One morning, as I was driving my kids to school, they were talking about bullfighting, and they asked me if I’d ever been to a bullfight. I had been to a bullfight and this is what I told them, a kind of a looping loopy story…
Years ago I went to a bullfight in Spain, in a bull ring near Figueres. I don’t remember the name of the ring, or the matador, but I do remember I was there with Salvador Dalí and his wife, Gala, sitting next to them watching a bullfight. I was there because I had spent a month with them, working on a film about Dali for the landscape architect, Lawrence Halprin.
My kids asked me what it was like to be hanging out with Salvador Dalí. They asked me if he was nice. What came to mind was the advice he gave us at the end of the shoot. Dali said, “Crew…” [He called us “Le Crew”] “…now that you’ve labored so hard, spent so many days making this film, with such great effort, throw away all of your film.” Is this the remark of a blunt ironist or heckler, or is it a remark appropriate for a founder of surrealism? Gala was brittle, and disdainful, especially when I hit her in the head with a microphone at the bullfight. I had swung my shotgun mic a bit too fast. These are long microphones — they look like big salamis. I hit her in her crispy wig — not hard; it was just a tap. But I am still mortified — embarrassed by the memory of this, at being a clumsy member of Le Crew.
The cameraman on the shoot was Paul Ryan. This was 1972 I think, and the film was eventually shown on NPR. I can barely remember the film and the title is lost to me. My job was recording sound. Ryan went on to be the cinematographer on the first stereoscopic theme park film of the modern era — the title is (I think) Disney’s Magic Kingdom. And, as you may know, stereoscopy has been my life work. That’s part of the loop.
Another part of the loop is that Salvador Dalí was a stereoscopic painter. He painted stereo pairs, large canvasses, and a number of these were on display at the Dalí Teatro-Museo in Figueres. It was near the Teatro-Museo that, while driving Le Crew’s van, I hit a car and got taken to the police station. But that’s a story I’d rather forget. Dalí lived not far from Figueres, in Cadaqués, and I visited his home there while working on the film.
The connections are even loopier, because when I was 18 or 19, on New Year’s Eve, I took my date to a supper club in Manhattan on the East Side. I don’t remember the name of the supper club, but I do know that Rachel and I sat at a table next to Salvador Dalí. Dalí was in the company of several young people; Gala was not there. Dalí, I remember, had a silver wolf’s-head cane, which I later learned that this was Dali’s trademark cane. He was good at branding himself — he also had a trademark waxed mustache. When I think of Dali I think of the tango. I imagine Salvador and Gala doing the tango to the applause of admiring surrealists in a smoke filled club beneath the streets of Barcelona. On New Year’s even, in 1959 (or 1960) I spent New Year’s Eve with Dali and we wished each other a happy new year with a champagne toast.
It gets even loopier, because the summer before, I had been a waiter at a place called Kramer’s Union House in the Catskills. I worked there for eight weeks, to make eight hundred dollars in tips, which was my tuition at Cornell. We got paid little salary and worked 14-hour days. The head waiter was a guy named Leo, and Leo was a mean sonofabitch who made a tough job even worse. Leo did everything he could to make as much money as he could, and make sure (It may not have been his intention, but it came out this way.) that the waiters and the busboys were deprived of many human rights My servitude at Kramer’s Union House under the tyrant Leo was not covered by the Geneva Convention.
Rachel and I left the club and out on the cold streets of Manhattan I hailed a cab. Sitting in the back of the cab with Rachel I realized that the driver was Leo the headwaiter. This was his winter’s job. It was easy to be sure it was Leo because in New York City cabs the driver’s picture and name are mounted on the seat back so you can seek him out and get revenge. I didn’t introduce myself to Leo and I don’t know if he recognized me but I made sure to give him a good tip. In this way I sought to distinguish myself to myself as a person with class.
Another branch of the loop could have been taken in Spain with Halprin. His daughter, Daria was cast in Zabriski Point, a film directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. My kids asked: “Who is Michelangelo Antonioni?” I was amazed that they never heard of him so I told how I had met him in1966 in Rome. I was introduced to him, and Monica Vitti, by Furio Colombo. Furio had met me in Berkeley some months before and acquired the rights to a film I had made, We Shall March Again, and had it shown on RIA, Italian TV. Furio took me out one night with his current girl friend, an actress named Fabien, who was wearing a silver smoking. Smoking was the name of the then-stylish suit made up of a jacket and short pants. We sat at a table next to Federico Fellini, who Furio also knew.
Furio was a member of a tribe of Romans that included Antonioni and because I was a filmmaker and we had something in common I hung out with Antonioni and his friends and sat around and watched TV with this tribe of modern Romans. One day I was in Antonioni’s apartment and he took a call from the dry cleaners and had to spell his name over and over for the person on the other end of the line. Just like my kids, they never heard of him
I told this story to my kids one morning last week and my son Jonah said: “Dad, you’ve really been everywhere and done everything.” Maybe it takes a boy to take the measure of a man, or maybe kids are easily impressed.