Jean Cocteau’s Beauty And The Beast And Orpheus

Madman Entertainment / available to buy seperately

Often considered something of a poseur by his surrealist contemporaries in the 1920’s Cocteau’s legacy has managed to outlast them all; His film making was wildly eclectic, everything from features to documentaries, from directing to writing scripts to acting Cocteau liked to try it all; Away from the cameras there was an equal amount of eclecticism, novelist, poet, graphic artist and at one time manager of boxing legend Al Brown.

Cocteau’s reputation as a film maker of legend rests on just a few films, two of which Le Belle et La Bete (Beauty and the Beast) and Orpheus are just released by Madman.

Beauty and the Beast was made in 1946 just after the close of world war II, Cocteau had remained in Paris throughout the German occupation (showcasing his forbidden play Les Parents Terribles whenever he got the opportunity) and Beast can be seen as a kind of release into fantasy after the privations of the war. Visually stunning and definitely not a child like version of a tale we are probably most familair with these days via Disney. Cocteau takes the storyt back to its origins, that of the tale told by Madame La Prince de Beaumont, its heavy on symbolism, Jean Marais for example plays both the beast and Belle’s lover; Given the fairytale setting the movie feels curiously real, sets lit to look like a Vermeer painting and a solid looking Beasts castle. An amazing movie.

Orpheus made in 1950 is without question Cocteau’s most completely realised work, based on his own 1925 play, the movie is a modernised take on the life of the fabled poet. In myth Orpheus was forced to journey into Hades, here Cocteau has Orpehus move into “the zone” filmed in the bombed ruins of the military academy at Saint-Cyr, a quite genius touch.

Part of Cocteau’s belief that “the poet must die several times in order to be reborn” Orpheus has deservedly achieved masterpiece status over the years despite being almost ignored on its original release. Cocteau termed his work a “cinematograph” – a way of describing his ability to step outside the constraits of a standard narrative.

Anyone interested in movies as an artform is sure to want to add both of these films (which are available to buy separately) to their collection.

Both movies come with a set of excellent black and white postcard sized artcards.