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26.2.04

Destino

I have already mentioned Destino, the lost film project that Salvador Dalí worked on for Walt Disney in 1945 (see post on February 18, The Center of the Universe, According to Dalí). This short film, finally realized by a team of animators led by producer Roy Disney from the remaining work done by the surrealist artist, can be viewed in most places as a freebie before the French animated movie The Triplets of Belleville. This is exactly how I saw both movies this past weekend, at my new favorite moviehouse, the E Street Cinema (see post on February 7, The Return of the Art Movie).

As the story goes (reported by Jason Silverman in this article in Wired, November 12, 2003; and by David D'Arcy on NPR, where you can see two clips from the film), Dalí had worked on films with Luis Buñuel. When in the United States during the Second World War, he worked on Alfred Hitchcock's movie Spellbound and, at that time, met Walt Disney at a dinner party at Jack Warner's house (oh, to have been a fly on the wall!). As improbable as the partnership may seem at first, Disney agreed to make a short animated film based on Dalí's ideas, as an illustration for Armando Dominguez's song "Destino." What is most tantalizing about the film as it has been completed is the glimpse at what might have been: Dalí, who was becoming more and more fascinated with images that move, producing mainstream animated film with the backing of Walt Disney. Keep in mind that this collaboration dates from a time prior to Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951), Peter Pan (1953), Lady and the Tramp (1955), and Sleeping Beauty (1959). My mind swims when I think of how these films, greats of American animation, would have looked with someone like Dalí in the studio. Alas, in spite of an affinity for the surreal (the matching of Disney and Dalí is perfectly natural, when you have a moment to recover from the shock of learning that it actually happened), Uncle Walt bowed to financial pressures and canceled the project.

The movie is beautiful visually and a fascinating mixture of the two masters, with some qualities clearly Dalí and others clearly Disney. The heroine, for example, a ballerina, is not much different from any of the lead female characters in the classic Disney films I listed above: her body type, facial characteristics, hair, and movements are remarkably similar to those of Cinderella, Alice, and Aurora (see this image, for example). However, quite atypically for a Disney animated film, this ballerina wears a provocatively transparent and clinging slip of clothing. It is then stripped away from her by, I think, quite phallic one-eyed alien creatures, imprisoned in a sort of pit, before she slips into a vulva-shaped shell that falls to the ground below (see the sketch at the bottom of this article about the project, or you can watch a clip of this section of the movie from NPR's feature on the movie).

Almostly entirely on the Dalí side of this equation are the settings and backgrounds. The film opens on the desert-like beach that the painter depicted in so many of his works, like the Enchanted Beach with Three Fluid Graces (1938), The Madonna of Portlligat (1950), and, most famously, The Persistence of Memory (1931). My understanding is that these beach backgrounds are rather accurately rendered scenes of Portlligat Bay, in Spain, which featured importantly in the landscape of the painter's dreams, because it was near where he grew up in the town of Cadaqués. (He ended up having his permanent house there, when he returned from the United States, and it is now a museum.)

Also prominent in the movie are the optical illusions that were one of Dalí's favorite games, as in Apparition of Face and Fruit Dish on a Beach (1938). (This was the subject of an exhibit of the painter's works that came here to the Hirshhorn in 2000.) The ballerina's silhouette appears in the rocky background, as the bell in a monastery tower, between two merging faces carried by turtles (definitely the self-portrait of Dalí on the right and perhaps the portrait of Disney on the left—see this image and this image). The main subject here is sexual longing, and the male character begins first as a sort of relief sculpture, until he melts into reality and eventually becomes a baseball player. The two characters are not able to unite, as the sand flows away to reveal a sort of castle ruin that continues to separate the couple, whose fluctuating natures also prevent them from coming together.

However, there are those unmistakable Disney qualities, too, like the warbling choir that is heard on the soundtrack toward the end of this short film (for lack of a better term, what I call the "Disney 'ah' chorus"). Dalí's trademark paranoic-critical ants swarm from a crack in a stone hand, but Disneyesque birds and moths are also prominently featured. Although the film is mostly the work of modern-day animators, based on Dalí's work, it is easy to see from the result why the self-proclaimed "Pope of Surrealism," André Breton, excommunicated Dalí from the circle of the surrealist elect (prior to the work with Disney, but still relevant). Breton rearranged the letters in Dalí's name to make the anagram Avida Dollars (hungry for dollars), which pithily expresses Breton's hatred of commercialism. In spite of all that, Destino is something you should see on the big screen, if you can. If not, Disney will release a collector's edition DVD later this year.

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