Picasso & Braque go to the Movies

Martin Scorsese in Picasso & Braque go to the Movies, from http://tiff08.ca

You may remember that last year there was an exhibition at the PaceWildenstein gallery in New York on Picasso, Braque and Early Film in Cubism. It took the interesting if contentious line that Picasso and Braque were enthusiasts for early cinema (for which there is scant actual evidence), and that their experience of early film helped inform their cubist art.

A year on, and a film has appeared, Picasso & Braque Go to the Movies, made by art dealer Arne Glimcher, who was behind the exhibition, and featuring, among other, Martin Scorsese. The sixty-minute documentary features at this month’s Toronto International Film Festival, whose sites provides this blurb on the film:

Anyone with the remotest interest in the relationship between film and the visual arts will want to pay careful attention to this Mavericks presentation. It features heavy hitters from both cultural worlds, brought together by a most intriguing interlocutor. Arne Glimcher is among the great tastemakers of the art world. The artists he represents through his PaceWildenstein Gallery in New York City – including the recently departed Robert Rauschenberg – would alone embody a rich and coherent history of twentieth-century art. Glimcher is also a filmmaker, acting as a producer (The Good Mother) and director (The Mambo Kings) on several significant films.

A decade or so ago, Glimcher asked himself a question: if photography could have had such an impact on Manet and the Impressionists, shouldn’t cinema have had a similar impact on subsequent generations? His thinking turned to the advent of cubism, and especially the groundbreaking paintings of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Soon a major gallery show and book emerged. “Picasso, Braque and Early Film in Cubism” explicitly contrasted film clips from early cinema (especially those of Georges Méliès) with cubist paintings.

Glimcher has now turned that show into an hour-long documentary, featuring today’s leading artists, intellectuals and curators. The result is both great fun and intellectually adventurous. Martin Scorsese, as great a film historian as he is a filmmaker, signed on as a producer, and contributes a personal and fascinating narration. The ever-articulate Chuck Close provides enormous insight as a (celebrated) painter fascinated by how motion and artificiality is captured and transposed onto canvas. And in a tour-de-force series of intellectual connections, master painter and Academy Award®-nominated filmmaker Julian Schnabel reflects on time, stillness, colour, experiential desire and the necessity of colourless boxes.

There a clip from the film on Cinematical, which has Scorsese speculating on how you photograph a dream, accompanied by clips from the Edison Frankenstein on 1910. And this 2007 New YorkTimes article discusses the original exhibition and its ideas. Apparently there’s talk of it being nominated for an Oscar (or Academy Award®, if you will).

Mashing it with the fab four

Let us continue with our examination of those creative meetings of silent films with modern music. Today’s selection takes us that much closer to the borderline of copyright tolerance, and it’s a surprise to find Beatles music still so prevalent on YouTube. So, upholding the spirit of validity in creative re-invention, and before they all get taken down by the strong, protecting arm of Apple Corps, here’s a selection of silent montages imaginatively put to the music of the Beatles (or vice versa). Because the Beatles turn out to have inspired the masher-uppers in a number of imaginative ways.

We start with a relatively conventional fan video, but one very pleasingly done. YouTuber zuebee (who has a taste for adding pop songs to classic film clips) here gives us tribute to Clara Bow by matching clips from It to the Beatles”Honey Pie’: “Oh honey pie my position is tragic / Come and show me the magic / Of your Hollywood song”. It’s an obvious choice of song really, and the lapse into the use of stills is not to my taste, but words, music and image are skilfully blended, and it captures the spirit of the It girl.

So, you have decided to create a mash-up of scenes from Metropolis and the Beatles – which song will you choose? Quite possibly you may not have thought of ‘Birthday’, but Rob Karg did, and the result is a joyous confection, though it’s a shame the image quality is so very poor. It’s a crazy mix that turns the film into a wild celebration for the sake of celebrating wildly.

Metropolis seems to be a popular choice for Beatles fans with a silent film fixation. Try sampling it with ‘I’ve just seen a face’, or this quite peculiar use of ‘Lady Madonna’ with the video creator’s own, intertitled agenda.

Not every silent chosen for such treatment is a familiar one. KeyAliceSun has taken Hans Richter’s 1928 avant garde work Vormittagsspuk and found the ideal accompaniment for it in ‘Happiness is a warm gun’. The song was presumably first chosen because of the film’s central gun imagery, but the song’s fragmented structure and radical style suit the film’s playful experimentation. Lennon would have approved.

KeyAliceSun has also given us The Great Dictator meets ‘Because’. OK, it’s not a silent film, but it is Chaplin and the sequence is shown without dialogue and is purely silent in spirit. It’s the scene where Hynkel plays with the globe (“Because the world is round it turns me on”), and the song matches the scene’s dreamy atmosphere perfectly, so that they seem made for each other.

There are other such examples to discover. ‘I’ve just seen a face’ turns up again, sweetly put to Buster Keaton and Margaret Leahy in The Three Ages, Harold Lloyd’s boy-next-door persona fits well with ‘Act naturally’, while Chaplin eating his boots is put to the somewhat obvious choice of ‘Old Brown Shoe’. And so on.

Back to serious stuff eventually, I promise.