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Dali in New York - documentary DVD review
DALI IN NEW YORK Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) rating: 3 1/2 stars
Featuring: Jack Bond, Salvador Dali, Gala Dali, Phillipe Halsman, Lila Harp, Dr. Collin
Director: Jack Bond   Studio: Sunrise Pictures/Microcinema
DVD release: 01 February 2008   Runtime: 57 min. (1 disc)
Format: Color, DVD-Video, NTSC
DVD Features: Audio tracks (English - Magnetic Stereo)

Filmmaker Jack Bond filmed legendary artist Salvador Dali during a two-week visit to New York around Christmas 1965. The film is a document of the truly eccentric and unique Dali intermingling, and sometimes clashing, with New York's cultural elite during this era. While I think a document of such an important and influential artist as Dali is invaluable, it does not guarantee that such a film will be particularly entertaining. I would recommend this DVD only to fans of Dali, as the casual viewer will likely be somewhat confused and bored.

During the film, Dali is presented with a huge sculpture by the NYU art department, participates in a bizarre photo shoot (in which Dali is covered with money then has an egg filled with ants placed on his mouth as an ocelot circles him), and has a gallery showing. All the while, he meets and greets with members of the New York art scene, most memorably with feminist writer Jane Arden.

There are often passionate debates over the meaning behind and value of Dali's work. However, spending an hour listening to these debates painfully reveals that for many of these people, their primary passion is hearing themselves talk. In particular, the rather abrasive Arden has rather long discussions with a female companion, over many cigarettes, concerning the crudeness and lack of profundity in Dali's work. In truth, she comes off as a snob - and a hypocritical one at that, since for most of the film she seems to follow Dali around like a star-struck member of his entourage.

My major criticism of the film, however, is with the soundtrack, particularly when Dali speaks. This DVD clearly needed subtitles, as the dialogue is often muddy. When Dali himself tries to speak, his thick Spanish accent makes understanding him nearly impossible. Since many of those listening to him are nodding along as if he is saying something profound, it becomes quite frustrating to try to make out what he is saying.

However, there are some invaluable moments in the film for Dali fans. For one, some sections of the film examine in detail parts of some of his most famous work and the surreal, illusionary power of his finest work comes alive, even in a black-and-white film.

The highlight of this film, however, comes at the very end, when Dali is on stage at an unnamed location. As a live mariachi band plays beside him. Dali gets out of a chair, makes some loud, dramatic scribbles on a blank canvas with a marker, then sits back down. At first the scene seems extremely pretentious; Dali's work seems to be nothing but a jumbled mass of black scribbles, yet the crowd continues to clap as if applauding an emperor with no clothes. At the end, however, Dali goes back to the canvas, makes a few broad strokes and, remarkably, the seeming incoherent mess of lines becomes a knight riding a stallion. The knight was being created all along yet seemingly appeared out of nowhere as if by magic. The scene is a fascinating display of Dali's artistic brilliance.

Again, this DVD is invaluable for Dali fans, particularly the final scene. However, I would not recommend it to anyone who is not interested in Dali, unless their idea of fun is to spend an hour with some rather pretentious people (and hard-to-understand ones at that).

Nada. This is as bare bones a DVD as you can get. It doesn't even have a chapter menu!
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reviewed by Trent Daniel
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