Catching Up On ... 'The Mystery of Picasso'

Published on Tuesday, 31 December 2013 20:44 - Written by STEWART SMITH

And now, after a few unexpected weeks off from the column, we bring my series on director Henri-Georges Clouzot to a close but in a somewhat unexpected way.

All of the films so far in my series on Clouzot have been his feature works, and all of them in some way featured statements and observations regarding human nature. But this final film I chose is something markedly different. “The Mystery of Picasso” is a documentary, but it is unlike any I have ever seen before.

Instead of taking an in-depth look at the life of artist Pablo Picasso and the breadth and depth of his work, Clouzot makes the unconventional decision to simply let the man’s work speak for itself. As such, we get to look at Picasso creating original works before our very eyes. Sometimes we see, thanks to some transparent canvases, these paintings and drawings come to life as Picasso puts pen or brush to use. Other times we watch as the works are constructed in layers, often becoming something markedly different than what we saw at the start.

It’s a fascinating look at one of art world’s true greats and in a way that I’m not sure I ever expected.

Unless you are the one creating, art is a very passive thing. We are almost always only ever the observer and only ever able to see the finished work long after it has been completed.

Here, Clouzot gives us a true window into the mind of this artistic genius with the rarest of rare opportunities. Most of the time we don’t see Picasso’s face, but we can see him all the same as we watch each line, each curve, each stroke. An artist is giving us the chance to watch an artist.

The film is brief. At only an hour and 15 minutes it practically flies by. But it’s certainly enlightening nonetheless. I must admit, I was only aware of Picasso’s abstract works, so to see some of his illustrations was interesting. As one who grew up admiring the work of illustrators such as Quentin Blake and Shel Silverstein, it was doubly fascinating to realize where some of their inspiration came from.

There’s nothing particularly revolutionary about Clouzot’s documentary (this same conceit was done by some other European documentarians a few years before), but it is very much worth tracking down (I got my copy off Netflix).

And this effectively brings my series on the man to a close.

While I haven’t been a huge fan of all of the films of his that I reviewed, his stuff is very much worth checking out. “Diabolique” alone justifies the existence of his entire career.

Next week, I’ll begin something a little different for “Catching Up On …” with the start of a new series, but one that is focused on a genre rather than a specific director. Specifically, I’ll be reviewing some classics of the kung fu genre. I’ll begin with one of Bruce Lee’s earlier films, “The Chinese Connection,” followed by “Come Drink With Me,” Jackie Chan’s “Snake & Crane Arts of Shaolin,” “The One-Armed Swordsman” and “Ten Tigers of Kwangtung.”


Every week, Entertainment Editor Stewart Smith brings a new entry in “Catching Up On…” an ongoing series attempting to fill in the gaps of his cinematic education.