The mystery is the act of creation, "the secret process that guides through perilous adventures." You can’t see how Rimbaud or Mozart created, Henri-Georges Clouzot says, but check out Picasso holding a brush and you have the artistic mind at work -- utter horseshit, but the inspiration of turning the movie screen into a semi-translucent canvas is a rich one. Shirtless at the easel, Picasso hops from sketch to sketch, a blithe doodler. Naked women and runty satyrs are recurring images: Models in an atelier, equestrians and dwarf clowns in a circus cavalcade, cubist edges versus Matisse curves. The corrida arena is given a panoramic view (inky silhouettes surrounded by round spectators), then a closer one as the bull gores the toreador. (The sounds of scribbling pens unfortunately give way to Georges Auric’s bogus flamencos.) Picasso forges a mini-Guernica, then switches to blotchy watercolor and turns a landscape into a slumbering giant. "I want to go deeper... Show all the different layers." He asks for more space and gets the CinemaScope rectangle (cp. Tom Ewell’s intro in The Girl Can’t Help It). The film introduces time-lapse to compress drawn-out paintings, and in the process arrives at animation -- a reclining nude’s sundry poses, painted over each other repeatedly, make her dance on the canvas. Clouzot’s Cahiers du Cinéma foes enjoyed the show and hailed the dictatorial filmmaker’s new exploratory side, but the truth is that a control-freak doesn’t acquiesce easily. Puffing on his pipe by the camera’s side, Clouzot can’t resist asserting his grip over his subject and imposes a time limit. The artiste follows instructions: "It’ll be a surprise." Bouquet of flowers? Fish tail? Rooster? Aha, face. It’s an invaluable document, even if the camera seems to ultimately corset rather than unleash the aging Minotaur. Cinematography by Claude Renoir.
--- Fernando F. Croce