The critic Duncan Shepherd, down south in San Diego, put it pretty well when discussing the subject of digital cinema: "What's in it for the viewer?" We know digital photography is cheap, we know it is convenient, we know it can make movies in places where large cameras are prohibited. But compared to film, digital still has a significant sacrifice of visual quality. Today, there is a larger portion of sheer purblind badly-lit ugliness on our screens than in any period since 1914. It's one thing to use technology to create a completely animated cartoon, in which the color spectrum can run riot; the Shrek films succeed at creating rich, bejewelled storybook colors.
And David Lynch's Inland Empire exemplifies how low-fi digital has a potential for horror, since the flat backgrounds and wretched depth of field make it easier for supernatural shadows to lurk. Much CGI is farmed out and created fast and cheap, even in big name productions. Muddy, synthetic colors are common, and whenever a relatively real sunset or moonrise intrudes into the artificial landscape it's like someone opened a window in a stuffy room. All this is a throat-clearer to explain why, during the summer, the peak CGI season, I've been more likely to burn up my spare time at museums than movie theaters. Thus it was time for another look at Henri-George Clouzot's documentary The Mystery of Picasso -- at 78 minutes, as short and to the point as the artist himself.