Judge William Lee doesn't understand why his clock is melting.
"Every painter paints the cosmogony of himself. Dalí paints the atomic age and the Freudian age; nuclear things and psychoanalytic things."—Salvador Dalí
Spanish Catalan artist Salvador Dalí (1904-1989) is best known for his involvement with the Surrealism art movement. His Renaissance-influenced paintings incorporating Freudian symbolism are among the best-known art works of the 20th century. His involvement with film includes celebrated collaborations with Luis Bunuel (Un Chien Andalou) and Alfred Hitchcock (Spellbound). This documentary, produced by the Salvador Dalí Society, examines the artist's obsession with science to give viewers a unique angle from which to interpret his paintings.
The Dalí Dimension begins with footage of a 1985 scientific conference hosted at the Dalí Theater and Museum in Figueres, Catalonia. His health prevented Dalí from attending the event in-person but he watched the presentations and debates via closed-circuit television. The documentary then jumps back to the artist's early career to demonstrate that his interest in science has always been a part of his life and work. An enthusiastic reader of the latest scientific journals, Dalí's surrealist paintings reflected recent theories and discoveries. Sigmund Freud's work in psychoanalysis supplied the imagery in Dalí's visualization of the subconscious. His famous depiction of soft watches—time pieces melting like cheese—is often read as Dalí's interpretation of Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity.
The documentary points out an overlooked detail of Dalí's career: he was expelled by the Surrealists who felt his showmanship and celebrity status had brought discredit to the movement. Freed from the Surrealist label, Dalí's art continued to evolve at the time when leading scientific minds were pioneering quantum mechanics. He often sought meetings with scientists so he could discuss their discoveries and his paintings and sketches were regularly used in their journals as a visual representation of their theories. Art and science collided on Dalí's canvases.
Interviews with art historians, mathematicians and other scientists and collaborators make up the bulk of this documentary. James D. Watson, who discovered the structure of DNA along with Francis Crick, is just one example of the brilliant people who crossed paths with Dalí. Using science as a framework to view Dalí's paintings gives the film a unique perspective that is more substantial than a simple overview of his most famous pieces. The downside is that the filmmakers take for granted the viewer's familiarity with Dalí. Not much time is spent introducing the artist so this film isn't intended for the uninitiated. Still, anyone with a modest knowledge of Dalí—you recognize those soft watches, for example—will have no problem following along. Viewers who only know the artist through his paintings will surely be amused by the archival interview footage of the flamboyant artist who enjoyed performing for the camera.
The filmmakers should be commended for a script that doesn't dumb down the science but finds a way of presenting it so that non-scientists can understand too. I felt a little lost when they glossed over the idea that time passes slower on the ground than on the second floor of a building. But I think I have a better grasp of the four-dimensional hypercube after seeing it displayed as a fold-out model, a 3D computer graphic and in a Dalí painting. Though I won't be writing any scientific papers anytime soon, at least I have an idea of what was percolating in Dalí's head when he picked up his brush.
The video presentation of The Dalí Dimension is very good considering the different sources. The original interview footage, shot on video, shows no defects that would distract from its strong colors and sharp detail. Archival footage of different interviews and television news clips are a mixed bag and its quality is about what you'd expect. Video effects that highlight areas of paintings or merge in-progress photographs with the finished works are used sparingly and add a nice touch. The documentary is presented in English, Spanish or French stereo audio. The soundtrack is dominated by a voice-over narration that translates the various interviews for each language option. Optional subtitles appear only when Dalí speaks in his native Catalan or responds to an interviewer in his stilted English.
The main program runs 53 minutes and there is another 20 minutes of additional interviews accessible as six bonus scenes. These extra interviews expand on the scientific ideas mentioned in the feature documentary such as the Golden Mean, anti-matter and the hypercube. There is also a glimpse of some posters Dalí created for other science conferences.
Salvador Dalí as the curious, intelligent, science nerd is definitely a different perspective on the artist but the filmmakers do an excellent job presenting their case. For those who thought of Dalí only as a surrealist painter, this film provides the background for appreciating his work in a broader context with the big ideas of the last century. This DVD is cleared of all charges.
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• Six Additional Interviews
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