Picasso and Braque Go to the Movies in Picasso and Braque Go to the Movies

05/26/2010 4:00 AM |

Picasso and Braque Go to the Movies
Directed by Arne Glimcher

The early cubist experiments of Picasso and Braque are on display in art dealer Arne Glimcher’s Picasso and Braque Go to the Movies, a one-hour assortment of talking heads and actualités that places the French fathers of modern painting into a fruitful, informed dialogue with the burgeoning cinema. These talking heads—Martin Scorsese, film scholar Tom Gunning, Julian Schnabel and Chuck Close among them—describe the early motion pictures’ formative influence on the fine arts of the period, presenting Braque and Picasso as figures conversant with—and indeed inspired by—the rhythms, speeds and mechanical possibilities of the new medium.

At one end of Glimcher’s film is an earnest, well-intentioned effort to clarify important aesthetic intersections between cinema and painting, between a new technology and older visual forms. We are asked to consider links between Edison’s 1894 short of the Great Sandow, stretching and flexing his arms and torso, and the five elongated, pointedly postured bodies of Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon from 1907. Similarly, Braque’s highly segmented, pale-toned cubist formations, fragmented by eclipsing figures and shapes, give the newfound optical tricks of the motion-picture camera their static incarnation on the canvas. An ongoing exchange between the two mediums allowed for the development of a newer, more provocative aesthetic vocabulary, one that encouraged Braque and Picasso to pursue radical alternatives to the previous century’s ideas about pictorial representation, and to fashion images unabashedly mediated by the motion picture camera’s insistence on speed and multiple perspectives.

However, at the other end of Picasso and Braque Go to the Movies is an ill-fitted, somewhat fashionable interest in the collapsibility of cinema into genres of all shapes and sizes. Glimcher’s film is most convincing when it avoids such comparisons between twentieth-century painting and early cinema, and when it instead develops a relatively useful aesthetic history of fin de siècle Europe at the tail end of the Industrial Revolution. This newly mechanized age—its technological advancements, its novelties and amusements—was itself a living, working manifestation of the sprockets and motors of the motion-picture camera; just as one may not be able to think of Picasso without the movies, so we cannot think of the movies without considering the radical processes of reorientation underway during the turn of the century. It is precisely during those few moments when Gilmicher’s documentary acknowledges the pervasive effects of modern experience on the arts at large that the film feels most honest, most useful. Without these moments, Picasso and Braque Go to the Movies is an instance of Art History 101 for the film school, headed by Professor Scorsese, naïve in its dictum that “everything is cinema,” and irresponsible in its desire to convert art forms with long and rich histories into objects ready for conversion by the film camera. 

Opens May 28