Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Dali Dreams

By Steve Evans

Today being Salvador Dali’s birthday, our film du jour might be Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog; 1929), which he co-directed with fellow Surrealist Luis Buñuel. And you should check out this silent short, widely available online. It's one of the more interesting cinematic experiments conceived by Dali, who died in 1989. But right now let’s look at Dali's contribution to Spellbound (1945), a lesser film from Alfred Hitchcock starring Gregory Peck as a mental patient who fears he’s committed a murder and Ingrid Bergman as the psychiatrist trying to help him.

The film quotes Shakespeare at the opening (The Fault... is Not in Our Stars, But in Ourselves...), setting the stage for an ambitious look at psychoanalysis. Instead, Spellbound soon dives into what I can only charitably describe as stagey melodrama. It’s mostly a dull film. Redemption comes in a stunning dream sequence designed by Dali, replete with his signature melting objects and hallucinatory imagery. Hitchcock always worked with the best talent money could buy, and here his work with Dali constitutes a real save, because without it Spellbound is of interest only to Hitchcock compleatists.

The famed dream sequence lasts a mere two minutes, but was rumored to have been 20 minutes long before producer David O. Selznick demanded major cuts. Selznick and Hitchcock clashed frequently throughout the production and they never worked together again, although five years earlier Hitch had delivered a Best Picture winner to Selznick with his first American film, Rebecca.

Decades later, Peck conceded in an interview that he and Bergman had enjoyed a brief, torrid affair during the filming of Spellbound. Bergman was relentlessly unfaithful to her doctor husband throughout her 13-year marriage, finally divorcing him in 1950 to take up with Italian director Roberto Rossellini, who she divorced in 1957. Peck’s marriage lasted another 10 years after his dalliance with Bergman and he married a French journalist the day after his divorce was final. I mention this merry-go-round of musical beds only to underscore how life often imitates art, as the plot of Spellbound reveals, and that in this particular case the goings-on behind the camera were more interesting than the story being filmed in front of it. Except for that Dali dream sequence.

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2016 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

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