Even the weirder artists of the twentieth century have been attracted to the allure of Hollywood filmmaking, and Salvador Dali was no exception. In the fall of 1941, the surrealist painter hosted a masquerade party at Pebble Beach during one of his regular visits to the town. Called "Surrealism Night in An Enchanted Forest," the fundraising event, intended to assist European refugee artists, brought out a number of stars, including Bob Hope and Ginger Rogers. It was here, the story goes, that Dali became attached to a major studio production called Moontide. The great German emigre Fritz Lang was hired to direct the movie, and asked Dali to create a three-minute nightmare sequence for the film. Unfortunately, after the incident at Pearl Harbor later that year, Twentieth Century Fox deemed the project too bleak. Lang was replaced, and Dali's nightmare sequence went with him.
Although inspired by the movies, Dali didn't always have the easiest time making them. He would get another chance to inject his hallucinatory vision into American cinema with the hypnosis scene in Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound, but it's his unrealized projects that truly indicate the scope of the painter's ambition. So many ideas, such little time. Dali: Painting and Film, a breathtakingly unique exhibit currently on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, surveys Dali's completed cinematic works in addition to tidbits from the ones that never came to fruition. Marvelously structured to show how his paintings were intentionally cinematic, the exhibit contains all the obvious highlights from Dali's movie career alongside lesser-known productions. The importance in film history of his collaborations with Luis Bunuel remain uncontested; two large screens in separate rooms showing Un Chien Andalou (where the opening eye splicing retains its original gross-out impact) and L'Age D'Or attest to that. Fewer visitors, however, might know about Dali's collaboration with the Marx Brothers on a deliriously strange movie that sounded too good to be true.