MAXWELL:  Bravo explores the life of Dali

1/12/1999 – Printed in the ENTERTAINMENT section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


Salvador Felipe Jacinto Dali is said to be the 20th century’s most famous artist after Picasso. And, doubtless, he captured the imagination of his most recent biographer, Ian Gibson, whose book, The Shameful Life of Salvador Dali, has cast new refractions on the essence of Dali the man, Dali the artist and Dali the sensational showman.

In a two-hour documentary, premiering on Bravo Profiles tonight and Wednesday at 8, Gibson takes the viewer inside the Surrealist world that Dali made his own.

Using interviews with family friends and surviving members of the painter’s inner circle, newsreels and archival footage, Gibson shows Dali’s personal life unfolding in all of its stark unreality, sexual dysfunction and madness.

The documentary traces Dali’s life from his birth in the Catalan region of Spain to the early years in Madrid, where he discovered direction for his talents and found many of the people who would influence him, to Paris, to the United States and back to Spain, where he would die in 1989.

Using merciless detail and historical balance, Gibson captures the sexual torment and paranoia that run through Dali’s technique, and the nightmarish motifs and images in the work of a man who dubbed himself “the greatest genius of our age, the authentic genius of modern times.”

Throughout the film, a cavalcade of characters who played major roles in Dali’s life _ some on their deathbeds _ appear as so many clowns and misfits.

Gala Eluard, Dali’s libidinous wife, emerges as the only woman who could have lived with the great Surrealist.

Reynolds and Eleanor Morse, founders of the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, come across as maudlin defenders of a personal life that succeeded in being indefensible.

Dali devotees will appreciate the personal interviews in both parts of the documentary, where friends and associates describe Dali’s relationships with the likes of experimental filmmaker Luis Bunuel, playwright Frederico Garcia Lorca and Andre Breton, father of the Surrealist movement.

Viewing Dali’s works in museums and books is one thing. But to see the artist himself in footage _ banging his fists on tables, abruptly walking away from conversations, rolling his eyes wildly, twitching his trademark moustache and scolding critics in his often muffled voice _ is to appreciate the full scale of Dali’s greatness.

These and other histrionics are given background and texture as Gibson moves from landscape to buildings to people in a synthesis that may generate empathy in some of Dali’s fiercest detractors.

In Part II of the documentary, Dali and Gala are seen as old and broken. Most of the money is gone, the egomania has been replaced by desperation and fear, and the brash behavior has become the trembling and groaning of a dying man who wants to ingratiate himself with a world that had long ago peeked behind the exhibitionist mask.

During one of the final scenes of the profile, Gibson is seen interviewing the frail and sickly artist.

Gala has been dead more than seven years, and Dali’s madness appears to have triumphed over the self-described madman himself.

Gibson does not pass judgment on his subject. He does not have to.

Dali’s own words and his imminent death _ framed by the specter of a pathetic old figure in a wheelchair with tubes in his nose _ tell the real story.

As Dali’s tomb fades to black in the film, the end seems fitting for a life lived with such reckless abandon.