PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Dali in New York

Barbara Herman
(image not from this documentary)

If anything, the film’s real subject is the cult of personality and the art world intelligentsia’s uneasy feeling about it.

Dali in New York

Director: Jack Bond
Cast: Salvador Dali, Jane Arden
Distributor: Micro Cinema
MPAA rating: Unrated
First date: 1966
US DVD Release Date: 2008-08-26

“It was like he didn’t talk to ordinary people,” says a cabdriver of his passenger Salvador Dali, “and he didn’t want to have anything to do with me. That’s the kind of guy he is.” So begins Dali in New York, underground filmmaker Jack Bond’s chaotic and fun 1965 documentary about the Spanish surrealist artist’s Christmas-time trip to New York to prepare an art exhibit and to sign his new book.

Sporting his trademark waxed and upturned mustache, carrying a staff and staging happenings on the streets and in art galleries of New York City, 61-year-old Dali hams it up like a pro. Whether part of his “crazy artist” act or a true expression of his personality, he is at least democratic in his haughtiness: we see him treat everyone he encounters either with regal indifference or benevolence, or as a prop for his grandiose happenings. After receiving another rebuke from the dour and self-important writer Jane Arden, his primary interlocutor in the film, Dali proclaims, “Modesty is not my specialty.”

This immodesty serves the viewer well, at least. By turns entertaining as an actor and thoughtful as a philosopher, Dali is a great subject for a filmmaker. Bond appears to just let Dali do his thing. In between filming the artist perform such antics as kissing a sculpture, or lying inside a coffin covered in gold coins and money while an egg filled with live ants is cracked open on his mouth, Bond’s camera ranges over his seminal paintings and etchings while soulful Flamenco music plays on the soundtrack.

He even captures Dali answering questions earnestly, in a thick and almost impenetrable Spanish accent, as he does when talking about how death and eroticism drive his work, or why cybernetics is more important than art. (This film would benefit greatly from subtitles, however; if it weren’t for the rewind button, I would never have understood what this man was saying.)

Bond’s way of zeroing in on details of Dali’s work and the random nature of what he shows (along with the distracting, albeit beautiful, Flamenco music) makes Dali in New York more of a drive-by documentary about Dali and his work than a substantive art documentary. (It is a brisk 57 minutes.) The real student of art is not going to get much out of the film. If anything, the film’s real subject is the cult of personality and the art world intelligentsia’s uneasy feeling about it. “I feel depressed at this concept of genius,” says the world-weary Arden after Dali insists that she, like everyone else in the world, is his slave.

Shortly after Dali in New York was made, Dali began to parlay his eccentric exhibitionistic tendencies into commercial success. Having already been a guest on the American game show What’s My Line in the ‘50s, by the late ‘60s he had designed the logo for Chupa Chups candy and starred in a number of deliberately kooky television commercials for Lanvin chocolates. No wonder Andy Warhol said of Dali in New York that it was “A truly terrific film.” While his Dadaist and Surrealist counterparts in Europe remained political, repudiating all ties with him for his alleged pro-fascist leanings, Dali was entering the age of Pop Art and laughing all the way to the bank.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.