During December 1965, underground filmmaker Jack Bond latched on to Salvador Dali when the Spanish artist breezed into New York to prepare for an exhibition at the Huntington Gallery of Modern Art and a book signing event. The result of their encounter, “Dali in New York,” is an amusing filmed record of the outlandish surrealist’s ability to baffle, bemuse and enchant an allegedly jaded Gotham population.
If anything, Dali was the ultimate publicity hog, with zany stunts ranging from transporting a Michelangelo statue through the New York streets (he pauses to give the statue mouth-to-mouth resuscitation) and lying a coffin packed with $1 million in cash while ants crawl over him. While his disdain for linear conversation and cerebral debate perplexes too-serious feminist writer Jane Arden, who trails him throughout the film, Dali is clearly at ease with the less-pretentious Art Students League classes who recognize his vibe.
Throughout the 57-minute film, Dali is clearly aware of the camera’s presence, and at one point he directs Bond’s cinematographer on how a sequence should be composed. The film is laced with glimpses of Dali’s paintings (which are at a disadvantage in this black-and-white production) while Manitas de Plata performs Flamenco tunes on the soundtrack (another disadvantage, as the distracting music has little connection to Dali’s distinctive work).
Anyone seeking a serious art documentary will be disappointed, but those who enjoy iconoclastic eccentricity with appreciate Dali’s cheerful celebration of the absurd – not to mention the celebration of himself.