Saturday, January 30, 2016

My 5 Favourite French Films

Before Christmas I took French classes at the Ecole Francaise in Chicago as preparation for my recent teaching expedition to Paris in January 2016. It was an upper intermediate conversation and grammar class, and one week we were asked to name five French films that we know. My first response was: Only five!? But here are the first five that came to mind, the sort of films that I can (and do) watch again and again:

La Passion de Jean d'Arc, d. Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1928.

La Grande Illusion, d. Jean Renoir, 1937.

Les Quatre Cents Coups, d. Francois Truffaut, 1959.

A Bout du Souffle, d. Jean-Luc Godard, 1960.

Jules et Jim, d. Francois Truffaut, 1962.

If I could take just one to a desert island (the sort of desert island that has a movie projector that is completely impervious to sand and humidity, naturally), I would choose Les Quatre Cents Coups.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Another Picasso Pilgrimage

I've just got back from teaching in Paris for two and a half weeks, and while I was there I had the opportunity to learn more biographical information about the location of Picasso's studios. I blogged extensively about his Montmartre studio, the Bateau Lavoir, after my January 2015 trip. Like last year, the apartment I was staying in is located in Montparnasse, which I knew Picasso had some connections with. But in the 11 months between the 2015 trip and this one, I reread the passages of John Richardson's biography of Picasso relating to Montparnasse, and discovered that one of the studios Picasso rented in Montparnasse was only a five minute walk from my apartment. My apartment is south of the cemetery, Picasso's studio overlooks the east side of the cemetery:

This is what the building looked like when Picasso moved there in 1913 with his new companion, Eva:

John Richardson (Life of Picasso, Volume II, p. 285) writes about it as follows:
The studio-cum-apartment at the heart of Montparnasse where Picasso would live for the next three years was much more imposing than any of his previous quarters ... The stairway was carpeted and the landings lit by bronze figures of nude nymphs dangling lightbulbs. Plaster casts of the Elgin marbles lined the staircases. These had always fascinated Picasso. He had copied them as a child and drawn on them for his 1906 Watering Place; however, most visitors found them inexcusably fustian. Even Jean Cocteau, who would soon make classicism fashionable, recalled his youthful contempt. He would race up the stairs out of breath, averting his gaze, only to find himself, seconds later, menaced by Picasso's army of African sculptures, "which I scarcely liked any better."
The fanciful staircase would have impressed Eva and amused Picasso--the more so for shocking solemn modernists. He had taken the apartment for its studio, which was "big as a church" and soon to have four or five hundred canvases stacked against the walls ... The floor was covered with discarded brushes, palettes, and paint tubes as well as newspapers, brochures, cinema tickets, tobacco packets and other debris ...
Here is what the building looks like now:

Despite the modernisation, the basic shape of the building is the same. If you stand on the opposite side of the street, next to the cemetery wall, you can tell that the two-storey high windows still provide light for a high-ceilinged interior. Not only that, but the current occupant has placed African statues on the window sills, so clearly he or she is aware of the building's history:

At the Musee Picasso, I saw a couple of photos of Picasso posing in the Rue Schoelcher studio:


You can clearly see the hundreds of canvasses stacked against the wall and the floor littered with debris, as described by Richardson.

The main biographical facts about Picasso's time in this studio are: it marked a definitive move away from his bohemian beginnings in Montmartre, where he lived from 1900 to 1912; the reason he could make the move at all was also because he was now a successful, money-earning artist, and one of the acknowledged heads of the avant garde movement in painting; there is a case for saying that his time here marked the peak of his creative life as a pure innovator, which was soon to be followed by a long life of being merely a famous and occasionally brilliant visual artist; with his new companion Eva, he was able to move on from his long relationship with Fernande Olivier, re-establish a more or less stable domestic life, and even contemplate marrying Eva, a plan that was tragically cut short by her death from cancer.

Artistically, this period from 1913 to 1916 was when Picasso made many Cubist works incorporating collage elements, trompe l'oeil effects, and materials such as sand and household paints. He borrowed or learned much of this from his partner in crime Georges Braques, but as usual Picasso went further than Braques in the playful elaborations of these techniques. A good example of this is Woman in an Armchair, from the end of 1913:

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