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La belle et la bête

La belle et la bête(1946)

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teaser La belle et la bête (1946)


In this tale as old as time, a beautiful young woman discovers that true love sees beyond surface beauty. Belle, the daughter of a failed merchant, is courted by the handsome but shallow Avenant. When her father unwittingly offends the powerful and mysterious Beast, Belle ransoms herself to the creature to save him. Instead of facing a death sentence, however, she develops a deep bond with the creature. The only thing that can separate them is the greed of Avenant and her sisters. Visionary filmmaker Jean Cocteau turns this simple story into a lustrous cinematic poem filled with unforgettable images capturing the archetypal fears at the root of this classic story.


Director: Jean Cocteau
Producer: Andre Paulve
Screenplay: Cocteau
Based on the story by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de BeaumontCinematography: Henri Alekan
Editing: Claude Iberia
Art Direction: Christian Berard, Lucien Carre
Music: Georges Auric
Cast: Jean Marais (The Beast/The Prince/Avenant), Josette Day (Belle), Mila Parely (Felice), Nane Germon (Adelaide), Michel Auclair (Ludovic), Marcel Andre (Belle's Father), Jean Cocteau (Voice of Magic)
BW -93 m.

OVERVIEWBeauty and the Beast was the first feature-length adaptation of the classic fairy tale and the first with sound.

For film lovers, Cocteau's version of the story is considered the definitive fairy tale adaptation, creating a sense of awe and mystery rarely found in more prosaic attempts to bring these children's stories to the screen.

With its abundant dream imagery and Freudian symbology (note the knife Belle holds in her hands when she talks to the Beast), the film is considered one of the screen's most successful uses of Surrealism, an artistic movement that developed in France in the 1920s. Although he would later claim to have had no involvement in the movement, Cocteau was a key figure in its development and popularization through his work on the ballet Parade, the short play The Wedding on the Eiffel Tower and the avant-garde film The Blood of a Poet (1932).

Made 14 years after The Blood of a Poet, the film marked Cocteau's return to directing. Although his lifetime output was short - he directed just 11 films - it would have a major influence on French cinema. This film, along with Les Parents Terribles (1948) and Orpheus (1950), brought the avant garde into the highly commercial French cinema, inspiring a young generation of critics, including Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut, who would move into filmmaking to launch the French New Wave in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Although made under strained circumstances in the years immediately following World War II, the film represents a triumph of French filmmaking, with outstanding work from some of the country's greatest film artists. Among them were production designer Christian Berard, composer Georges Auric, cinematographer Henri Alekan and costumer Marcel Escoffier.

By Frank Miller

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teaser La belle et la bête (1946)

Beauty and the Beast was adapted for television's Shirley Temple's Storybook in 1958, with Claire Bloom and Charlton Heston in the title roles. Also featured were E.G. Marshall as Bloom's father and Barbara Baxley and June Lockhart as her sisters.

Make-up legend Jack P. Pierce ended his career with his work on a 1962 adaptation starring Mark Damon and Joyce Taylor. That version added palace intrigue with the prince's brother (Michael Pate) and sister-in-law (Merry Anders) plotting to seize the throne from the cursed hero.

For a 1976 television adaptation, George C. Scott played the Beast in makeup designed to resemble a wild boar. His wife, Trish Van Devere, played Belle, given the surname Beaumont in honor of the story's original author. Bernard Lee co-starred as her father, with Virginia McKenna and Patricia Quinn as her sisters.

A 1978 Czech version made the story more horrific, with Beauty's father left bankrupt after the Beast slaughters the traders carrying his goods through the Black Forest.

The X-rated British film Beauty (1981) offers a contemporary version of the story with Jamie Gillis as an evil businessman who agrees to save a gambler from ruin if one of his daughters will live with him for a year. Beauty (Loni Sanders), her sisters and the businessman engage in numerous sexual escapades before she decides Gillis is the only man who can satisfy her in bed.

The same year, Claire Bloom returned to the role of Beauty to voice the character in an animated short featuring Michael York as the Beast and James Earl Jones as narrator.

Singer-songwriter Stevie Nicks wrote her 1983 "Beauty and the Beast" based on her love of the film. She even obtained the rights to screen clips during her concerts while she performed the song.

Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre adapted the story in 1984, with Susan Sarandon as Beauty, Klaus Kinski as the Beast and Anjelica Huston as Sarandon's sister. Many sequences were directly modeled on the Jean Cocteau film.

John Savage and Rebecca De Mornay co-starred in a 1987 musical version. The U.S.-Israeli co-production was part of Cannon Films' Movie Tales series.

Better known is the cult television series that ran on CBS from 1987 to 1990. The contemporary adaptation followed the adventures of Vincent (Ron Perlman), a man-beast living in a secret world beneath New York City, and Catherine (Linda Hamilton), an assistant DA with whom he fights threats to the city and his underworld kingdom. When Hamilton left during the series' final year, Jo Anderson stepped in as the Beast's new love interest, a criminal profiler investigating Catherine's murder. In 2012, the CW debuted a new version of the series starring Kristin Kreuk and Jay Ryan.

Walt Disney Pictures produced their own version of the story in 1991. The major hit featured the voices of Paige O'Hara and Robby Benson in the leads, along with Angela Lansbury and Jerry Orbach. The film won Oscars® for Alan Menken's score and the title song and became the first animated feature nominated for Best Picture. Although there was little mention of Cocteau's film in the film's publicity, some critics pointed out the film's use of living furniture may have been inspired by the human statues and candelabra in the earlier picture. The Disney film inspired the syndicated series Sing Me a Story with Belle, two direct-to-video animated features, a long-running 1994 Broadway adaptation, an ice show and a television version of that show.

Francis Ford Coppola has cited Cocteau's film as an influence on several scenes in his 1992 version of Dracula.

In 1994, Phillip Glass composed an opera not only based on Beauty and the Beast but designed to be performed as the film screened silently. The opera's libretto consists of the film's dialogue timed to the actor's lip movements. After several concert performances, the piece was recorded on a two CD set that can be played along with the film. Criterion's second DVD version of the film includes the opera as an alternate soundtrack. Mezzo-soprano Janice Felty sings Belle.

Director Mike Nichols's 2004 HBO adaptation of Tony Kushner's Angels in America includes references to Beauty and the Beast in a dream sequence featuring moving candlesticks and statues. During the dream, one of the characters is shown reading a biography of Cocteau. The same year, Cocteau's depiction of candles held by arms was also copied in the film version of the Andrew Lloyd Webber rock opera The Phantom of the Opera.

In 2011, Alex Pettyfer starred as an arrogant contemporary teen turned ugly by a witch's curse until he can find true love. Singer-actress Vanessa Hudgens co-stars in the Beauty role, with Neil Patrick Harris, Peter Krause and LisaGay Hamilton in the supporting cast.

A new French version of the story starring Vincent Cassel as the Beast and Lea Seydoux as Beauty is slated for a 2014 release.

By Frank Miller

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teaser La belle et la bête (1946)

The stream at which the Beast drinks was actually sewage runoff located just behind the studio. For the sake of the shot, Jean Marais actually took some of the filthy water into his mouth, though he spit it out as soon as the cameras stopped rolling.

While filming at a farm house near Tours, the crew discovered an old recording director Jean Cocteau had made of his poetry.

To get the effect of the candles lighting themselves as Belle's father passes them, Cocteau staged the action in reverse. Marcel Andre walked through the set backwards as the lit candles were blown out during one long take. If you look closely, you can see the flames in the fireplace moving downwards rather than upwards. Cocteau also ran the film backwards for the final shots in which the Prince rises to a standing position, and Belle and the Prince fly off to his new castle. For the latter, the actors jumped off a platform. When the shot was printed in reverse it looked like flying.

Cocteau wanted Belle to float through the hall when she first enters the castle, so he had her stand on a small wagon hidden by her long skirts.

For the effect when Belle's sisters look into her magic mirror to see their true selves, a monkey and an aged crone, Cocteau had the glass removed from the mirror and placed a real monkey and an older woman on the other side.

After seeing the film for the first time, Greta Garbo said to friends, "Give me back my Beast!"

By Frank Miller

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teaser La belle et la bête (1946)

The traditional story, which some scholars say originates in Scottish folk lore, was first published by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont in 1757 in her fairy tale anthology Le Magasin des Enfants, ou Dialogues entre une sage gouvernante et ses eleves.

The classic fairy tale had been filmed four times as a silent film, starting with a French version in 1899.

Jean Cocteau became famous as an artist, poet, playwright and critic in the early years of the 20th century. In 1917, he collaborated with composer Erik Satie, choreographer Leonide Massine and painter Pablo Picasso on the ballet Parade. The premiere was a huge success, though it triggered a riot among classical music-lovers who objected to the use of everyday objects in the score (one of Cocteau's ideas) and a lawsuit when Satie and Cocteau got into a fight with a critic who had panned the show. It is now considered a major formative work in the development of Surrealism, although Cocteau disavowed any involvement with the movement.

Cocteau returned to directing at the suggestion of his partner, Jean Marais. An actor better known at the time for his good looks than his talent, Marais suggested a film version of the classic fairy tale as a vehicle for himself. He hoped that by covering his face with elaborate makeup, he would force audiences and critics to appreciate his acting.

To flesh out the fairy tale, Cocteau added a subplot about Belle's scheming suitor, Avenant, also played by Marais. Avenant's attempt to steal the Beast's treasure added conflict to the story. He also borrowed a plot element from another French fairy tale, La Chatte Blanche by Marie-Catherine D'Aulnoy. In that story an enchanted princess's servants lose most of their bodies, retaining only the arms and hands necessary to perform their duties. This inspired the living candelabra and other animated statues throughout the Beast's castle.

Cocteau conceived the film's look as a tribute to 19th-century engraver Gustave Dore, noted for his illustrations for Don Quixote, Idylls of the King, "The Raven," the Bible, Paradise Lost and The Divine Comedy. He hired theatrical designer Christian Berard to oversee the film's sets, costumes and makeup.

The domestic scenes showing Belle and her family were modeled on the work of the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer and the French artists Antoine, Louis and Mathieu Le Nain

Marais suggested the Beast have the head of stag, but Cocteau feared that would make him look funny. Instead, he asked for a more threatening appearance modeled on various carnivores. The work was done by veteran theatre make-up artist Hagop Arakelian, who built the mask like a wig, weaving animal hair on a base of webbing. The final make-up consisted of three parts: the top of the head down to the eyes, the area from the eyes to the upper lip, and everything down to the base of the neck. This construction allowed Marais numerous opportunities for facial movement. The shape and coloring of the animal hair was partly inspired by Marais's dog, who went with him on visits to test the make-up.

Since this was only his third film, Cocteau wasn't sure he had the technical ability to pull off the complicated production. He insisted on hiring experienced cinematographer Henri Alekan and also engaged director Rene Clement (1952's Forbidden Games) as a technical consultant.

By Frank Miller

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teaser La belle et la bête (1946)

In the years immediately after World War II, film stock was hard to come by in France, so Henri Alekan had to shoot on whatever type of film was available, much of it scraps. Director Jean Cocteau would later say the changes in visual quality this caused added to the film's poetic effect. At the same time, he regretted the fact that the harsh post-war conditions made it impossible to shoot the film in color, as he had originally planned.

Those weren't the only problems with film production immediately following World War II. Most of the available cameras were old and worn, often jamming during filming. The electrical supply at the studio was inconsistent, with frequent blackouts to divert power to other parts of the district. The studio and locations were so cold that the cast huddled around the lights between shots to keep warm. Costumes had to be made from fabric scraps, and the props department had trouble finding sheets without patches for the laundry scene. With fabric in short supply, the crew often arrived at the studio to find Beauty's bed-curtains had been stolen during the night.

Initially, Cocteau and Alekan clashed over the filming style. Alekan wanted to use soft focus to create his version of what a fairy tale would look like. Cocteau, however, insisted a more hard-edged style would make even the most fantastic scenes seem grounded in reality. After the first few days of shooting, Alekan declared the rushes laughably bad. As Cocteau persisted in pursuing his personal vision of the film, the cinematographer gradually came around.

The House of Lanvin made all of the costumes, with resident designer Pierre Cardin supervising the men's wardrobe.

Exteriors for the Beast's castle were shot at the Chateau de Raray near Senlis. The strange statues in the castle's park, including a procession of hunting dogs, provided wonderful images for the film.

Jean Marais spent five hours in the make-up chair every morning to transform into the Beast. His face, hands and any other body parts not hidden by the costume were covered in animal hair. Once his fangs were in, he could not remove them, so he could eat nothing while filming except mush.

To create the living human carvings in the fireplace and other architectural elements in the Beast's castle, Cocteau hired local children who were made up with plaster to look like stone figures. At one point, the even had the faces in the fireplace breathe smoke.

The farmhouse scenes were shot on a farm outside Tours near an airfield. Although the commanding officer was happy to give the company permission to film there, he did not always keep track of the shooting schedule. As a result, takes were often ruined by the sound of training flights overhead.

Throughout filming Cocteau suffered from a severe case of impetigo. At times it was so bad he covered his face with a black paper veil, with holes cut out for his eyes and mouth. At one point he had to be hospitalized for that and jaundice, so director and technical consultant Rene Clement filled in, working from Cocteau's notes. Cocteau would later say the pain from his cracked skin could not compare to what Marais went through being made up for his role. After the film was finished, the pain of his skin problems would briefly lead him to take opium, a drug he had not touched in years.

The first screening took place before the staff of the studio at Joinville. Cocteau was so nervous, he invited his friend Marlene Dietrich, whose hand he held tightly as the film unwound. The response, however, was enthusiastic.

For the film's U.S. release conventional credits replaced the original ones, in which the credits were written in chalk and erased by Cocteau's hand. This also eliminated the film clapboard seen between the opening credits and the written prologue.

By Frank Miller

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teaser La belle et la bête (1946)

Beauty and the Beast was a major hit in post-war France and did quite well on the art-house circuit in the U.S. It also made leading man Jean Marais a major romantic star.

"Cocteau has taken the old story of the beautiful country girl who goes to live as a hostage for her impoverished father in the palace of a terrifying beast, there to be treated with such kindness that she falls in love with the unhappy brute, and has used it as a pattern for weaving a priceless fabric of subtle images. In the style of his 'Blood of a Poet,' though less abstract and recondite, it is a fabric of gorgeous visual metaphors, of undulating movements and rhythmic pace, of hypnotic sounds and music, of casually congealing ideas." - Bosley Crowther, The New York Times

"Unduly slow pace and repetitious use of trick sets hurts chances of this film....Picture is geared more for the arty crowd than the masses." -- Variety

"Cocteau wanted to make a poem, wanted to appeal through images rather than words, and although the story takes the form of the familiar fable, its surface seems to be masking deeper and more disturbing currents. It is not a 'children's film.' Is it even suitable for children? Some will be put off by the black and white photography and the subtitles (brief, however, and easy to read). Those who get beyond those hurdles will find a film that may involve them much more deeply than the Disney cartoon, because it is not just a jolly comic musical but deals, as all fairy tales do, with what we truly dread and fear." -- Roger Ebert,

"What's appealing and problematic is its visual opulence. Full of baroque interiors, elegant costumes, and overwrought jewelry (even tears turn to diamonds), the film is all surface, and undermines its own don't-trust-a-pretty-face and anti-greed themes at every turn." -- Michael Miller, The Village Voice


Beauty and the Beast won the Prix Louis-Delluc, one of France's major cinema awards, voted on by a jury of 20 film critics and cultural leaders.By Frank Miller

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