Compilation of two Jean Cocteau art movies, this set offers the very difficult to obtain but quite fascinating "Blood of a Poet" — shot in 1928 and released in 1930 after some controversies with its producer, the Vicomte de Noailles — and "The Testament of Orpheus", the artist's last movie with several friends like Edouard Dhermitte, Maria Casarès, Jean Marais, Picasso, and Brigitte Bardot. Part of his "Poetry of the Cinematographer", those two movies are an occasion to witness Cocteau's recurring themes and symbols present in his work. Two wonderful art pieces to observe and obtain, two artworks that add to the visual genius that is Jean Cocteau.
Blood of a Poet:
Made in 1928, the "Blood of a Poet" presents an artist who, while trying to get rid of a wound on his right hand, dives through a mirror that leads right into his subconscious. A world he has trouble leaving as his reality becomes distorted and several episodes occur around and before him. Some from Cocteau's childhood like a snowball fight where a kid threw at him a snowball that concealed a stone; which inspired him for his novel "the Terribles Children", or the mirrors that are doors to other dimensions as in Orpheus, or his Death, important figure in all his works. A person they're either ready to love or hate at the cost of their lives. Shot in black and white with the very limited technology and constraints of the time (ie: fragile film stock, static camera with a few awkward tilts, pans and scans, travellings, and Jean Cocteau's narration in a voice off) Cocteau's debut film displays some very marking visual tricks that make the work mysterious and still powerful. Whether it is the Poet's plunging into the mirror's depths that Cocteau shot while pulling the Poet on a cart, which marvelled Charlie Chaplin. Or the magical rewinds as a man comes back to life or when the Poet leaves the mirror's mirages. Tricks that make its craft more human and touching than several CGI effects that are suffocating the industry today. Among its other wonders comes George Auric's music; a precious companion to Cocteau's entire theatrical and cinematographic career as his music added many strings to the poet's lyre. Another example of their wonderful chemistry, this movie is another chance for one of the most important French composers of the 20th century to immortalize his notes. Although I enjoyed the movie, I wonder if this edition of "Blood of a Poet" isn't incomplete as I remember seeing on the Web a sequence where the Poet explicitly states to the statue that one cannot enter mirrors, where as in this movie this part is absent. Which is quite peculiar. Even though this doesn't hurt the movie as it remains a marvellous experience, I still wonder how could there be two cuts of the movie each with such tiny differences. In the end, this 55 minutes long movie has been a major influence for many like David Lynch who quoted it an important film as its influence is present in EraserHead, but also on Twin Peaks with the Red Room. A must for cinema viewers and Cocteau fans, "Blood of a Poet" is an important art film in the history of cinema and of visual arts that everyone must see once in his life.
Testament of Orpheus: Swan song of Cocteau's film director career, this movie was done as if its maker knew that his last years were coming. Suspicions that were founded as he died in 1963, three years after this work's release. An occasion to shoot back with former cast members like Maria Casares, Edouard Dhermitte, and François Perrier in a continuation of their roles in Orpheus. Which is interesting as Cocteau reveals what Casares and Perrier's characters were bound to become after the transgressions they pulled in that movie. Of course we have friends like Brigitte Bardot, Charles Aznavour, Pablo Picasso, but we also have a very moving scene with Jean Marais. Cocteau's muse and lover, Marais is the one who embodies the whole mythology of Cocteau's poetry, in particular his cinema and his theatre work. In short, this movie is a testament of poetic cinematography, of love, and of respect from those that have stood by him. His fellow collaborators and his fans. Thank you Jean. Thank you, thank you... thank you!
I bought this for a friend (I had asked if he has a region free DVD player so I could get him the Region 1 Criterion of this, which I recommend to get instead as there is an additional film with that version) but I picked this one up from Amazon and he was delighted with it.
Blood of A Poet changed his view on film making (friend is a film student) and should be viewed by everyone.
It was one of my favourite films, it has been one of my favourite films, it is one of my favourite films. The best of the early film makers were wonderfully creative and adventurous. Being silent and having to speak through gesture and image encouraged this. Before talkies the audiences did not expect realism in a mundane sense. The zany, the quirky, the melodramatic, could all thrive. Cocteau's circle were upper class but he was interested in all forms of art. He will have known the silent films very well. When he made this film in the forties he brought that knowledge, and added his own knowledge of a thousand years of European painting, and of Greece and Rome. Money was short, this is a low budget movie. The wealth he brought to the film was his imagination. There is also a slight parallel with Bergman: the cast is a company which gives the acting a special quality.
Last time I saw this film it was rather grey and a bit shabby but the DVD copy is fresh and strong. The exposures of the film stock will have been slightly over exposed to bring out contrast (many of the outside shots filmed in strong sunlight, which creates surrealist overtones). I think that gives a quality very much of the late 1940s and scarcity but also a strong echo of the first film makers similarly working in slow film and bright natural light.
Now I have the DVD I can watch this film in tiny bites savouring all the nuances and subtleties of this great team of film makers. It is inspirational. For anyone brave enough to go out with two small camcorders and imagination this is an advanced university course in how to make film. To see how creative Cocteau could be with limited resources I recommend Testament d'Orphee. Watch that and you will really see how Orphee was made. It is clear that the great commercial film makers have poured over this film stock. Why not join them.
Cocteau is probably making a comeback currently (though for me he never went away) and that is again because he is such a source of creative starting points.
Watching the film again I found myself transformed to a childhood experience of being completely taken over (like the child watching in Bergman's Magic Flute). The thinking and the ideas all followed in subsequent days.
Most sources that have any details on this 2 DVD set list a small bounty of extras, including the Cocteau Cineaste documentary and a commentary on The Blood of a Poet. None of these extras appear on the disc that I purchased.
A fine edition for one of the most eclectic artists of the XX Century. The art of cinema should look back at examples like Cocteau or Buñuel, that set an aesthetic that movies should follow again in your time.