Friday, February 25, 2011

Shirtless Men and Fooling the Wine Police

Picasso fever swept the Friday Film series at VMFA tonight and, for a change, the event was packed.

Showing was "The Mystery of Picasso," a documentary from 1956. The screening began late because of the multitudes still in line buying tickets for it. Where were you people when "Blow Up" showed? Or "Pretty Baby"?

Tonight's film was preceded by a slam poetry performance by Slam Nahuatl, a group I've seen work their magic before. Riffing on Picasso's Blue Period work "Old Man Playing Guitar," they told a story of an artist having his heart broken by a woman and then trying to paint her from memory.

His heartbreak turns the portrait into that of an old man playing guitar with the ghostly image of the women's face emerging from the man's neck, left behind from his earlier effort to recreate his love's portrait.

It was a moving three-person performance and I'm quite sure the first slam poetry for many in the audience. The group will return to interpret another Picasso work at a future Friday Film screening.

The film was inspired, to say the least, and featured Picasso painting on special canvases with the filmmaker's camera on the other side, capturing every stroke.

The Director of Photography was Claude Renoir, grandson of Impressionist Pierre August Renoir and son of director Jean Renoir. No art cred there.

Most notable was that every one of the twenty pieces created for the film was destroyed after filming, so the only way to see these works is in this movie. And let me assure you, the only way to see this film is on the big screen.

Picasso, ever the macho man, creates these works shirtless, in nothing but shorts and sandals, and at age 75 at that. And, at least in black and white, he didn't look half bad for a septuagenarian, not that I've seen any shirtless before.

Watching the artist's creative process was illuminating in every possible way. One sketch began life as a fish, scales and all, soon morphed into a chicken and eventually ended up as a black cat's head. And visually, it made sense at every stage.

At one point, Picasso tells director Clouzot (the "French Hitchcock"), "I need more ink," and is shown taking out a large bottle of India ink to add to to what he had been using, all while the camera is stopped.

Another time, he tells him, "I have to go deeper and take more risks," and redoes the work entirely to his satisfaction. Finishing, he tells the director, "It bothers me that viewers will think it took me ten minutes to do that." Clouzet informs us that it took five hours.

The time lapse sequences allow the viewer to see what the artist does to add and subtract from the picture during the course of its creation.

There was a collective groan from the audience when, after constructing a beautiful sunny beach scape, it was colored over entirely under a wash of blue. No one could have regretted the omission had they not seen it before its disappearance.

And that was the beauty of the film. Watching a master's vision develop on screen allowed a priceless look into the creative genius of the man. He saw the outcome of each piece even as he was adjusting it entirely throughout.

Not every attendee was quite as taken with the film as I was, however; the guy next to me sank down in his chair and snored throughout the movie and his wife sat upright and dozed.

Fortunately, they woke up before the Q & A period and both asked questions, no doubt to make themselves feel better about their inability to stay awake.

Afterwards, I decided to stick close to home for dinner, so Bistro 27 won the hypothetical toss. The place was jammed when I arrived around 9 and the bar crowded with a handful of wine reps who'd come from the Wine Expo down the street.

Bartender Ron asked me what my liquid pleasure was and when I said, "Tempranillo and water," he responded, "Of course. I should have known." Well, then...?

Looking for something I hadn't had before, I chose the duck confit salad with a crispy duck leg confit on cold saffron potato and frisee salad with a red wine vinaigrette. Then I got the stuffed squid full of baby shrimp and scallops in basil tomato sauce over grits, which I'd had and knew I loved.

The duck confit leg atop the salad tasted as good as it looked and the guy next to me couldn't resist asking what I'd ordered when he saw me eating it.

As I told him, it was definitely worth trying. I gave him and his girlfriend a sample on a plate just to prove my point, so I got to hear that I was right from two strangers.

They were new to me, but have lived in the neighborhood for two years (down from upstate NY) so we had lots to talk about in terms of the hood, restaurants and finding amusement in RVA. I love that they are carless by choice and also that they are thrilled by what is within walking distance and bus routes.

Once the dinner rush ended, the chef joined me for some wine and conversation, asking about how my working and dating were going, with the emphasis on the latter. It's great; I've got love life suggestions coming from every corner these days.

After a couple of hours in my stool, one of the wine reps looked over at me and said, "I just don't know about you. You've only had two glasses of wine all evening." Suddenly he was the wine police and I was being charged with insufficient consumption.

It is to laugh. You can rest assured, I did.

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