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.
often turn into a futile hunt for symptoms, what are we to make, for instance, of those equally erotic moments of apparent narrative breakdown that are so visible in Cocteau’s films but which have never been properly addressed? I am referring in particular to the extensive use of reverse-motion photography which, as we saw in Chapter 3 , can cause moments of real confusion (is filmic time going forwards or backwards?) and
friends, since poets only pretend they are dead’: the Poet’s resurrection through reverse-motion photography, with painted eyes intact
chastity, for having symbolically invaded the sisters’ room at the beginning with a stray arrow and then having smashed his way in through the glass roof of her sacred pavilion, so la Bête must vanish in order for the Prince to be resurrected by rising upright from the ground through the miracle of reverse-motion photography. Simultaneously, Avenant falls to the ground and his face slowly acquires the features of la Bête. Thus
with difficulty as though off-balance and weighed down past a row of rooms (he is moving along the ground over a flat representation of the set filmed from above). He looks through the keyhole of each and beholds a separate vision: a Mexican bandit or revolutionary who is repeatedly shot in slow motion by a firing squad but each time resurrects himself (through reverse-motion photography); a young girl who is subjected to
-imposed isolation – a figure whose heightened aesthetic experience infects his psyche and, consequently, his environment – Epstein’s film links with nineteenth-century Romanticism, Decadence and Symbolism, as well as Edgar Allan Poe himself. Epstein exteriorises a disintegrating consciousness through a variety of cinematic techniques, from slow and reverse motion photography to the superimposition of multiple
, to Hans Richter’s compilation film, 8 x 8 (1952) (a short sequence of reverse-motion photography by Cocteau entitled ‘Queening the Pawn’) and Yannick Bellon’s Colette (1950), where Cocteau pays simple tribute to his friend, the great French writer Colette. There is also the strange and little-known case of a short Cocteau made in 1963 just before his death entitled Jean Cocteau s’adresse à l’an 2000 , with the express
usual route’) is a cue for the limousine to be photographed in negative, albeit temporarily. Ordering the radio to be turned on (we hear Cocteau’s first mysterious message), the Princess, on her initial assignment, takes the dead Cégeste to an isolated and dilapidated manor where she resuscitates him in front of a full-length mirror (the magic of reverse-motion photography). He recognises her as his ‘Death