- Movie Rating -

Daliland (2023)

| June 14, 2023

I have seen John Walsh’s Daliland twice.  The first time, admittedly, it went over my head as I struggled to figure out what I had missed.  What is this movie trying to say about the 20th century’s most eccentric artistic mind?  The second time, I think I understood it slightly better but I was nowhere near to any clarification of its purpose.  Dali has always been a blindspot in my understanding of the great artists of my lifetime and I returned to the film only because I was hoping that something would jog loose.  It was to no avail.  This movie is a bitter experience, unfocused, overwritten and exceedingly dull

The pieces are here.  Directed by the usually talented Mary Harron (I Shot Andy Warhol and American Psycho) and written by her husband John Walsh, the two try to deconstruct Dali’s genius by painting a portrait of an artist in decline, a man who wears his artistic legacy out in public for all the world to see.   When we meet him, he’s a gad-about, a clothes-horse with a slight obsession with the extravagant lifestyle – we expect little else.  He’s also prolific.  We first see him on a black and white recreation of his 1952 appearance on the quiz show “What’s My Line?” – a curiosity in which unknowing panelists were asked to wear blindfolds and then try to guess the celebrity in their midst.  Actually, the real footage (available on YouTube) is more fun than the recreation.  This is being watched in 1985 by a gallery owner named James (Christopher Briney) who will be our conduit into Dali’s personality.

That’s a mistake.  Who is James and why do we care about him?  Why do we need a second-hand look at this man that captivates us?  James is dull, by all reasonable standards.  He’s been called in to help Dali get his collection together for a display of his work at a New York gallery.  We feel the period.  We see the clothes, the style, the atmosphere.  We see Dali at his most eccentric.  And when we’re spending time with him, the movie works – Ben Kingsley is captivating.  But when the story moves away from him, it slows down and, in the presence of this James person, frequently comes to a dead stop.  Then we are inundated with scenes of Dali’s troubled past where he is played by Ezra Miller.  The value should be that it matches his youthful budding eccentricity with his older self that is trying to hold on to his often batshit public image while clearly the infirmities of old age are bringing him back down to Earth, so to speak.  That’s fine, but it is presented without any gusto, without any passion.  

What we want is the pomp and circumstance of Dali in early 70s New York society, dashed with a hint of the decline of Dali’s influence – the 60s are over and the hangover of the 70s are washing in.  We get a little of that, but it is filtered through a movie that is astonishingly conventional and dull.  We want to see the great artist get a little crazy – and he does, but there’s not enough of it. The last thing you expect from a portrait of Salvador Dali is to be bored.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2023) View IMDB Filed in: Drama