Kultur // 2002 // 50 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // July 2nd, 2004
A definitive biography accompanied by spectacular images of the artist's great work.
Artistic talent and financial success do not often go hand in hand. But no matter where Pablo Picasso sat his paints down -- be it Barcelona, Paris, or the French Riviera -- he always found himself at the center of intellectual and artistic life. At the forefront of modernist art, Picasso was an artist of incredulous prolificacy, creating over 20,000 paintings, prints, ceramics, and sculptures throughout his long life. Even more impressively, his work was immediately hailed as genius, and he was afforded the luxury of living a lifestyle of a respected artist, residing in beautiful, sunny locations, wooing many women and drinking lots of booze. (Lucky guy.)
A mere fifty minutes long, this documentary / pseudo-museum DVD runs through the more significant creations of Picasso's illustrious career at frantic pace, like an art history cram session. Though Picasso's life is almost as interesting as his artistic career (the drinking, the womanizing, the hanging out in French cafés with the modernists), Pablo Picasso: Artists Of The 20th Century sticks mostly to an academic examination of his life, and only mentions the people and woman in his life as they directly relate to his art and/or artistic periods of work. (Many academics and art historians chronicle the work of Picasso based on whichever woman he had in his life, for they influenced his work so.)
As such, this is less a documentary about the man and much more a detailed examination of his artistic endeavors. As a painting appears on screen, the narrator spends about thirty seconds describing the pathos and thematic development of each painting as it relates to Picasso's career as a whole. Literally, from start to finish, there is nothing on screen but paintings and sculptures, one after the other. The aggressive pace of the film is such that one could easily drift away in the wash of facts, themes, and large academic words.
For example, a painting comes on screen:
"Self-Portrait with a Palette, 1906. The simplified, severe mask used for his own face shows Picasso's interest in the pre-Roman sculptures of his Spanish homeland he had seen in the Louvre. The body has been primitivized through its simplification into crude, bulky shapes."
Then, without taking a breath, the film jumps right to:
"Woman in Red Armchair, 1932. Part of Picasso's continuing series of the female body in the early 1930s, this work came at a time when the painter was illustrating Ovid's Metamorphoses, and itself seems a final transition of the figurative tradition through a combination of surrealist and abstract styles."
And so on it goes, without so much as a hint of reprieve. The pace is dizzying in its academic fervor, but if you can keep up, there is much of importance here to appreciate. Each snippet is very much like the dictation you would hear if you were at a museum and had one of those handheld audio guides. Chapter stops are grouped roughly into periods (Picasso's Blue period, his Rose period, et cetera) to make browsing through the feature a snap, and the entire feature runs more or less chronologically, so navigation is no problem.
The only real problem with this DVD is a conceptual one. Since the DVD is relentless in its pacing, one must manually pause the disc and ponder the paintings onscreen, lest the film move quickly onto a new one. Unfortunately, there is no getting around this particular problem. In a museum, you have the luxury of taking your sweet time anywhere you please, but on this DVD, the pace is set for you. Still, this is simply a technology limitation -- and let's face it, a DVD could never replace actually being in a museum, seeing the paintings in real life. As such, this point is not worth kicking up a big fuss over.
The audio is fairly irrelevant and is neither offensive nor spectacular in any fashion. Its main purpose is narration, and the dialogue comes through clean and undistorted, so it achieves its aims quite amicably. The full screen transfer displays the pictures clearly and crisply, though obviously, the camera chooses which aspect of the painting to focus in upon. Obviously, this DVD is be no substitution for a coffee table-sized art book or academic text, but considering the hundreds of paintings that are featured on this DVD, in terms of sheer value, this DVD cannot be beat. Colors are exhibited particularly well, as they could not help being, for Picasso painted with such vibrancy and flair in his color schemes. In essence, the video provides a very good display of the exhibition of still paintings, which is the only subject matter on the screen. Other than the fifty-minute feature, there are no other special features on this DVD.
Unless you find yourself strolling lazily down Rue de Thorigny in the fine city of Paris and end up, by chance, at the Musée Picasso, this DVD might just be your best bet to appreciate the extraordinarily diverse work of a modern art master all in one place. But be warned! This is basically an art history lesson on a DVD. This is not a documentary in any real sense; rather, this is a blitzkrieg-paced portfolio and deconstruction of the most important works by Picasso through his career.
As far as entertainment value goes, well...ask yourself: how entertaining are art history books? If they tickle your fancy, then Pablo Picasso: Artists Of The 20th Century is right up your alley. If not, well, then best to stick to the giant coffee table book that you never open, but still impresses guests when they come over.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 50 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Not Rated