DVD Review: The Picasso Summer
I recently purchased from the Warner Bros. Archive, the DVD of the hard-to-find film The Picasso Summer (1969), which features three animated sequences bringing the artist’s work to life. It stars Albert Finney as an art lover and discontented California architect and Yvette Mimieux as his adoring young wife. After attending an art opening full of pretentious, oh-so-hip people, Finney decides to spend his vacation in France trying to track down Pablo Picasso instead of lolling at home. Mimieux is all for the idea and away they go. After they arrive, they bicycle around town trying to find the elusive artist’s home. Some of the movie’s most amusing moments are scenes with locals giving directions to where they think Picasso lives, which turn out to be incorrect. Finally, the couple stumbles upon his home only to learn he never lets tourists in. Mimieux is content in enjoying the rest of the week in France, but Finney is determined to meet the artist to her chagrin. An argument sends him out at night where he learns that one of Picasso’s dearest friends, matador Luis Miguel Dominguin (playing himself), is living close by in Spain. Finney deserts Mimieux to fly to meet him, but has to show his prowess in the bullring before Dominguin will help. (These scenes were a bit too gory for me.) She meanwhile meets a blind artist and his wife whom she spends the day with. Finney returns and the couple reconciles at the beach resigned to the fact that they will never meet the artist as they stroll along the seashore.
The Picasso Summer has an interesting history and was considered a disaster when completed. Serge Bourguignon was hired to direct from a screenplay by Ray Bradbury, based on his 1957 short story called “In a Season of Calm Weather.” Bradbury always envisioned the tale featuring animated footage, which Bourguignon incorporated. The film’s first causality was the loss of Pablo Picasso’s participation due to a dust up with his friend Dominguin, who was the go-between for the artist and the producers. The final cut was detested by Bradbury (who claimed the director chucked his script and improvised scenes) and almost came to blows with the director at an early screening. Warner Bros.-Seven Arts agreed with Bradbury and refused to release the movie.
TV director Robert Sallin was then hired to re-shoot. Some of Bourguignon’s footage was edited into the new final print with Bradbury now only receiving story credit. The two different styles of filming, coupled with the animated segments, makes the film a bit disjointed but sill watchable. The studio, however, was disappointed with Sallin’s cut as well, so they shelved it. The Picasso Summer did not see the light of day until 1973 when it aired on television. Subsequent broadcasts excised the animated segments.
It is a shame The Picasso Summer never received a theatrical release because I thought it was just a wonderful and entertaining travelogue that features all the splashy gimmicks of the day including split screens and freeze frames. Finney and Mimieux make a handsome couple, as they bicycle and strolled the beautiful French countryside. I watched the movie with actress Gail Gerber and my partner, Ernie. While they liked Finney as the malcontent architect whose early mid-life crisis spurs him to meet Picasso to give his life meaning, they were not impressed at all with Mimieux. Gail found her bland and my partner commented, “She is so bad she makes Carol Lynley look like a good actress.” How rude! Yes, Mimiuex did not have an edge like Tuesday Weld or get a chance to play varied parts like Lynley (two actresses she was similar in looks to and often compared). However, for me, her waif-like quality worked well here, as she goes from adoring wife trying to please her husband to finally saying enough-is-enough as she refuses to go off toSpain. I, however, was more disappointment in the duo’s physical appearance. Mimiuex was quite “hippy” in her bikini and doughboy Finney badly out of shape for a guy in his thirties.
As for the animated sequences by Wes Herschensohn, they are an art lover’s dream, as is the whole movie since Picasso’s work is on display throughout. The animation is so well crafted and aided by a lush score by Michel Legrand (listen below), just fabulous to watch. It would have looked spectacular on the big screen for sure, especially if the audience was high as the younger generation probably would have been back in ‘69. But take it from me, even cold-stoned-sober, the movie is an undiscovered delight.