Paris when it sizzled — ‘The Luminous Years’


The home team scores a touchdown on PBS tonight.

Westport documentary filmmaker Perry Miller Adato’s new movie, “Paris The Luminous Years — Toward the Making of the Modern,” is receiving its national premiere at 9 p.m., and it’s a beautiful piece of work.

Adato takes us back to Paris in the years between 1905 and 1930 to show us how a group of struggling painters and poets and musicians — that included Pablo Picasso, Apollinaire and Gertrude Stein — supported and sparked each other to create “modern” art.

The film is designed to answer the question, “Why Paris?”

The basic answer is that recurring theme in bohemian migrations, affordable real estate producing a growing, copacetic community of like-minded people.

The Parisian art boom began in Montmarte (below), then a fringey, rural area, removed from the madding crowd of the city itself. Housing was dirt cheap, as was good studio space, and one thing led to another.

Adato shows how the young Picasso (right) was a key player, moving into Montmarte very early on, and producing work that got fellow artists buzzing.

The poet Apollinaire played a key role, serving as a brilliant critic of sorts, with the ability to see what was happening with the new painters, because he was on the artistic side of the critic-artist equation.

Adato mixes great archival footage of major players like Aaron Copland, Janet Flanner and Jean Cocteau with new interviews with a host of artists and art historians, along with gorgeous new film shot in Paris.

Once the artists began assembling, Adato points out, the Paris cafe culture reinforced what was going on in Montmarte by giving artists roomy and reasonably priced recreational space for their intense conversation and debate. The painters and poets paved the way for the adventurous writers (and publishers) and the fervent collaboration between composers like Igor Stravinsky and the ballet impressario Diaghilev.

Adato keeps the material lucid and entertaining and the result is another strong documentary in the tradition of her movies on Eugene O’Neill, Georgia O’Keeffe and Mary Cassatt.

Joe Meyers

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