Anyone who reads The Art Life regularly knows that we love movies by and about artists – even the bad ones, nay, especially the bad ones…Over the next few weeks we’ll be looking at some new art movies that have come our way such as Art School Confidential and we’ll be doing an Andy Warhol special that looks at the various actors who have played Warhol including David Bowie, Jarrod Harris, Hank Azaria and Crispin Glover, as well a great item from the archives – Warhol playing “himself” on The Love Boat. In the meantime, some news has come to hand [courtesy of the tireless Art News Blog] that there is to be a high profile Hollywood production on the life of one of the 20th Century’s most famous and notorious artists – Salvador Dali.
Say Cheese: Dali on film
Variety is reporting that Andrew Niccol is to helm [as they say in movie world parlance] the worryingly titled Dali and I: The Surreal Story. Based on the book by art dealer Stan Lauryssens who knew Dali and Gala Dali, the plot deals with the last years of Dali’s life when – as Variety puts it – “the surrealist painter decided to take his career in a most surreal direction.” The first and most urgent question that comes to mind when considering a Dali movie is who could possibly play him? In our minds we have cast and recast our own fantasy Dali film and keep coming back to Richard E. Grant. Although being a foot and half taller than Dali, he has the right horse face and big eyes – and we’re sure he could roll his “rrrrrrrssssssss” almost as well as the great man himself. Ewan Bremner [Spud in Trainspotting] was an inspired choice to play Dali in Surrealissimo: The Trial Of Salvador Dali, a British telemovie about Andre Breton’s failed efforts to expel Dali from the Surrealist movement [and which starred a veritable who’s-who of surreal Brit TV acting talent – Little Britain’s Matt Lucas as Buñuel, The League of Gentlemen’s Mark Gattiss as Louis Aragon, Vic Reeves as Paul Eluard, The Mighty Boosh’s Julian Barrett and Noel Fielding as assorted Surrealists and Stephen Fry as Breton]. Choosing just the right person to play Dali is half the film.
Unfortunately Variety also reports that Niccol has cast Al Pacino as Dali. Niccol wrote the-good-for-the-first-hour-shit-after-that Truman Show, directed the rather good Gattaca and then the absolutely freaking awful Simone before getting back on more decent ground with Lord of War. The director has a love of preposterously pretentious visuals, like a lame video-clip friendly version of Fellini, and has trouble keeping his actors in line. Pacino ate up the scenery in Simone and while not as bad as some his worst star turns [Scent of a Woman, City Hall etc] he is an actor whose career has been in terminal decline since the late 1980s.
Maybe Pacino’s trademark over acting would suit Dali but there may already be another fatal flaw in this proposed film. Dali didn’t actually do all that much in his life. True, many bizarre and picturesque things happened around him and while he was a larger than life personality he was a mostly passive presence in his own life – not exactly the stuff of the proactive Hollywood character part. Dali spent most of his time sitting in his studio painting only making the occasional foray out to indulge his masturbatory fantasises of watching hired couples having anal sex for his amusement. The real excitement in the story of Dali is actually in the exploits of his wife Gala, the greatest artist’s wife who ever lived. Tim McGrik’s biography Wicked Lady – Salvador Dali’s Muse – now unfortunately out of print – reads like a cross between Who Weekly and Story of the Eye – a rollicking true life adventure of a 17 year old Gala meeting her husband-to-be Paul Eluard in a sanitarium in Russia in 1917. As the revolution broke out, Eluard returned to Paris but Gala followed him across worn torn Europe to be with her true love. After marrying him – and sleeping with all his mates – Gala dropped Eluard when she met Dali and soon became the architect of his enormously successful career. Although married for the rest of their lives Dali and Gala’s sex life was non existent as she preferred younger men – and so did he – although Dali never again consummated his homosexuality after he betrayed his former lover Garcia Lorca to the Spanish fascists. Later in her life Gala had flings in New York, first with the bloke who played Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar – then a bum she found on The Bowery who looked just like him. Gala had Dali build her a ‘castle’ at
Pubol but had to ask permission to visit. This to our minds is the story of to make, not the melting watches and the propped up giraffes, being just so much decoration in the life of one of the most unpleasant characters in art.