Thursday, February 24, 2011

Hollywood Surreal

Mentioning Dali and Disney yesterday reminded me that they did actually collaborate once. The two met at a Hollywood party while Dali was working with Hitchcock on the dream sequences for Spellbound (1945). Dali was a huge Disney fan, considering him one of America's great surrealists along with Cecil B. De Mille and Harpo Marx. (He'd clearly never seen a Fleischer cartoon). In fact Dali's first links with Hollywood went back to 1936 when he'd met Harpo at a party in Paris. (Someone really should do a thesis on the importance of parties to the development of 20th century art).

After sending him a present of a barbed-wire harp Dali came to Hollywood the following year to paint Harpo and wrote a typically bonkers screenplay while he was there for a proposed Marx Brothers film to be called Giraffes on Horseback Salad. Not surprisingly it was never made. There was also a sadly-aborted project with Fritz Lang around 1940 before he teamed up with Hitchcock four years later and finally got something on screen.

And then he met Disney. By January 1946 he was working under contract with studio artist John Hench on storyboarding a six-minute sequence for the film Destino. Every morning he'd go to work at Disney's studio (on Dopey Avenue!) just like a regular employee. Can you imagine Dali turning up at your work place every day? Eating his melty cheese in the canteen, waxing his moustache in the tiolets? This unlikely scenario must have seemed pretty surreal in itself. But Dali really was there to work. He produced paintings, sketches and guide images on lined paper. Unfortunately, like many of his Hollywood ventures, it never came to fruition. Disney's financial problems at the time meant the film was mothballed indefinately.

But in 1999, during work on Fantasia 2000, Disney rediscovered the lost project and decided to bring it back to life using the original storyboards. Finished in 2003 (and given a limited theatrical release with, of all things, Calendar Girls - now that's surreal) it tells the story of the Greek god of time, Chronos, and his love for a mortal woman who dances through a virtual compendium of classic DalĂ­ images. The song, by composer Armando Dominguez, sung by his Mexican compatriot Dora Luz, casts a moodily romantic spell. 'This heart of mine is thrilled now, my empty arms are filled now, as they were meant to be' she sings as if in a reverie. 'For you came along, out of a dream I answer my call, I know now that you are my destino.' The dream of love triumphs then, in classic Hollywood style, over surrealism's Freudian nightmares, over time itself. Destiny, it seems to say, is time's DNA, forever with us, ready to spring from our dreams and save us, if only we can decipher it.

Dali's stock may have fallen greatly in his latter years, and his Hollywood ventures may well have been the start of his decline, but they were also a genuine, if star-struck, engagement with the dream factory, an attempt to bring his surreal ethos to a mass audience. In Destino, though, it feels like the opposite happened, that nearly a decade after he first followed Harpo to Hollywood, it was Dali who was being taken over by its ethos, undone by the high romance of popular song, the heady power of princess dresses and wild hair.


  1. I never knew the full story about this film. I'm actually glad that I saw the clip before I learned about its background, but it's an interesting story.

  2. Cheers KC. Does knowing the story impair the enjoyment of the film? Hadn't occurred to me and I'm usually the first to turn off 'making of' or 'behind the scenes' type things. Ruins the suspension of disbelief. Animation's different though I think. Maybe you thought it had been made back then and not retro-fitted in 2003. I can see how that would take a little of the lustre off it. I just wish Giraffes On Horseback Salad had been made. Now that would've been something to see