Thursday, April 23, 2015

Chale Nafus on Jean Cocteau


AFS Director of Programming Chale Nafus presents Jean Cocteau's BLOOD OF A POET as part of the Avant Cinema screening series on Tuesday April 28. Here are his notes on Cocteau.

Surrounded by 19th century artworks in his childhood home, Jean Maurice Eugène Clément Cocteau (1889-1963) seemed destined for the world of art. A man of many talents he couldn’t choose just one specialty, but instead wrote poetry, novels, plays, and criticism, created evocative line drawings, designed sets for his theater work, and inevitably found his way into le cinema.
He had worked his way through the stylistic explosions of the 1920s -- cubism, dada, and futurism, but it was surrealism which worked its magic on his imagination with its emphasis on dreams, nightmares, free association, and the subconscious. In 1932, he hoped that his film THE BLOOD OF A POET would open the doors and hearts of the established surrealists gathered around Andre Breton, but their homophobia prevented Cocteau’s addition to their circle. Nonetheless, THE BLOOD OF A POET is still considered one of the masterpieces of surrealist cinema – officially sanctioned or not.

He left film for the theater during the German Occupation of France, and when he returned to the silver screen, it was with wondrous retellings of Beauty and the Beast, Antigone, Oedipus, and Orpheus.
JEAN COCTEAU, MENSONGES ET VÉRITÉS (Lies and Truths, 1997) is a subtitled documentary about Jean Cocteau in six parts. Fittingly, the version on YouTube is incomplete, but interesting anyway.

Besides snippets of Cocteau discussing his works or making enigmatic statements, there are wonderful comments from friends and filmmakers like Alejandro Jodorowsky (EL TOPO, SANTA SANGRE, and an unfilmed version of Dune) and Jean-Luc Godard, who is as playful with words as Cocteau.

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