Le Sang d’un Poète
The artist exists fundamentally as a wish (Nemerov), and here is Cocteau “caught in the trap of his film”, an imaginary exercise (episode one) until the muse awakens and takes the poet in hand (episode two), whence Goya fusillades, “the mysteries of China”, the keyhole eye, Flying Lessons, the hermaphrodite (Danger de MORT) of consummated composition, pistol at temple, end of images.
Afterward, much later, of course, an image himself, the artist is the weapon of schoolboy fights among academicians (episode three), the deadliest of these fells the admirative, upon whose body (episode four) the connoisseur erects his jeu de cartes, taking an ace of hearts from the fallen academician to impress a lady, who waves her golden fan in response. But the schoolboy on the snow has a guardian angel who wrests with ink the tender flatterer’s trump card, connoisseurship dies, the lady departs from the table. She is the muse leading the world as a bull, its horns are the lyre, world and lyre and muse are contained in the image of the muse’s carven outlined head, and all of this takes place in a trice, the time of a falling tower. Thus is reached “the mortal tedium of immortality.”
An aggressive policy of cinema as poetry is carried out by an administration capable of its demands.
La Belle et la Bête
The supreme nightmare of a virgin bride is entirely worked out in her mind. La mort c’est l’amour, the farthest reaches have to be plumbed, only then is the mysterious threshold crossed that leads to Orphée and Le testament d’Orphée.
A total work of art in which every element, script, actors, costumes, makeup, settings, music, cinematography, and sound, has its visible and audible part to play.
The missed arrow early on is taken up by the clumsy assassins in Truffaut’s La Mariée était en noir. The arrow that kills Avenant is the spear that kills Cocteau in Le testament, where la dame distraite (the Countess) is one of Beauty’s sisters.
L’Aigle à deux têtes
An exceedingly fortunate film. The play was filmed much later by Antonioni, in Italian, as Il Mistero di Oberwald. Cocteau created an entirely new work, subsuming the play, and filmed it to perfection.
Crowther (New York Times) freely confessed he had no idea at all what it was about, and set the tone for John Simon by hoping that Cocteau, then in New York, might explain it.
After that, the condescension in Time Out Film Guide is quite laughable.
L’amour et la mort.
Les Parents terribles
Mother loves Son as he was, her baby, to the detriment of Father, who has taken a young Mistress, who is now engaged to the Son.
Aunt, the intellectual, lost Father to Mother (her sister) long ago, but made her peace and lives in the house.
The plan is to break up the impending marriage, but a change of heart puts Father and Aunt on the side of Mistress and Son. Mother kills herself.
From this vantage point, the drama is much less than English-speaking critics make it out to be, and considerably more, there’s a joke about this in the script.
The filming has been noted as a summit of the art, strictly applied to the play in itself.
Martyr means witness, but there is the poet and the innocent bystander, as Nabokov has it.
Godard observes the terrible secret is revealed in Le testament d’Orphée, where the Princess and her chauffeur Heurtebise are condemned to serve as judges in a realm governed by a pagan goddess who does not suffer poetry.
La villa Santo Sospir
Cocteau’s tour of the line frescoes with which he decorated the Weisweiller villa at Cap Ferrat.
Much of the material (Orpheus Dead, Judith and Holofernes, phœnixology) goes into Le testament d’Orphée.
Shot in Kodachrome and 16mm expressly as a “film d’amateur”, narrated by the director.
Le testament d’Orphée ou ne me demandez pas pourquoi
Carl Sandburg has his own testament (“Fame If Not Fortune”) around this time.
A half-dollar in the hand of a gypsy
tells me this and more:
You shall go broken on the wheel,
lashed to the bars and fates of steel,
a nickel’s worth of nothing,
a vaudeville gag,
a child’s busted balloon kicked
amid dirty bunting and empty popcorn
bags at a summer park.
Yet cigarmakers shall name choice Havanas and
paste your picture on the box,
Racehorses foaming under scarlet and ochre jockeys
shall wear your name,
And policemen direct strangers to parks and schools
remembered after you.
Jean Cocteau s’adresse à l’An 2000
Still at the villa (“I came for a week, I stayed twelve years”), he faces the camera (long, medium, close, “wot, no—?”) like Welles (Orson Welles’ Sketch Book) and Hitchcock (Hitchcock on Grierson) to expound “à l’improviste” on antigravitation, “apprentice robots”, “architectural Esperanto”, the poet’s Borgesian mysterium (“je ne suis pas ce moi-là,” yet “c’est peut-être l’expression la plus haute de l’individu”), “collective genius”, religion (a Dalian vision, the Ark of the Covenant as “an extraordinary electric battery”), honors (“des punitions transcendantes... I belong to the Académie Française, the Belgian Academy, the American Academy, the German Academy... I have a doctorate honoris causa from Oxford though I hardly speak English... l’homme remarquable est—doit se rendre invisible,” as T.S. Eliot would say), errors (“ce sont les fautes qui sont la véritable expression de l’individu,” a very Joycean notion), and other matters.
“Aujourd’hui, j’ai l’air de parler une langue inconnue, et c’est en effet une langue inconnue, puisque il faut l’apprendre... et je crois qu’il y a quelque chance pour que cette langue vous arrive, alors que beaucoup de choses qui semblent plus importants ne vous arrivent pas.”