishes of Spellbound, but it still has plenty of Dalí’s trademark weirdness. Those floating accusatory eyes. The way that Tracy’s leg seems to stretch. That floor.
Father of the Bride marked the end of Dalí’s work in Hollywood, though there were a couple potential collaborations that would have been amazing had they actually happened. Dalí had an idea for a movie with the Marx Brothers called Giraffes on Horseback Salad. The movie would have “included a scene of giraffes wearing gas masks and one of Chico sporting a deep-diving suit while playing the piano.” Though Harpo was reportedly enthusiastic about the proposed idea, Groucho wasn’t and the idea sadly came to nothing.
Later in life, Dalí became a fixture on the talk show circuit. On the Dick Cavett Show in 1970, he flung an anteater at Lillian Gish.
Two Vintage Films by Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel: Un Chien Andalou and L’Age d’Or
The Seashell and the Clergyman: The World’s First Surrealist Film
Alfred Hitchcock Recalls Working with Salvador Dali on Spellbound
A Soft Self-Portrait of Salvador Dali, Narrated by the Great Orson Welles
A Tour Inside Salvador Dalí’s Labyrinthine Spanish Home
Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads. The Veeptopus store is here.
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