October 28, 2007
A new film is to depict a gay love affair between Salvador Dali, the eccentric master of the avant-garde, and his fellow Spaniard Federico Garcia Lorca, the doomed dramatist and poet.
Little Ashes, a UK-Spanish production, is set in the cultural and political tumult of Twenties Madrid and follows the intense friendship of three revolutionary young artists: Dali, Lorca and the Surrealist film maker Luis Bunuel.
Described by its producers as 'racy' and 'sexy', the film will show Dali and Lorca's feelings deepen into a love affair which the sexually repressed artist tries and fails to consummate. As a substitute, Lorca sleeps with a female friend, with Dali present as a voyeur.
The interpretation, by British screenwriter Philippa Goslett, is likely to cause controversy among biographers and historians. Although a physically intimate relationship between the men has long been rumoured, Dali told interviewers more than once that he rejected the homosexual Lorca's attempts to seduce him.
Playing the larger-than-life Dali - painter of ants, spindly-legged elephants and melting pocket watches, creator of the Lobster Telephone and farceur instantly recognisable for his pointed moustache - is an acting Mount Everest. In Little Ashes the part has gone to Robert Pattinson, a 21-year-old London-born actor best known to cinema audiences as Cedric Diggory in the Harry Potter series. Lorca will be played by the Spanish actor Javier Beltran, while the role of Bunuel is taken by Matthew McNulty, who was in Control, the recent biopic of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis. Little Ashes, named after a Dali painting, is directed by Paul Morrison, whose credits include Solomon and Gaenor, which was nominated for an Oscar in 2000.
The film will find Dali, aged 18, arriving in Madrid, where from 1922 he lived in the university hostel, the Residencia de Estudiantes. It was there, as a bizarre exhibitionist diving into Cubism, that he became close to Bunuel and Lorca, who he later described as 'the poetic phenomenon incarnate' and the only person who ever made him jealous. Lorca would go on to write plays including Blood Wedding and The House of Bernarda Alba before being murdered, aged 38, by Nationalists during the Spanish civil war.
In typically vivid language, Dali, who married in 1934, denied their relationship ever became physical. He was homosexual, as everyone knows, and madly in love with me,' he said, according to Alain Bosquet's 1969 Conversations with Dali. 'He tried to screw me twice... I was extremely annoyed, because I wasn't homosexual, and I wasn't interested in giving in. Besides, it hurts. So nothing came of it. But I felt awfully flattered vis-à-vis the prestige. Deep down I felt that he was a great poet and that I owe him a tiny bit of the Divine Dali's asshole.'
But Goslett defended the movie's portrayal of a love affair between them. 'Having done a huge amount of research, it's clear something happened, no question,' she said. 'When you look at the letters it's clear something more was going on there.
'It began as a friendship, became more intimate and moved to a physical level but Dali found it difficult and couldn't carry on. He said they tried to have sex but it hurt, so they couldn't consummate the relationship. Considering Dali's massive hang-ups, it's not surprising.'
She said their lovemaking was displaced to a third party. 'Lorca slept with a female friend of theirs, which Dali called the ultimate sacrifice. Dali watched it and this was the start of his voyeurism. It was the construction of his mask that we are familiar with now. For me the real tragedy is Dali. He was really haunted by Lorca for the rest of his life and talked about him incessantly - more than his wife, Gala.'
The film was shot mainly in Barcelona on a modest £1.4m budget. There was a sceptical response from Ian Gibson, the Spanish-based biographer of both Dali and Lorca, and now working on a life of Bunuel. 'It depends how you define an affair,' he said. 'He [Dali] was terrified of being touched by anyone, so I don't think Lorca got far.'