We’ve written about attempts to make a film about Salvadore Dali for years, but it looks a like a little international production will finally get the story off the ground as a low-budget, experimental 3D film starring Alan Cumming, and directed by Aussie exploitationist, Philippe Mora.

Mora’s name should ring familiar to anyone who’s seen the fantastic doc Not Quite Hollywood, as he directed such Ozploitation classics as Mad Dog Morgan and two Howling sequels. He’s had a long, storied career that’s kept him consistently busy through the 80s, 90s, up through now, and has worked with some truly great actors and writers. He sees his Dali film as a chance to create movie the artist himself would have enjoyed, and will use the house fire that nearly killed Dali in his later years as the catalyst for the story. While recovering in the hospital, Dali’s brain latches onto a doctor’s overheard suggestions that his life would make a good movie and begins to unspool a bizarre, quasi-biographical vision.

”I want this to be the film that Dali would have wanted you to see … True to his outrageous sense of humour, it will be simultaneously a surreal parody of what the artist would have wanted you to experience, a kind of crazed, artistic Inspector Clouseau. With his muse and wife Gala in the mix, it’s an extraordinary love story.”

The film will cover Dali’s relationships with the stable of other important artists he was involved with, including Hitchcock, Bunuel, Warhol, Disney, Marx, and his wife Gala. Alan Cumming, an eccentric artist in his own right, will take on the role of Dali. This is a different production than the Andrew Niccol, Al Pacino project that’s popped up in the news from time to time (without much word since early last year).

While Dali would not necessarily take kindly to such a film were he alive –he once smashed the projector during a colleague’s film screening because he felt the film too closely resembled an idea of his own– Mora is certainly on the right track by avoiding a standard biopic structure. He claims to be making a “happy movie about art,” which is appropriate enough. The work of Salvadore Dali may very well be among the most over-exposed and over-commoditized art ever produced, something that was true in his own time when he enjoyed fame and financial success. The artist was a shameless celebrity and eccentric, whose antics paved the way for the egg laying/arriving red-carpet stunts of modern divas.

But for all of the commercials he made in his day, all of the college-poster prints of The Persistence of Memory, and all of the other capitalist processing of his surrealist life and work, his painting still possess a profoundly interesting and often disturbing power to give form to the deep places of our psyche. In the one trip I’ve yet been able to take outside of the States, I was lucky enough to visit the Prado in Madrid and see some of his most famous work firsthand (along with pieces by other artists like Bosch). It was only then that I understood why the artist’s melting pocketwatches, Christ-figures, and long-legged beasts strike such a chord and are endlessly recycled and fetishized. Something about his delicate and vaguely fluid renderings of these objects excites just the right amount of neurons that overlap with our dream/nightmare state to bring those subconscious emotions to the surface while awake. You can pretend to be profound, pretend to be making worldly statements with your lifestyle and gimmicky artwork, but the pure artistic vision of those paintings… that’s not some shit you can just fake. Well, you can fake it, but whatever- you still get the point through all the pretentious blathering.

To see these images cinematically realized on the screen is something I’ve hoped to experience for many years, since a project of this kind was first considered. This is the perfect project to demonstrate how a careful exploitation of modern effects can be married with an artfully told story in a way that simply was not possible a decade or more ago. Unfortunately the budget is a modest $15m bucks, which doesn’t stretch a long way when you’re integrating tons of CGI material into a sweeping story. While this might restrict Mora from integrating all of the epic imagery he (or more accurately, I) might want, at least it precludes some sort of Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland-style nightmare. Hopefully the small budget indicates they’ve concocted something unique and weird that makes a little bit of crazy imagery go a long way. The 3D element is fairly natural as Dali himself painted many anaglyph paintings, and was endlessly fascinated by the format. I do hope the 3D is carefully done though- another reason why the tiny budget causes a touch of worry.

All I know is that I can’t shake the moment in The Mist when the mythic, Lovecraftian beast marches by, vaguely resembling a Daliphant. That shot still raises the hairs on the back of my neck when I think about it, and if this biopic could provide even a few stellar images like that, mined from the unique work of Dali, it will be more than worthwhile.

Source | Sydney Morning Herald (via The Playlist)

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