Jean Cocteau

Jean Cocteau

French director Jean Cocteau did not necessarily look at himself as a film director, but more a poet, painter, sculpture and a surrealist who wrote plays and novels. Cocteau directed his first film titled Blood of a Poet, which was considered the first of his Orphic Trilogy in 1930. This surrealistic film was produced by the Viscount de Noailles, who financed Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel’s scandalous film L’Age d’Or (1929) in the same year, when both their films were condemned by the Vatican. In 1940 Cocteau written a enormously successful play for and starring Edith Piaf. He also worked with Pablo Picasso on several projects and was a friend of most of the European art community. Cocteau’s greatest cinematic achievement was his 1946 film adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, which many film scholars and critics today consider to be one of the greatest fantasy films of all time. Cocteau adapted the classic fable at a time shortly after the suffering of World War II, when people wanted to escape from the bleak horror’s of reality. This was not a ‘children’s movie,’ rather a surrealistic poem, as Cocteau used bold and haunting images along with striking Freudian and flamboyant themes that delved into the darker repressed emotions of its characters. Cocteau’s next masterpiece was his adaptation of the enchanting tale of Orpheus (1950), which tells the story of a musician who has to descend down to the underworld and reclaim his dead wife. Jean Cocteau’s surrealistic version of that story is quite different, as Cocteau changes the musician into a poet and sets the classic story in modern 1950’s Paris. Before the days of CGI and digital effects, Cocteau remarkably brought to the screen his brilliant use of astonishing practical effects and devised trickery with the camera. There are extraordinary exquisite moments of wonder and awe involving mirrors of illusion that transform into pools of water, invisible gliding forces pushing characters through massive corridors and portals, reverse camera shots springing characters back from the dead, and magical gloves that could immediately transport a character wherever they so wish.  His final film, The Testament of Orpheus (1960), featured appearances by Picasso and matador Luis Miguel Dominguín, along with Yul Brynner, who also helped finance the film. Cocteau’s films, most of which he both wrote and directed, were particularly important in introducing the avant-garde into French cinema at the time, and influenced to a certain degree the upcoming French New Wave genre. Cocteau died of a heart attack on 11 October 1963 at the age of 74. His friend the French singer Edith Piaf died the day before but that was announced on the morning of Cocteau’s day of death; it has been said that his heart failed upon hearing of Piaf’s death.



Jean Cocteau
Jean Cocteau Featured Films

Articles and Essays on Jean Cocteau

Orpheus (1950)

“The legend of Orpheus is well-known. In Greek mythology, Orpheus was a troubadour from Thrace. He charmed even the animals. His songs diverted his attention from his wife Eurydice. Death took her away from him. He descended to the netherworld and used his charm to win permission to return with Eurydice to the world of […]

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Beauty and the Beast (1946)

“Children believe what we tell them. They have complete faith in us. They believe that a rose plucked from a garden can plunge a family into conflict. They believe that the hands of a human beast will smoke when he slays a victim and that this will cause the beast shame, when a young maiden […]

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Jean Cocteau
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Drawing watercolor signed JEAN COCTEAU
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Jean Cocteau Blood of a Poet first edition Dust Jacket Lily Pons 1949
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