Book Review: What If the Marx Brothers Got Around to Making That Movie With Salvador Dalí?
Josh Frank brings the legendary unproduced movie to printed life
Reviewed by Wayne Alan Brenner, Fri., March 22, 2019
It's long been a sorrow, for those who've known about it, that the surrealist Marx Brothers movie that Salvador Dalí pitched to MGM was never produced. The cinematic existence of Giraffes on Horseback Salad would've been a doozy of mind-blowing spectacle and Marxian antics, an explosion of warped aesthetics powerful enough to affect global culture for decades afterward – and we've had to carry on without that.
Well, okay, not quite: There's still no movie to watch, citizen. But Josh Frank – the Houston-raised mensch who wrote Fool the World: The Oral History of the Band Called Pixies and In Heaven Everything Is Fine: The Unsolved Life of Peter Ivers and the Lost History of New Wave Theatre, the local mover and shaker behind Austin's own Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-in – has successfully brought Giraffes on Horseback Salad into the world as a graphic novel.
A Marx Bros. fan since childhood, Frank, on a mission of cultural resurrection, saturated himself with Dalí and Marx Brothers lore and legend and all the media available concerning those epicenters of odd brilliance and comedy. He hunted down the typewritten treatment that Dalí and Harpo pitched to Louis B. Mayer. He sleuthed his way toward Centre Pompidou, whose vaults held Dalí's notes and sketches for the movie. He got chummy with the Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation, and he hung with Harpo's son Bill Marx, and he pretty much researched himself raw.
Then Frank set about producing Giraffes on Horseback Salad via sequential art. He got Tim Heidecker (of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!) to help adapt the script. He hired Manuela Pertega to create the artwork, the panel-by-panel cinematography of the wild narrative. And he convinced Quirk Books to publish it in a fine, hardcover volume.
And now here it is, for anyone who enjoys Dalí or the Marxes or relishes a combination of their unique nonsensibilities. The story evokes both those styles in a badinage-riddled, snark-infested, song-studded sort of Boy Meets Girl, Boy Loses Girl, Girl's Head Turns Into a Fish romantic comedy that Pertega has illustrated wonderfully, her complex, full-page splashes and smaller scenes, whether full color or black-and-white, filled with surreal flourishes and crowds of people that, in the linework, carry whiffs of Peter Arno and Mimi Pond.
[Bonus: The book starts with engaging introductions from the author and Bill Marx, ends with a few pages that Dali & Harpo used to pitch Mayer, and contains excerpts from the mustachio’d madman’s own notebooks about the erstwhile film.]
This book is a gallery, a museum, a riotous romp of art that reverberates through personal and public history and will make your dwelling's shelves (and your mind) a little loonier.
Giraffes on Horseback Saladby Josh Frank, Tim Heidecker, and Manuela Pertega
Quirk Books, 224 pp., $29.99