I've developed a bad habit of going to the Los Angeles County Museum's exhibits at the end of their run, and as a result, I haven't bothered to blog about the last few I've seen. However, there's still time for Angelenos to see Dali: Painting & Film, especially with the holidays coming up.
I'm not a big fan of LACMA's blockbuster exhibits when they are organized around a single artist or movement. I much prefer their major exhibits when they present a definite slant or perspective, even if the result is a partial rather than a comprehensive view of the subject.
Dali: Painting & Film focuses on an aspect of Salvador Dali's work, the connection between his paintings and various film endeavors. This framework offers more experienced viewers with a new way to look at familiar Dali pieces as well as previously unseen material. For those who might be seeing Dali in depth for the first time, the exhibit sketched in enough of Dali's biography and other important works to give a sense of his overall development and contribution as an artist.
I knew of some of the connections between Dali and film on entering the exhibit, but hadn't realized Dali was so influenced by film comedy. The exhibit traces Dali's famous melting watch image back to the silent film Safety Last! and documents Dali's attempt to work on a project with the Marx Brothers, who he thought of as surrealists.
The dour side of Dali is present in his more autobiographical paintings, which often revolved around his troubled relationship with his father. The dreamlike imagery of these paintings shows up in Hitchcock's Spellbound, for which Dali designed a dream sequence. You can watch the scene on YouTube here.
For me, the highlight of the exhibit was being able to finally see Destino, the animated short created by Disney based on ideas and storyboards provided by Salvador Dali. Although Dali worked with the Disney Studios on plans for the film during the 1940s, the short did not actually get made until 2003. There have been a few showings of the film in Los Angeles, but Destino has never been widely released and is not available on video or DVD.
The action reminded me of a ballet in the way the main characters' movements expressed emotion and narrative. As we sat together watching the film, it became clear to me and the Cute Little Red-Headed Girlfriend why it was not made earlier: there is a sensuous and even erotic quality to the female lead. It's not titillating so much as it is bold.
As the female character explores her dreamlike surroundings, there is a playful metamorphosis of objects as she interacts with her environment. A bell becomes a ballerina, insects turn into bicyclists. Emotions transform, too, as grotesque imagery suddenly gives way to a sorrowful tableau. The emphasis on transformations surprised me, since so much Disney animation is based on a quasi-realism.
Dali, however, embraced the theme of metamorphosis in his non-moving work, as shown in the painting I've included above. This was one of my favorite works from the exhibit, using sequential doubles to indicate transformation.
There are some segments of Destino on YouTube but they don't give a very good impression of the whole. There are also very few still shots from the film available on the web, due to obviously well-policed copyright restrictions. I hope the short will be released on DVD at some point; in the meantime, grab the chance to see Destino if you have the chance.