Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1956 film, The Mystery of Picasso (Le Mystère Picasso), sets out some lofty goals for itself. In only 75 minutes, Clouzot seeks to uncover nothing less than the mystery, not merely of Picasso’s process of painting, but of artistic production itself. We’re talking metaphysical meta-projects here, the search for the core truth of capital-A Art. To this end, the film documents the production of 20 original works by Picasso.
Most of the paintings were subsequently destroyed so that they would only exist on film, though some may have survived.
The film begins with Picasso creating simple marker drawings in black and white, gradually progressing to full scale collages and oil paintings.
Some, the earlier works in particular, are rendered primarily in black ink, with a splash of color here or there; others, certainly the final ones, explore a wide range of colors. All have that post-Picasso Picasso feel about them. You know, the almost regimented feel of paintings painted like “Picasso would have painted them,” the kind of paintings more apt these days to draw yawns than elicit shocked gasps.
Slightly abstract in quality, with the occasional old school cubist flourish, the paintings feature many of the master’s usual iconographic suspects: women and women’s breasts, bullfighting, Mediterranean scenes.
The film won the Special Jury Prize at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival and was shown out of competition at the 1982 Festival.
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