Thursday, May 28, 2009

Little Ashes

For many Twilight afficiandos, the R-rated bioflick Little Ashes will be remembered as the film in which Robert Pattinson plays Salvador Dali, soulfully kisses another man, and shows his pubes. In fact, the film has much more to offer as it tells the complicated romantic relationship between Spanish dramatist and poet Federico Garcia Lorca and excentric artist, prompter, and self-styled genius Salvador Dali.

According to the bioflick Little Ashes, Luis Buñuel, Dali and Lorca were all college students living together in 1929 pre-civil war Spain. These bougeoise young men’s lives together consisted of producing art, discussing art, drinking, and dancing.

Lorca and Dali discuss art in Little Ashes

Little Ashes - Clip - Dali (Pattinson) and Lorca Talk

Above all, the goal of Lorca and Dali’s group was to thumb their noses at the establishment--rebel and revolt by using shock. Going to a dinner party in the film, for example, the brash and egomanical Dali announces to the hostess that he has just come from serving a prison sentence and then he continues to play off that fiction for the rest of the meal.

During their “romantic period,” the real Lorca writes an ode to his lover:

A rose in the high garden you desire.
A wheel in the pure syntax of steel.
The mountain stripped bare of Impressionist fog,
The grays watching over the last balustrades.

The modern painters in their white ateliers
clip the square root's sterilized flower.
In the waters of the Seine a marble iceberg
chills the windows and scatters the ivy.

Man treads firmly on the cobbled streets.
Crystals hide from the magic of reflections.
The Government has closed the perfume stores.
The machine perpetuates its binary beat.

An absence of forests and screens and brows
roams across the roofs of the old houses.
The air polishes its prism on the sea
and the horizon rises like a great aqueduct.

Soldiers who know no wine and no penumbra
behead the sirens on the seas of lead.
Night, black statue of prudence, holds
the moon's round mirror in her hand.

A desire for forms and limits overwhelms us.
Here comes the man who sees with a yellow ruler.
Venus is a white still life
and the butterfly collectors run away.


Cadaqués, at the fulcrum of water and hill,
lifts flights of stairs and hides seashells.
Wooden flutes pacify the air.
An ancient woodland god gives the children fruit.

Her fishermen sleep dreamless on the sand.
On the high sea a rose is their compass.
The horizon, virgin of wounded handkerchiefs,
links the great crystals of fish and moon.

A hard diadem of white brigantines
encircles bitter foreheads and hair of sand.
The sirens convince, but they don't beguile,
and they come if we show a glass of fresh water.


Oh Salvador Dali, of the olive-colored voice!
I do not praise your halting adolescent brush
or your pigments that flirt with the pigment of your times,
but I laud your longing for eternity with limits.

Sanitary soul, you live upon new marble.
You run from the dark jungle of improbable forms.
Your fancy reaches only as far as your hands,
and you enjoy the sonnet of the sea in your window.

The world is dull penumbra and disorder
in the foreground where man is found.
But now the stars, concealing landscapes,
reveal the perfect schema of their courses.

The current of time pools and gains order
in the numbered forms of century after century.
And conquered Death takes refuge trembling
in the tight circle of the present instant.

When you take up your palette, a bullet hole in its wing,
you call on the light that brings the olive tree to life.
The broad light of Minerva, builder of scaffolds,
where there is no room for dream or its hazy flower.

You call on the old light that stays on the brow,
not descending to the mouth or the heart of man.
A light feared by the loving vines of Bacchus
and the chaotic force of curving water.

You do well when you post warning flags
along the dark limit that shines in the night.
As a painter, you refuse to have your forms softened
by the shifting cotton of an unexpected cloud.

The fish in the fishbowl and the bird in the cage.
You refuse to invent them in the sea or the air.
You stylize or copy once you have seen
their small, agile bodies with your honest eyes.

You love a matter definite and exact,
where the toadstool cannot pitch its camp.
You love the architecture that builds on the absent
and admit the flag simply as a joke.

The steel compass tells its short, elastic verse.
Unknown clouds rise to deny the sphere exists.
The straight line tells of its upward struggle
and the learned crystals sing their geometries.


But also the rose of the garden where you live.
Always the rose, always, our north and south!
Calm and ingathered like an eyeless statue,
not knowing the buried struggle it provokes.

Pure rose, clean of artifice and rough sketches,
opening for us the slender wings of the smile.
(Pinned butterfly that ponders its flight.)
Rose of balance, with no self-inflicted pains.
Always the rose!


Oh Salvador Dali, of the olive-colored voice!
I speak of what your person and your paintings tell me.
I do not praise your halting adolescent brush,
but I sing the steady aim of your arrows.

I sing your fair struggle of Catalan lights,
your love of what might be made clear.
I sing your astronomical and tender heart,
a never-wounded deck of French cards.

I sing your restless longing for the statue,
your fear of the feelings that await you in the street.
I sing the small sea siren who sings to you,
riding her bicycle of corals and conches.

But above all I sing a common thought
that joins us in the dark and golden hours.
The light that blinds our eyes is not art.
Rather it is love, friendship, crossed swords.

Not the picture you patiently trace,
but the breast of Theresa, she of sleepless skin,
the tight-wound curls of Mathilde the ungrateful,
our friendship, painted bright as a game board.

May fingerprints of blood on gold
streak the heart of eternal Catalunya.
May stars like falconless fists shine on you,
while your painting and your life break into flower.

Don't watch the water clock with its membraned wings
or the hard scythe of the allegory.
Always in the air, dress and undress your brush
before the sea peopled with sailors and ships.

Buñuel watches with growing intensity the flirting of Lorca and Dali. Buñuel’s homophobia and yet obvious attraction to his homosexual friend Lorca seems to prompt him to try to steal the sexually ambivalent Dali away from him and take him off to Paris, where the two later collaborate in making films and joining the Surrealist Movement.

Luis Buñuel once wrote that one of the difficult things for a surrealist in today’s world is that it was too difficult to shock the viewer. Certainly the surrealists tried. Buñuel and Dali in their film un chien andalou have a man slice open the eyeball of a woman who stares directly at the camera. Buñuel in his autobiography describes how Dali was once thrown out of his house by his father when he scrawled on a painting, “I spit on the portrait of my mother.” Carrying on the outlandish childish performance art of the Dadaists, the surrealists attempted to bring together totally incongruent images intended to both confuse and shock the viewer.

Watch un chien andalou here Buñuel says the film began by his recounting to Dali a dream where a cloud, like a knife, slides across the moon. Dali in turn describes a dream where ants crawl out of a wound in his hand. The two then begin throwing out ideas, shocking images, incomprehensible phrases and situations. From that the film is born. While not part of the Surrealist movement when they made the film, they soon are asked to join.

Sexual repression in Spanish society appalled the Surrealists. Among the things they did was publish a sexual questionaire in their journal, asking such provocative [and scandalous] questions as "Where do you make love?", "With whom?", "Where do you masturbate?" Buñuel in his autobiography describes how liberating and how dangerous the questionaire felt (Buñuel, Vanity Fair 110).

The film Lorca, who history shows was comfortable with his sexuality in spite of strong anti-gay sentiments, shows the torment of an ultimately unrequited physical relationship with Dali. One of Dali's biographers says he reviled all personal contact from anyone. In contrast, in a period when it is dangerous to be homosexual in provencial Spain, Lorca continues openly with others. [His openness about his sexuality and his importance as a Spanish poet and dramatist ultimately lead to his death.]

In the film, Lorca’s disappointment with Dali’s rejection of him spurs Lorca on to succumb to a female friend's advances. As the two make love, Dali voyeuristically watches in the corner. Lorca says later that this incident was used by Dali in un chien andalau to mock him.

After several years, the married Dali meets again with Lorca. After his wife Gala makes a play for Lorca, Dali proposes that they all move in together—including a lover if Lorca has one—and work on more projects.

The bizarre artist whose behavior far outshone his art can be see in the following clip.

Dali – The Spanish Painter and Self Styled Genius

Little Ashes presents this story of thwarted love intelligently and often tenderly. While Pattinson gives a surprisingly nuanced performance, Javier Beltrán playing Lorca has true cinematic charisma. For me, he dominated all of his scenes. I highly recommend the film for an adult audience.

A clip about Luis Buñuel

To read more about Buñuel and Dali with the Surrealists, read Luis Buñuel's When Art Was Revolution, a fascinating article based on his autobiography, My Last Sigh, in Vanity Fair (September 1983, 108+). For a later view of Dali, check out Diedrich Diederichsen's Say Butterfly.

No comments: