Disney and Dali were pals. Who knew? The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, FL tells the story of their friendship the only way a museum can: in a multimedia exhibit of art, film and photos. Their mutuality was grounded in the ability to create imaginary universes. For example, their flights of fancy can be seen in a collaboration in 1945 when they concocted an animated short about love and time titled “Destino.” The flick was story boarded by Disney studios and written in part by Dali with surreal settings inspired by Dali’s surreal paintings. It’s fair to say that “Destino” brought Surrealism to life.
In fact, both Disney and Dali can be said to have create surreal utopias uncontaminated by the real world. While Surrealism is the language of the unconscious, “Destino” is a world where the impossible doesn’t get in the way. Instead it enhances reality because it invites us to escape from it. Artmaking by both Disney and Dali define the very achievement of all great art – imagery without which the world would be emptier.
It’s notable, however, that “Destino” almost didn’t get finished because Disney worried it was too unusual. Of course, the unusual was not weird to Dali. His signature work, “The Persistence of Memory,” which marks out time with watches that liquefy in a barren landscape, is the kind of setting you see in “Destino.” That and a lot of morphing of Dali’s usual cast of unconnected characters including crawling ants and eyeballs.
What’s up with those marching ants? Dali offered a clue when he said, “For me, the essential thing was to tell our life by any mythological means.” Even without our understanding, the image haunts. Who can forget the razored eye in Dali’s 1929 film “Un Chien Andalou”? Come to think of it, it’s also hard to consign to oblivion the movie’s breasts morphed into buttocks and donkeys dead on pianos – all of which also appear and reappear in his paintings.
One thing that is apparent in Dali’s work, he obsessed over the nature of time. He alluded to this when he famously said, “To conquer death is and will always remain the central problem in Dali’s life.” And the very way he painted and by what he painted, it’s as if he wanted to nail time down. At 81 and infirm in his native land, Dali said in an interview with New York Times foreign correspondent Edward Schumacher, “We are all hungry for concrete images…My whole ambition in the pictorial domain is to materialize the images of concrete irrationality with the most imperialist fury of precision.”
Ah, but isn’t it the irrationality that sings to us. As if to illustrate his ability to build castles in the air, when asked what he saw in an empty hole, he said, “It is a hole, but it is a hole full of everything.” You might say that Dali’s paintings are the holes he was talking about.
In a like way, Disney had the visionary eye and it affected us all. Neil Gabler, who wrote the bio “Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination” made the point when he said that by replacing reality with illusion, Disney got us to believe in the power of wishful thinking.