Author: Marijke Peyser
At the invitation of the director Alfred Hitchcock, Salvador Dalí agreed to cooperate on the film Spellbound (1945), based on the novel The House of Dr Edwards (1928) by Francis Beeding (the pseudonym of John Palmer and Hilary A. Saunders). The story revolves around a mystery, which is solved by the interpretation of a dream. On 17 August 1944 the artist signed a contract with Vanguard Films in Hollywood, in which for the sum of $4,000 he was committed ‘to create, draw and paint all sketches and/or designs required in connection with the so-called “Dream Sequence” in the picture The House of Dr Edwards (four (4) paintings)’. It was to be the first Hollywood film to focus on psychoanalysis. Hitchcock wanted to represent it in a realistic, penetrating way: ‘When we arrived at the dream sequences, I wanted absolutely to break with the tradition of cinema dreams which are usually misty and confused, with a shaking screen, etc. Selznick, the producer, had the impression that I wanted Dalí for the publicity value. That wasn’t it at all. The only reason was my desire to obtain very visual dreams with sharp, clear features …. I wanted Dalí because of the sharpness of his architecture – [De] Chirico is very similar – the long shadows, the infinite distances, the lines that converge in perspective, the formless faces. … I wanted them shot in the bright sunshine. … Dalí was the best man for me to do the dreams because that is what dreams should be.’
The ‘dream’ was filmed at three different locations: in a gambling den, on a roof and on an incline. Dalí made around a hundred preparatory drawings in all. The four paintings in shades of grey and one canvas in colour that he made for the film were used as the background for various scenes. One striking element in the scene that takes place in the gambling den is the giant pair of scissors that damages the eye painted on the backdrop. The reference to the opening scene of the film Un chien andalou by Dalí and Buñuel in 1929 is patently obvious. Dalí designed tables and chairs with plaster legs, which looked like women’s legs in shoes with high heels for the same location: a homage to the American Surrealist artist Kurt Seligmann and his Ultra-Furniture of 1938. Dalí also designed four metronomes. These play a role in the first dream sequence in the gambling den. Two metronomes stand on a table on the right side of the room and another two on the table on the left. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen acquired one of the metronomes in 2011.
Long before Dalí designed this metronome, the American artist Man Ray had already caused a sensation with a metronome titled Indestructible Object (Object to Be Destroyed) (1923). Ten years later Man Ray adapted the object as a result of the breakdown of his relationship with his muse, the photographer Lee Miller. He attached a cut-out photograph of her eye to the pendulum, transforming the metronome into a provocative portrait.