Picasso: A "disruptive" genius left artistic beauty, personal chaos

Sure, there are some problems with the first chapter (April 25) of "Genius: Picasso." The story bounces around too much; it throws people into chaos before even introducing them.

But this is still a fascinating story, filmed in a gorgeously epic style. And if you're confused about who's who and what's what? This story, which I sent to papers, may be helpful:

By Mike Hughes

The word “genius”
gets tossed around easily.

It might go to any
filmmaker who blows up a robot or any designer who puts sparkles on a
handbag. But now the real “Genius” is back on National Geographic
Channel, viewing great talent amid chaos.

The first year had
Albert Einstein; this new one has Pablo Picasso. The third – Mary
Shelley, creator of “Frankenstein” -- may find fresh turf, but
what do these first two guys share?

“They are
progenitors of disruption in their time,” said Brian Grazer, who
co-produces the series.

Samantha Colley, who
has played key people in both lives, agreed. Both men had a
“relentless drive toward ... a different point of view,” she
said. That “doesn't necessarily make them good life partners.”

In the first
“Genius,” she was Mileva Maric, a brilliant physics student who
may have helped Einstein's breakthroughs during their 10-year
marriage. Now she's Dona Maar, a gifted photographer who was
considered Picasso's muse during their 10-year relationship.

Both received strong
financial support afterward. Maric's career never re-started; Maar's
did, after bouts of deep depression. “They knew the price of living
within excellence,” Colley said.

Picasso's obsession
with women was understandable, said Antonio Banderas, who plays him.
“This was a man who was born in the 19th century, but
got to Paris at 19, (at a time) of unbelievable freedom.”

Both Picasso and
Banderas grew up in Milago, Spain. When Banderas was born (in 1960),
it had about half its current population of 570,000; when Picasso was
born (in 1881) it had about 115,000.

“Going to school
when I was a little kid, with the hand of my mother, we always
crossed in front of ... the house where Picasso was born,” Banderas
said. “I am talking about a time (when) Spain didn't have too many
international heroes. (Picasso) was bigger than Franco.”

At 57, Banderas is
an international movie star, playing Picasso beginning at age 56.
That was in 1937, with Maar spurring his most epic work – a mural
decrying the bombing of a Basque village in Spain by German and
Italian planes, in support of Francisco Franco.

That era offered a
turning point in both stories. Einstein, facing extra danger as a
Jew, moved to the U.S. when Hitler took power in 1933; Picasso stayed
in Paris.

Both stories split
the lead role between two actors. “I didn't know much about the
younger Picasso,” said newcomer Alex Rich, who plays him. “I've
since read all kinds of books.”

Picasso, whose
father was a traditional artist and art teacher, grew up with strong
technical skills. His dad and uncle (who offered financial support)
wanted realism, but the young painter moved on.

“He practically
did every style in painting,” Banderas said, “from figurative or
expressionism to cubism.” He was so good, Banderas said, that
gifted artists – even Henri Matisse – hid paintings when he
visited. They feared “if Picasso had the opportunity to look at
them, he could do them better.”

Then Picasso created
his own style. He became a superstar, often leaving gifted women
behind. In the first night, “Genius” viewers meet Maar plus:

-- Marie-Therese
Walter, who met the married Picasso when she was 17. Later, he had
two mistresses he painted as opposites – Maar, dark and acerbic;
Walter, blonde and sunny. “He always promised her marriage and that
never happened,” said Poppy Delevingne, who plays her. “But ...
she was very considerate, compassionate .... I think she gave him a
little less grief than a lot of other women.”

-- Francoise Gilot,
a child prodigy who met Picasso when she was 21 and he was 61. She
later wrote that she knew this would be trouble, said Clemence Poesy,
who plays her. “She's like: 'I would rather have interesting
catastrophes than just mediocre love stories.'”

The result of such
“catastrophes” varied. Walter -- who never established a career
of her own -- committed suicide at 68. Gilot – an artist, author,
painter and the widow of Jonas Salk – lived to 96.

-- “Genius:
Picasso,” 10-part mini-series, National Geographic Channel.

-- First two parts
at 9 and 10 p.m. Tuesday, rerunnng at 11; also, 10 and 11 p.m.
Saturday, rerunning at midnight. After that, 10 p.m. Tuesdays.