Silent film is all but a lost art these days...but back when the medium was still in its infancy, it was as intriguing and controversial as today's all-digital affairs. Moving pictures were first developed as the 19th century came to a close, but it took several decades for this technological achievement to gain ground as a legitimate art form. Audiences had never seen anything like it, whether the audience was a nine year-old boy, a factory worker or a well-known artist. Picasso And Braque Go To The Movies (2008), directed by Arne Glimcher and produced by Martin Scorsese and Robert Greenhut, attempts to draw similarities between early films and the work of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. This documentary manages to entertain and inform during a portion of its 60-minute running time...but if you're expecting a truly fun, engaging and enlightening experience, your expectations will not be completely met.
I'll admit up front that Martin Scorsese's participation, aside from a general interest in silent film, is what initially drew me to Picasso and Braque. I simply love to hear him share his thoughts on film history, whether it's during a behind-the-scenes interview or an audio commentary. He speaks briefly during this film and his influence can be felt at times, but most everything else about the production falls a little flat. Picasso and Braque is much too dry and distant for its own good, forgetting that its subject matter just happens to be a new and exciting medium that all manner of audiences were thrilled to see. Early film was a fascinating new discovery, and it's often treated here with all the enthusiasm of a dull, rehearsed lecture.
There are exceptions, of course: visual samples of early films by the Lumière brothers, Edison, Méliès and others are on hand to lighten the mood, full of early "special effects" and clever editing techniques. A number of scholars and artists also manage to maintain a certain level of momentum, including Chuck Close, Julian Schnabel, Eric Fischl and more. Even so, the documentary's main theme (a parallel between cubism and early film) isn't supported well: vague comparisons are drawn but nothing concrete is laid down. Picasso and Braque can be enjoyed from the perspective of a silent film fan, but it falls short in almost every other category.
More proof of this can be found in NewVideo's DVD package, which tosses in a few bonus silent films while maintaining a passable technical presentation. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for 16x9 displays, Picasso and Braque looks fine with mild reservations. The film's natural color palette looks solid, image detail is good (considering the source material) and the canvas stills are impressive. Unfortunately, notable amounts of interlacing pop up on occasion, while some of the older footage has been cropped to 1.78:1. The latter appears to be an intentional decision, though other sequences are window-boxed.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix is low-key but still has its moments. Separation is fine and the talking-head interviews come through clearly, while the film's sparse score is also strong without fighting for attention. Unfortunately, no optional subtitles or Closed Captions are offered during the main feature or any of the extras.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen below, the static menu designs are basic and easy to navigate. The 60-minute main feature has been divided into less than a dozen chapters, while no obvious layer change was detected during playback. Annoyingly, the timer function on this disc has been disabled, so be sure and watch it all in one sitting or you'll have trouble picking up where you left off. This one-disc release is housed in a standard clear keepcase and includes a promotional insert for other Arthouse releases.
Also included here are a number of Short Films, including an hour's worth of scraps from Gaumont (some of which can bee seen during the main feature), as well as Thomas Edison's 13-minute "Frankenstein" and Ferdinand Zecca's 9-minute "Slippery Jim". All are definitely worth watching and, as mentioned earlier, are often more engaging than the documentary itself.
It's a rare case when the extras outshine the main feature, but Picasso and Braque still manages to be entertaining at times. It's sad, though, when a genuinely thrilling and curious subject is held at arm's length, especially since the medium was created with everyone in mind. Very mildly recommended for silent film enthusiasts, but everyone else should Rent It for the bonus features.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.