Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 14, 2022 12:11 pm 
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I'm reprinting this DVD review here because it was previously only on IMDb, and I like the Motherwell quote.

TRAILER (showing 'bombastic' score)

An invaluable record, despite its faults

27 January 2007

Picasso (at 75, typically vigorous and wearing only shorts) drew or painted with colored ink on stretched canvas or paper which Clouzot's cameraman photographed from the back to show the artist doing maybe 20 paintings as they unfold from a few lines to a piece bristling with shapes and color. The assumption behind this is a little naive as Michael Atkinson said six years ago in The Voice. Atkinson called it the "bourgeois" assumption that we can see into the mind of an artistic genius by watching him at work. Well, as some of the sequences show and as the old Art News series "So-and-So Paints a Picture" showed, actually you can learn quite a lot about how an artist works out his ideas by following the sequence -- especially if he makes a lot of changes, and it is fascinating to get that kind of inside look. A slight weakness of Clouzot's film is that the process is staged, and allegedly (some say it isn't true) the paintings were even destroyed after the film was made.

Now, some of these pictures Picasso whipped off aren't particularly good. But Picasso worked fast normally. And as Motherwell once said, his unsuccessful paintings were necessary stepping-stones to the good ones. If you've looked at a lot of Picasso's work as I have, including the Skira suite of 180 drawings titled in the English edition "Picasso and the Human Comedy" of 1954,* which relates directly to some of the drawings done for the film, there won't be much "mystery" about the sequences--particularly as they relate to drawings. Toward the end though, Picasso starts doing some full-fledged paintings with overlays (I'm not at all sure how that was filmed, possibly by another method), where he really changes things all around multiple times (as he did with some of his etchings too--and looking at the sequence of them will give you very similar information). That's more like the abstract expressionists (De Kooning, for instance) memorably chronicled in the "........Paints a Picture" Art News articles, and such metamorphoses do show the genius of the man, if not really how it works, since we're looking at, not into. I think Atkinson calls Georges Auric's music "bombastic." I found it unnecessary and turned it off (though thereby missing some of the self-conscious narration and dialogue), and I also speeded up the painting sequences because I can think visually faster than this movie plods along. The self-importance of the project is not untypical of other Fifties coverage of super-famous artists and it's mildly grating, but though I waited a long time, this film had to be seen.

*This book cost about $25 then. It is now worth a couple thousand dollars. Similarly the film has supposedly been declared a "national treasure" by the French. "Bourgeois" or "hagiographic" or self-important though it may be, this is an invaluable record..

(Henri-Georges Clouzot, Le Mystère Picasso , 78 mins., debuted at Cannes May 2, 1956; numberous other festivals, US theatrical release Oct. 7, 1957. Netflix DVD. Not a particularly good one: minimal visual quality and the commentary would not open.)


My mother said to me, 'If you are a soldier, you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the Pope.' Instead, I was a painter, and became Picasso.

Pablo Picasso

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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