Move over, Dali

Article excerpt

Byline: VICTOR LEWIS-SMITH

AND we welcome readers now to the finals of the 2002 Surreal Figures of Speech awards, recorded earlier today live on a reel-to-unreal tape recorder. And the finalists are all gathered here expectantly. There's Litotes, who told me earlier that he was not a little pleased at making it into the finals. There's Pleonasm, who says he'll happily accept an award in any shape or form, of any sort or kind, if and when required.

There's Hyperbole ... there must be at least 46 million journalists in London alone who regularly overuse Hyperbole. There are a couple of rhetorical questions ... ah, where would we be without rhetorical questions?

There's Simile, looking as pretty as a peach and as happy as Larry. And there's Aposiopesis, who tells me that he intends to shock the audience during his acceptance speech by suddenly breaking off in mid-sen Hyperbole, rhetoric, shock, and surrealism were the weapons with which Salvador Dali carved an international reputation in prewar Paris, as Richard Curson Smith's brilliantly-constructed Surrealissimo memorably demonstrated on Saturday night. Shown simultaneously on BBC2 and BBC4 (to celebrate the birth of the Corporation's dedicated arts channel), it hilariously chronicled the way the young Spanish artist (played by Ewen Bremner) knowingly encouraged a cult of notoriety, horrifying even his colleagues in the surrealist movement with his scandalous antics, many of them involving his own excrement. "You're not soiling our sheets, are you dear?" asked his wife Gala as he turned the marital bed into yet another anal masterpiece (an artefact worthy of the combined talents of Tracey Emin and Chris Ofili), and he also liked to smear the stuff on his hair before attending particularly elegant parties. I've even been told (by those who know) that a weekend chez Dali would frequently involve playing a game called Hunt the Turd, and the man clearly did his best during the Thirties to turn the entire surrealist movement into the bowel movement.

"You need to be controversial," was his cri de coeur, and Matthew Broughton's superbly understated script neatly recounted how the unknown Dali set about drawing the public's attention not just to his work, but to himself. With a baguette for a hat and mirrored fingernails ("so you can watch yourself having a wank"), he proclaimed himself to be "The Great Masturbator" (a self-abusive term that caused even sophisticated Parisians to draw breath), and shamelessly boasted that he was "the objectification of the surreal world".

HIS behaviour led colleagues to put him on trial for "crimes against surrealism", and Stephen Fry gave a wonderfully understated performance as the dour Andre Breton, who'd written the Surrealist Manifesto, yet seemed to possess all the artistic flair of a tax inspector. …