The work for the cinema of Salvador Dalí

Have you ever seen those great movies The Marx Brothers on Horseback Salad or The Stupendous Story of the Lacemaker and the Rhinoceros?

No? Well, no one has because they were never made. They were among the many unrealised film projects of the Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí (1904-1989).

Although primarily a painter, he loved the medium of cinema and toyed with movies all his adult life. He was never a film-maker in the conventional sense but drew up movie scenarios and created outlandish set designs.

Almost all his projects failed to reach fruition although at least two Dalí movies have been finished - years after his death.

The truth probably is that most of his ideas were impractical like his project for tactile cinema. A pair of women's breasts would appear on the screen. Simultaneously rows of plastic breasts would be placed in front of cinemagoers for them to fondle!

Salvador Dalí Domenech was born in 1904 in the town of Figueras in Spain's Catalonia region near both the Mediterranean Sea and the border with France.

The son of a well-off state lawyer, his childhood was comfortable but he felt from an early age that he was merely a substitute for his brother, also called Salvador, who had died nine months before his birth.

This fear of having to replace someone who was no longer alive led to obsessions with both death and decaying bodies, both of which permeated many of his later paintings.

Interestingly, the secret of the amnesiac in Spellbound, the 1945 film on which the artist collaborated with the director Alfred Hitchcock, is that he accidentally killed his brother during his childhood.

Doted on by his mother, Dalí was a spoilt, precocious child, prone to temper tantrums and used to having things his own way. By his teenage years, he was showing a certain degree of big-headedness, relentless ambition and wild humour.

His extremely close relationship with his mother ended with her unexpected death in 1921. Dalí's father then married his wife's sister, an equally unexpected event which deeply disturbed the teenager and another case of replacement of one human being by another.

In 1920, Dalí went to Madrid, staying at the same students' residence as the future film director Luis Buñuel and the future playwright Federico García Lorca.

Dalí's studies were tumultuous. He made it plain to his tutors at the Academy of Fine Arts that he knew more they they did. He was suspended for alleged subversive activities in 1923 and expelled altogether three years later.

He had already written a famous diary entry in which he declared his desire to become a genius. First, however, he mastered his craft, painting in a variety of styles including Realism, Cubism and Impressionism before experimenting with Surrealism in the late 1920s.

Surrealist art combined images from everyday reality with motifs from dreams and the unconscious and was initially seen as extremely shocking.

Dalí, who also loved to scanDalíse polite society, created paintings that were subversive, grotesque, disturbing and - in the eyes of many - downright obscene.

Ungratified Desires (1928) was rejected for a Barcelona art exhibition because of its overt sexual images, the painter being told it would disgust the public.

Dalí was, of course, not a pornographer and merely wished to take a serious look at human sexuality. This was a prickly subject for him personally and to this day no one is quite sure whether he was heterosexual, gay or bisexual.

Buñuel later wrote that as a young man Dalí was asexual while a recent Internet reviewer called him a 'sexual libertine.'

Certainly, the artist had plenty of hang-ups about sex but claimed to have been cured of most of them by his wife Gala.

Moving to Paris, he was welcomed into the Surrealist Group of writers and artists but his wayward behaviour incensed his deeply conservative father when news filtered back to Spain.

An inscription on a Dalí artwork that apparently insulted his late mother led to the artist being banished from the family home. Father and son did not see each other again until 1948.

The friendship with Buñuel, who was by now also living in Paris, resulted in two film projects, Un Chien Andalou (1928) and L'Age D'Or (1930).

These Surrealist films have fascinating historical value although Un Chien Andalou, with its shocking opening sequence created by Buñuel, was one of the very few occasions in Dalí's life when he was upstaged by another creative artist.

Although the two men worked together, the images of the hand crawling with ants, the man with a stone balanced on his head and the decaying donkeys also appear in many Dalí paintings so can be viewed as his. Ants and decomposing animals are key Dalí images of decay and putrefaction.

The film partnership did not last long and Dalí fell out with Buñuel over the latter's inclusion of anti-church imagery in L'Age D'Or. A projected third film in the trilogy, Babaouo (1932) was not made until the 1990s - long after both men were dead.

Meanwhile, Dalí's art went from strength to strength. His Surrealist period including works like The First Days of Spring (1929), The Great Masturbator (1929) and The Persistence of Memory (1931), was the most extraordinary of his career featuring mysterious images like burning giraffes, lions made crazy by sexual desire and the famous melted watches.

The backdrop to many paintings were the seascapes and coastal rocks of the artist's Catalan homeland.

Many of Dalí's ideas came from Sigmund Freud's discoveries about the unconscious mind and the coded messages that appear in dreams. In 1934 the artist gave a lecture in Britain wearing a diving suit, symbolising his descent into the unconscious and he later gave a party in which all the guests came as their favourite dream.

As a painter, he used dream symbolism to create his often tortured visions, setting up an easel and canvas at the foot of his bed so he could re-create the night's dreams on waking up. In his 'critical-paranoid' state, he toyed with but never truly entered genuine madness.

As he said of himself: 'The only difference between myself and a madman is that I am not mad.'

His 'hand-painted dream photographs' were also the result of careful, conscious thought, the 'critical' part of the process. The 'paranoid' part, meanwhile, was his term for the dream material.

When Dalí eventually met Freud at the end of the 1930s, the psychoanalyst didn't like him. Dalí, who had already fallen out with his real father, now had to face rejection from the man who had inspired a decade of ground-breaking work.

The artist continued to create Surrealist paintings but from that time on looked for new inspiration from the worlds of religion, science and history.

While Buñuel struggled, Dalí made a fortune with his art works which also included jewellery, furniture, stage designs and novels.

The artist's great love was the Russian wife of the poet Paul Eluard, Gala (1894-1982). He met her in 1929. They married in 1934 and in a Catholic ceremony in 1958. Gala was his lover, business manager and artist's model.

Many people thought Gala was a fortune hunter. This belief was not helped by the fact that she greatly enjoyed spending Dalí's money and continued to have lovers during their marriage.

Dalí's behaviour remained eccentric. During his time in USA, he would seduce wealthy women, persuading them to undress in his apartment. He then fried two eggs which he placed on the women's shoulders before escorting them out of his home.

Meanwhile, Dalí also fell out with the other Surrealists. André Breton, the founder of the movement, helped to engineer Dalí's exclusion in 1934. Breton also thought up an anagram of the artist's name Avida Dollars - 'greedy for dollars' - to satirise his commercial orientation.

Dalí replied: 'The only difference between myself and the Surrealists is that I am a Surrealist.' Later, a composite photograph was created of the artist with his moustachios and two paintbrushes forming a dollar sign.

Frequent visits to America re-kindled the artist's interest in cinema. He especially liked the Marx Brothers, rightly seeing Surrealist tendencies in their crazy comedies. In the 1930s he wrote a scenario for a film The Marx Brothers on Horseback Salad, the text for which was recently rediscovered.

This envisaged Groucho, Harpo and Chico on a gigantic bed with the 'Surrealist woman' surrounded by dwarfs. There are also cyclists with stones balanced on their heads, sheep climbing over the furniture and a drowned ox. The film was never made.

Dalí's contribution to Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945) is much shorter than the long sequence originally intended. A segment in which Ingrid Bergman was covered in ants was left on the cutting room floor.

A cartoon with Walt Disney, Destino (1946) was abandoned after a few months although Dalí's original designs were used when the film was finished by Disney's nephew Roy and director Dominique Monfery - in 2002.

Set to a romantic Latin ballad, this six-minute film features classic Dalí images: a melted clock, a woman turning into a flower and ants swarming around on a hand (no prizes for originality). The movie also uses 21st century computer technology to allow images to morph into one another.

If the conservative Walt Disney was an unlikely collaborator for Dalí, so were MGM Studios who in 1950 included a Dalí-designed dream sequence in the middle-brow Spencer Tracy comedy Father of the Bride.

In the 1950s, Dalí and an associate Robert Descharnes devised an unreleased film called The Stupendous Story of the Lacemaker and the Rhinoceros which reflected Dalí's interest in science.

There was a short Dalí film Impressions of Outer Mongolia in 1975 while late in life he asked Buñuel to help him make Un Chien Andalou 2. Buñuel declined to take part, believing their moment of youthful exuberance had come and gone.

Meanwhile Babaouo finally made it to the big screen in Spain in 1997 directed by Manuel Cussó-Ferrer with the actors Hugo de Campos and Cristina Piaget. Much involved with cyclists with stones on their heads, it took the form of a surreal journey in the Europe of the 1930s.

Although Dalí died in sad circumstances in 1989 he is as famous today as ever. His centennial was marked in 2004 as Hollywood toyed with the idea of a Dalí biopic.

The artist created a personal legend based on enduring, serious works of art plus a tremendous talent for self-publicity. Academics still argue over whether he was straight or gay, a Marxist or a Fascist, a madman or a genius and whether he was obsessed by money or oblivious to it. The answer, of course, is yes.