God, I am so sick of the word "genius." It's a word that's evoked almost relentlessly throughout David Pujol's documentary Salvador Dalí: In Search of Immortality. But I guess, what else was I to expect? Produced by the Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation, the film follows the famed Spanish painter from 1929—when he first met his wife Gala and became heavily involved in the Surrealist movement—to his death in 1989, exploring the relationships in Dalí's life and his supposed quest for immortality.
Composed of archival footage and photos, along with unnatural roundtables of Dalí scholars, the film plays like a very long informational video that you might find at one of Dali’s own museums. It doesn’t seek to complicate or illuminate anything new about the life of the painter, except only to reify his position in our popular understanding of Dalí as an eccentric dude who painted elephants with really long legs. Or a master creator of great dorm room posters. A guy who had a wild mustache.
From this documentary’s perspective we are largely to understand Dalí’s legacy as an artist, as a person, as a body not in his actual work but in the form of his house in Portlligat, Catalonia and the tower he bought and renovated for his wife, the Castle of Púbol. And what better way to live forever? As property. It’s fitting of an alleged fascist sympathizer who doesn't believe in his own death. A solid chunk of time is spent on the construction of these houses, the one that looked out onto the rocky landscape that was present in almost every painting he ever did, and the other he needed express written permission from his wife to enter.
There’s something very accessible about Dalí—and he wanted it that way. His paintings, his antics, his public persona, his statements are all done with the money bag in mind. At a certain moment in the film, with Gala by his side, he states: "I consider television, the cinema, the press, journalism, as the most important modern media of degradation and cretinization of the masses, but I love using them because—from a practical point of view—the more people follow Dali, the more expensive my paintings are." He continues, "And since this is so, I would be a complete idiot not to take advantage of them, that is all."
That's the Dalí I want to know! The one who's about securing the bag by media manipulation of his own image. He sounds like a proto-Instagram influencer/artist. But this documentary only seeks to push this genius-worship even further. And, in this way, ensures that a certain Dalí will live forever.