Jean Cocteau

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My essay on the films and the works: Cocteau Lost

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Cocteau Lost

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The Cocteau film legacy is really a slim one. You're really talking about 7 films or so. Thomas l'imposteur (1965) was made after his death and I think you can take Le Testament d'Orphee (1961) out of the question. Imo that is a home movie and no matter how much Truffaut championed it it's really hard to watch. Kind of Cocteau and the great and the good at play. Worth watching though for its curiousity value.

So that leaves 6 movies. If you take out his first film, the astonishing but experimental movie Le Sang d'un Poete (1930) and the aforementioned Testament then we are are talking about a period of 7 years - 1942-1949 - when Cocteau committed his undoubted talent to making films and produced them. That's it.

This, I think, is one of the reasons in what I see as a decline of the interest in not only Cocteau's film work but his work in general outside of France and why we should all, in our own way, support the legacy.

As I said, it is one of a plethora of reasons. Here is what I see the problems are:

The last few paragraphs. If he had fully committed to film from the 1930s to the early 1960s then he would have built up a substantial body of work. More work = more memories. Those with long careers seems to grow bigger in the affections of the public as the years roll by. I'm talking of Hitchock, Capra, Chabrol, Bresson et al. With Cocteau I don't see the same fondness - I see a wonder at the likes of La Belle et la Bete and Orphee; I see an astonishment that these things exist, that a man can take the medium of film in the 1940s and turn it into astonishing and magical art but is there the same affection? Without it a legacy is very much dimmed.

He was the ultimate renaissance man. Film, art & the written word - he was a jack of all of them but did he master all of them? It's a subjective question. Film I have explained above. Brilliance but fleeting brilliance.

Art: in his drawings I've never seen such a lightness of touch or elegance in line but would it have been enough to have underpinned a career as a painter? We need more and as much as I adore his drawings and ceramics I don't think there is enough variety as again he didn't fully commit to that medium. Think Picasso and the sheer variety of work over a lifetime. You don't get that feeling of endless possibilities with Cocteau's work. Indeed it's the reverse that draws you to it - you love a Cocteau work all the more because it looks like a Cocteau work - there is nothing to surprise you in the work or take you beyond the paper or canvas. Again, a man with his talent could have taken us way further with him if he had fully committed to the medium.

Novelist, writer. Some great books, elegant as always, perceptive at times but is there enough of it? Can you say he touches us, pulls at the depths of us, as say a Gide or Camus? Has he the deep intelligence of a Sartre or the sheer poeticness of a Genet?

If only there had been three Cocteaus then we would have got one who concentrated full time as a writer and would have approached those literary greats with his body of work. But even an alchemist such as Cocteau couldn't have achieved that.

I can't overemphasize just how important Jean Marais was to keeping the flame of his legacy alive. Whilst he was alive there was a tangible link to the films, someone to promote in particularly those two movies and a real connection to Cocteau. In the 1990s we lost not only Marais but Casares and the keeper of his Estate and adopted son, Edouard Dermit. Since their passing the legacy has been allowed to drift. No-one is there who remembers those days, who can tell us what it was like to work with someone who had a genius for living.

Sure there are exhibitions, superb releases recenty by the Bfi of La Belle et la Bete and Orphee both on Dvd and Blu-ray but the legacy in between is almost forgotten and thst is a shame.

This is tied to point 3. David Sylvian. An influential British musician to this day. In the 1980s he was at the peak of his popularity in the UK, Japan and Italy. With his group Japan (part of the New Romantics, arty and very influential in their day) disbanding he ventured on a solo career and in 1984 released Brilliant Trees. Here in lyrics he obliquely referenced Cocteau (Blood of a Poet and Difficulty of Being) and in subsequent interviews revealed how much he admired Cocteau. The following year Cocteau's voice even appeared on his short film soundtrack, Steel Cathedrals. Finally, his release of Orpheus on his 1987 album Secrets of the Beehive, a genuine 'wow' track, dragged his admiration of the French legend bang right into the open.

A whole generation of his fans went on to discover the work of Cocteau and once they discovered it could not forget it. Morever, they could discover more when they discovered the likes of Marais and Casares were still about and Marais in particularly was at a stage in his life where he was open to talking about that time in his books and correspondence.

They died and Sylvian, very much a reluctant pop idol from the outset, retreated from the public limelight of his own free will. Though until recently still releasing astonishing and compelling music, it is an audience that has matured with him and left Cocteau behind as understandably he has pursued different avenues. But for a generation in the 1980s his namechecking opened Cocteau up to many who would have never discovered him.

The namechecking of Cocteau from the 1980s has become less and less. The mind boggles at just how many people discovered Cocteau when the Manchester and Morrissey/Marr band, The Smiths used the Jean Marais Orphee image for their cover of the single This Charming Man in 1983. Such namechecking is worth its weight in gold for any artist - probaly more important than anything. The Smiths are revered to this day and any association is priceless. And the Cocteau Twins by being the Cocteau Twins were a gift that just kept on giving.

Those days have gone.

So we all need to keep the Cocteaurian spirit alive. Buy his work, Dvds, books and posters and spread the work about this great man. Or if you don't want to do that, like this page, share it on Facebook or whatever so others can discover his work.

I've given the reasons why he is less popular but it is what it is. What he has left us, maybe not as much as we would like, needs preserving and found by a new audience. It's all we've got and doesn't deserve to be lost.

Everyone can play their part in between the times the Establishment wakes up and remembers him through exhibitions and releases.

A world without Cocteau would be a dull one indeed.

Paul Page - June 2019

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The Blood of a Poet
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Love Eternal film , dir. by Jean Delannoy
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Beauty and the Beast
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Intimate Relations
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The Incorrigible Children film , dir. by Jean-Pierre Melville
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ORPHÉE, 1950
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Cocteau on the Film

The Testament of Orpheus
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Thomas the Imposter - film , dir. by Georges Franju

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Jean Cocteau Orpheus

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Beauty and the Beast

The Blood of a Poet

Eternal Return

Les Enfants Terribles

Les Parents Terribles

Orpheus Film

Le Testament d'Orphée

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Jean Cocteau Beauty and the Beast e-mail

Jean Cocteau Films

Jean Cocteau Site Map

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