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Jean Cocteau, the first French writer to take cinema seriously, was as old and young as cinema itself; he made his first film in 1925 and completed his last film when he was 70. This book first deals with the issue of the type of film maker that Cocteau was: as a auteur, as a collaborator, as an experimenter, and as a theorist. It takes the pulse of Cocteau's cinema by examining in detail his ground-breaking first film Le Sang d'un poète', and argues that the film offers a vision of the potential of film for Cocteau. The book traces the evolution of realism and fantasy in Cocteau's work by introducing a main element, theatre, and assesses the full gamut of Cocteau's formal inclinations: from the legend and fantasy of L'Eternel retour to the spectacular fairytale of La Belle et la bête; from the 'film théâtral' of L'Aigle à deux têtes to the domestic melodrama Les Parents terribles which 'detheatricalises' his original play. In Le Testament d'Orphée, all the various formal tendencies of Cocteau's cinema come together but with the additional element of time conceived of as history, and the book re-evaluates the general claim of Cocteau's apparently missed encounter with history. The book considers whether the real homosexual element of Cocteau's cinema surfaces more at the most immediate level of sound and image by concentrating on the specifics of Cocteau's filmic style, in particular camera angle, framing and reverse-motion photography.

James S. Williams

collaboration in Chapter 5 . L’Aigle à deux têtes/Les Parents terribles So far we have traced the imbrication of fantasy and realism in Cocteau’s film work. We pass now to L’Aigle à deux têtes (1948), which constitutes Cocteau’s first screen adaptation of one of his own plays and his initial attempt to balance cinema with the theatre. Jean Marais and Edwige Feuillère had already starred

in Jean Cocteau
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James S. Williams

6 L’Aigle à deux têtes , 1948. The mute servant Tony beholds a series of false doubles and inversions typical of Cocteau: his mistress the Queen mourns her dead husband in her white wedding dress awash with jewels; the young terrorist Stanislas who came to kill her, and who resembles the late King, lies bloody and exhausted in her arms

in Jean Cocteau
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James S. Williams

asynchronous with their period: Le Sang d’un poète bucked the prevailing trend of surrealism, La Belle et la bête appeared during the heyday of Italian neorealism, L’Aigle à deux têtes arrived during the psychoanalytic boom, and Orphée , released some nine years before Marcel Camus’s explosive take on the Orphic myth set in the Rio de Janeiro Carnival, Orfeu Negro (1959), entered directly into a

in Jean Cocteau
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James S. Williams

great cinematographic genres, from the early avant-garde with Le Sang d’un poète (1930–32) to fairytale fantasy with La Belle et la bête (1946), historical melodrama with L’Aigle à deux têtes (1948), domestic bourgeois drama and vaudeville with Les Parents terribles (1948) (regarded by Cocteau himself as his greatest success), detective thriller and mystery with Orphée (1950), to finally the

in Jean Cocteau
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body and sexuality in reverse motion
James S. Williams

Poet in Le Testament d’Orphée) We saw in the previous chapter how Cocteau’s films invite readings of masochism on account of their weak, even emasculated male protagonists confronted by formidable, phallic female figures: the gun-toting, whip-lashing, all-round active Queen in L’Aigle à deux têtes , the imperturbable and statuesque Léo in Les

in Jean Cocteau
James S. Williams

dramatic role for him, which, as we have seen, is patently not the case. In fact, Cocteau’s career in the theatre and cinema was partly dictated by Marais’s own highly active wishes and ambitions. L’Aigle à deux têtes , for example, written in 1943 at the time of Cocteau’s greatest passion for Marais and offered to him as a Christmas gift, reflects without doubt the intensity of their relationship in

in Jean Cocteau