Movie Reviews: The Mystery of Picasso (1956)

Title: The Mystery of Picasso
Release Date: 18 May 1956
Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Production Company: Filmsonor

Part of my love for this movie has to do with circumstances under which I first saw it.  I was visiting San Francisco in 2002 and a restored print of The Mystery of Picasso was showing at the historic movie palace, The Castro Theatre.  Not only did we see a cool movie but got a live organ performance pre-showing.

20 years later, the documentary still resonates even on a small screen.  Pablo Picasso, probably the first celebrity painter of the mass media age (or maybe that was Dali?) creates original works of art for the camera, illustrating his creative process.  Some of the works are filmed in real time with Picasso using markers with special dyes that bleed through a paper canvas while the camera films from the other side.  Other painting are done using oils and collage and are filmed in a stop-motion style.  All are accompanied by exciting jazz or Spanish guitar, the painting at times seemingly synched to the music.

There’s even a part of the movie where they show “behind the scenes” with Picasso interacting with the director Clouzot and the cinematographer Claude Renoir.  There’s a dramatic scene where Picasso works to finish with only seconds of film left.  I remembered this happening at the end of the movie, heightening the drama, but it actually happens closer to the middle.  I couldn’t find any evidence of alternate versions of the film existing so I must be misremembering.

Anyhow, it’s fascinating how with just a few brushstrokes Picasso can create recognizable figures and a story (generally a painter working in a studio with nude models or bullfighting scenes).  For his ink sketches, I found the more details he added the more gaudy they became.  But the oil and collage work became even more fascinating as Picasso would fully change many details and backgrounds, erase and redesign the figures, thus making several effective variations on a theme.  It kind of makes one wonder how Picasso decided when a painting was “complete?”

Rating: ****1/2

Photopost: Serenity at the Gardner

I paid a visit to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum for the first time since before the pandemic began.  It was nice to get there early on a relatively uncrowded day and have some of the galleries to myself.  The Gardner Museum used to be strict about prohibiting photography but in these Instagramable days they now allowed picture-taking without a flash.  So I tried to make my own art through photography.  I also enjoyed the audio tours that are now available through smartphones.

Here’s my full album of photos from the day:









Related Posts:



Podcasts of the Week Ending April 17

Best of the Left :: Our Democracy is Filibusted, Time to Kill the Filibuster

The filibuster is a tool of white supremacy and it must be eliminated to allow the United States to pursue freedom and equality for all.

99% Invisible ::  Welcome to Jurassic Art Redux

The best way most people have to understand how extinct animals like the dinosaurs lived is through art.  Over the years, paleoart has transitioned from maintaining outdated ideas, to illustrating new understandings of dinosaurs, to entirely speculative art of different possibilities of how dinosaurs looked and acted.

Throughline :: The Real Black Panthers

If your understanding of the Black Panther Party is informed by depictions like Forrest Gump of a group of radical Blacks who hate white people, it’s worth listening to this podcast to learn what they actually understood.  In reality, the Black Panthers were seen as a threat by the FBI, and others, due to their radical vision of cross-racial activism.

The Story Collider :: Stories of COVID-19: Teachers

Teachers have dealt with a lot during the pandemic, from the brunt of redesigning education for remote learning on a moment’s notice to being the target of anger from parents and politicians.  Here are some of their stories.

Unf*cking the Republic :: AOC & the Lying Men Hydra

New York congressional representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the target of rage from Republicans, establishment Democrats, and Leftists alike.  This podcast explains what they have in common.

Running Tally of Podcast of the Week Awards for 2021

Documentary Movie Review: Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child #atozchallenge

This is my entry for “J” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Other “J” documentaries I’ve reviewed include Jane and Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

Title: Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child
Release Date: July 21, 2010
Director: Tamra Davis
Production Company: Curiously Bright Entertainment | LM Media GmbH | Fortissimo Films

The Boston Museum of Fine Arts recently opened an exhibit on the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, but since no one will be visiting any museums for some time, I decided to learn about Basquiat through this movie.  The movie includes archival film and photographs from Basquiat’s life (including a never-before-seen interview filmed by a close friend) as well as interviews with friends and art experts.  Basquiat, who was a handsome young man with a disarming smile, grew up in Brooklyn but left home in the late 1970s at the age of 18 to join the large circle of fine artists, musicians, dancers, performers, and filmmakers who lived, worked, and played in the (then affordable) Lower Manhattan.

Basquiat first attracts attention for his graffiti tags which include social commentary in poetic language. Within two years of arriving in Lower Manhattan, Basquiat had his own studio and gained considerable fame and money for his art.  Basquiat is presented as a polymath who draws on many influences from Davinci to Bebop to whatever is on tv.  He’s also a very disciplined in working on his art and is ambitious to be recognized as the greatest living artist.  He forms a close friendship with Andy Warhol and is something of a successor to Warhol.

Unfortunately, sudden fame and wealth come with its costs.  Basquiat has to deal with many hangers-on and the paranoia and loneliness that come from not being able to trust anyone.  He begins using hard drugs.  And despite the recognition he does get, Basquiat is frustrated that highest echelons of the art world racistly dismiss him as a “primative” artists.

I found a lot of parrellels in Basquait’s life to Amy Winehouse in the documentary Amy (although this documentary is more well-done than Amy).  And like Amy Winehouse, Jean-Michel Basquiat died at the age of 27, leaving behind a mindboggling body of work (1000+ paintings and 1000+ drawings) for his few years. I didn’t know anything about Basquiat before watching this movie, but I was glad to get the opportunity to learn about him and his thought-provoking art.

Rating: ****

Podcasts of the Week Ending December 7

99% Invisible :: The Infantorium

Disneyland and Epcot are famous for demonstrating technology in order to provide a vision of the future.  But in the early 1900s the technology at American amusement parks and carnivals was incubators for premature babies.  This podcast explains how it came to be that parents of premature babies had to bring their children to amusement parks rather than hospitals.

Futility Closet :: A Kidnapped Painting

The story of the theft of Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington from London’s National Gallery is unexpectedly amusing.

Twenty Thousand Hertz :: Historically Speaking

The history of language and how it shapes cultures and individual identities.

Running tally of 2019 Podcast of the Week appearances:

Movie Review: Loving Vincent

Title: Loving Vincent
Release Date: September 22, 2017
Director: Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman
Production Company: BreakThru Productions | Trademark Films

A team of Polish and British filmmakers explore the legacy that Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh left behind in France after his death through experimental animation.  Each frame in the film is hand-painted in oils in the style of Van Gogh, bringing to life the people and places he painted. This approach was previously used in a segment of Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams (1990),  but it doesn’t make it any less wondrous to watch, especially for a Van Gogh admirer.

The story takes place a year after Van Gogh’s death when Armand Roulin (Douglass Booth) is tasked with delivering a letter from Vincent to his brother Theo.  Traveling to Auvers-sur-Oise, Roulin learns that Theo has also died, but feels compelled to continue searching for a recipient for the letter.  The movie plays out like a mystery as Roulin interviews people who knew Van Gogh, and the his actions and moods on his last day are teased out.  The story does drag a bit, but the film is kept alive by its outstanding visuals as well as the  voice cast featuring stars like Jerome Flynn, Saoirse Ronan, and Chris O’Dowd.

Just an aside, many years ago when I saw an exhibit of Van Gogh’s work at the Museum of Fine Arts, I decided it would be funny of someone made a sitcom about The Roulin Family.  Seeing Armand as well as his father, the postman Joseph Roulin, as characters in Loving Vincent is a big step toward seeing my vision come to life.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: F for Fake (1973) #atozchallenge

This is my entry for “F” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “F” documentaries I’ve reviewed are 56 Up, Finding Vivian MaierFour Days in Octoberand Frank Lloyd Wright.

TitleF for Fake
Release Date: 1973
Director: Orson Welles
Production Company: Les Films de l’Astrophore | SACI | Janus Film und Fernsehen

This quirky film straddles the line between documentary and docudrama, but does it for the purpose of its theme: fakery.  What is real and what is truth? We are deceived by forgers and hoaxers, but magicians, actors, and film makers are also fakers.  The quick editing style emphasizes to the viewer that they can’t believe everything that they see, even in this movie. Orson Welles narrates and appears in the film as it covers various threads and he brings attention to his misdirection.

The putative topic of the film is Elmyr de Hory, an art forger who lives on Ibiza and claims to have forged paintings he made on display in museums around the world.  Elmyr shows no regret for his fakery and in fact believes he does the art world a service by providing paintings that bring people joy.  Elmyr was made known to the world through a 1969 biography by another Ibiza resident Clifford Irving.  Turns out, Irving is also a forger who published a fabricated biography of Howard Hughes in 1971.  Hughes himself is of great interest to Orson Welles, and we even see Welles standing outside the Las Vegas hotel where Hughes lives, although Hughes is not directly related to the theme of fakery.

Welles, of course, has his own history of fakery.  As a 16-year-old, he lied about having acting experience on Broadway in order to get a role at a theater in Ireland.  He is of course famous for his 1938 radio production of War of the Worlds which was presented as a news broadcast, causing panic for listeners who didn’t realize it was fictional.  And here he acts as an unreliable narrator in a documentary that deconstructs the idea of documentary film as we watch it.

What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:

One of the more unusual elements of this film is the appearance of Oja Kodar, a Croatian actress with whom Welles had an extramarital relationship during his final two decades.  She is first seen in the opening of the movie walking in a short dress as various men leer at her, purportedly filmed for an experiment she was making about the men being unaware they are being filmed, but otherwise unrelated to the forgery story.  She returns in the final sequence where she joins Welles to dramatise a story of her modeling for Pablo Picasso and her grandfather making forgeries of Picasso’s work.  It turns out that Kodar (which is not her real name) wrote and directed some of these sequences without getting any credit, and so just another level of fakery.

If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:

I watched the Banksy film Exit Through the Gift Shop for last year’s A to Z Challenge, and in retrospect it’s practically a sequel to F for Fake.  Both movies deal with the art world, and undermining the pretensions of the art market by using deceit to tell stories of deceit.  These two movies would make an excellent double feature.

.Source:  DVD

Rating: ***1/2

2019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Documentary Films, Part II

A: Amy
B: Being Elmo
C: Central Park Five
D: Dear Mr. Watterson
E: The Endless Summer

If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:

And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:

And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.

Book Review: Designing Disney by John Hench

Author: John Hench
Title: Designing Disney: Imagineering and the Art of the Show 
Publication Info: Disney Editions (2009)

John Hench joined the Walt Disney Studios animation department in 1939, became an Imagineer in 1954, and continued working up until a few days before his death in 2004.  So there’s no one better to write about how Disney Parks are designed with an emphasis on detail and drawing the viewer in as an active participant.  I particularly like how he talked about a three-dimensional cross-disolve, using a film term to describe the ways in Disney Imagineers design transitions between different lands and attractions.  Hench also goes into great detail about how different colors are used, and how he gave a lot of thought to the color of the sky in Anaheim, Orlando, Tokyo, Paris, and Hong Kong.  This is a nice, richly illustrated dive into the world of imagineering, although I admit I’m still looking for the book that will really get into the nitty-gritty.

Recommended books: Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look At Making the Magic Real by The Imagineers and The Disneyland Story: The Unofficial Guide to the Evolution of Walt Disney’s Dream by Sam Gennawey
Rating: ***1/2

Podcasts of the Week Ending February 16

There’s a rich crop of podcasts this week!  I wont be posting any podcasts next Saturday, so if you hear any good ones I shouldn’t miss, let me know in the comments.

Throughline :: How The CIA Overthrew Iran’s Democracy In 4 Days

The overlooked history of one of the worst crimes ever committed by the United States government.

Hub History :: Apocalypse on Boston Bay 

The indigenous population of New England suffered significant casualties from epidemics of infectious disease that swept their communities in the 1620.  The colonizing English saw these plagues as the grace of God to their settlement.

Tomorrow Society :: Peggie Farris on 50 Years at Disney and Producing Spaceship Earth

An interview with a remarkable woman who rose from being a ride operator at Disneyland to an influential Imagineer at Disney Parks across the world.

99% Invisible :: National Sword

China has enacted a program to no longer import recycled materials, which means that recycling collected from many US communities no longer is actually being recycled.  This podcasts prods consumers to “reduce and reuse” more than they recycle, but also questions placing the burden on the consumer and suggest industry needs to reduce the material created in the first place.

Smithsonian Sidedoor :: Cheech Marin Gets Antsy

Cheech Marin, famed for starring in stoner comedies, now works to bring attention to Chicano art in galleries and museums.

Planet Money: The Indicator :: The Strike That Changed U.S. Labor

The 1937 General Motors strike presaged a highpoint for union membership in the United States and a period of shared prosperity.  This podcast discusses how we got from there to today with record low union participation.

The Truth :: Meet Cute

A romantic comedy where one the members of the couple dies before the first date.  There’s a lot of clever twists in this story.

Running tally of Podcast of the Week appearances:

Book Review: Walt Disney Imagineering by The Imagineers

Author: The Imagineers
TitleWalt Disney Imagineering : A Behind-the-Dreams Look at Making the Magic Real 
Publication Info: New York : London : Hyperion ; Turnaround, 1998.

This is a coffee-table size book with historical plans, concept art, models, and photographs of various works at Disney Parks over the years created by Disney Imagineering.  They work to create 3-D experiences based on animation, landscaping, architecture, and of course engineering, many of which have to be created in house because they’re creating things that have never been done.  I would’ve liked if this book had more behind-the-scenes, how-did-they-do-that detail instead of lots of hokey quotes about “sparks” and “dreams,” but I suppose Michael Eisner didn’t want to give the secrets away.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***