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The Mystery of Picasso (1956) Blu Ray & DVD (Arrow)

An artist at work

This documentary directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot took a rare opportunity to capture artist Pablo Picasso at work. The film was largely shot from behind a transparent canvas on which Picasso created various works via drawing with marker pens, painting and assembling collages before the viewer’s eyes. There are also occasional intermissions where the artist discusses what he will do next with director Clouzot and cinematographer Claude Renoir.

While the scenes showing Picasso, Clouzot and Renoir interacting with each other are shot in black & white, many of his artworks are seen in full colour.

Watch a trailer:

The fascinating process of creating art

As a piece of cinema The Mystery of Picasso is certainly a remarkable experience. Much of its appeal will (obviously) depend upon how much you appreciate Picasso’s works. That said, there’s something incredibly chilled out and undemanding about the whole endeavour that makes it a pleasure all of its own even if (like myself) you have ambivalent feelings towards his cubist/surrealist style.

The painting processes are accompanied by a selection of classical, jazz and folk tunes which lend them a sense of drama which would not have been evident otherwise. It’s incredibly hypnotic watching a painting build up piece-by-piece from one stroke after another. Picasso also displays a surprising tendency for changing his mind on the fly by painting one object (e.g. a fish) and then altering it into something completely different (e.g. a chicken) before changing it, once again, into a strange face of some kind. As an occasional freeform doodler myself I appreciated his creative process!

Pablo Picasso at work in The Mystery of Picasso

If there are lulls in The Mystery of Picasso they come when some of the less interesting pieces are being created. However, since each one only lasts for a few minutes of screen time (not always real time; at the end, Clouzot and Picasso note that his one of the last works shown here took hours to complete but was speeded up via trick photography) we aren’t forced to sit through them for an unduly long time.

Clouzot is arguably best known for the two masterful suspense thrillers which he made immediately prior to this one: The Wages of Fear and Les Diaboliques, both of which ensured that even the great Alfred Hitchcock realised that he had a rival. However, The Mystery of Picasso shows that he clearly had a greater breadth of talent.

Runtime: 78 mins

Dir: Henri-Georges Clouzot

Featuring: Pablo Picasso, Henri-Georges Clouzot, Claude Renoir

Blu Ray Audio-Visual

The visuals look very clean and bright while the music has a rich, warm sound.


A Visit to Picasso

This 20-minute 1949 documentary by Paul Haesserts kicks off with a brief history of his work before visiting him in his studio. We see several examples of his work as well as getting to see him painting onto glass in front of the camera. While the artworks painted before the camera aren’t as ambitious as those in The Mystery of Picasso it makes for a fine companion piece. The muffled sound mars this one a bit but it’s still watchable.

La Garoupe

A 1930s home movie shot on 16mm Kodachrome stock by artist Man Ray, featuring footage of him on holiday with Picasso and some friends near Antibes in France. It’s a curiosity to be sure, but hardly exciting (as would be the case with watching most other people’s holiday home movies).

Picasso, My Father

Picasso’s daughter Maya talks about the making of the film. A lively and entertaining interviewee, she reveals that the marker pens used were a recent American invention and required being dipped into separate ink bottles to change colour. Some of her other revelations are more eyeopening - for instance, that Henri-Georges Clouzot attempted to get her to sleep with cinematographer Claude Renoir (himself the grandson of the famous painter Auguste Renoir) so that their offspring could combine their artistic genes. This was despite the fact that she was an adolescent and he was in his 40s!

The Mystery of Picasso Restored

A brief glimpse of a few shots from the film before and after the restoration process.


Anyone with either a passion for art or who is looking for a beautifully relaxing method to while away the time should get hold of this disc.

Movie: ☆☆☆☆

Video: ☆☆☆☆

Audio: ☆☆☆☆☆

Extras: ☆☆☆1/2

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