Jean Cocteau


Director, Screenwriter

About

Also Known As
Jean Maurice Eugene Clement Cocteau
Birth Place
France
Born
July 05, 1889
Died
October 11, 1963
Cause of Death
Heart Attack

Biography

Jean Cocteau is a preeminent figure in 20th century French culture. A major contributor to the history of the cinema, he is also noted for his work as a novelist, poet, painter, sculptor and playwright. Cocteau wrote, directed, narrated, edited and performed in his first film, "The Blood of a Poet," shot in 1930. Privately financed by the Vicomte de Noailles, the film's release was delay...

Family & Companions

Jean Marais
Companion
Actor. Appeared in several of Cocteau's films including "La Belle et la bete" (1946) and "Orphee" (1950); met in 1937.
Edouard Dermithe
Companion
Actor. Acted in "Orphee" (1950).

Bibliography

"L'Inconcevable Jean Cocteau"
Jean Marais

Biography

Jean Cocteau is a preeminent figure in 20th century French culture. A major contributor to the history of the cinema, he is also noted for his work as a novelist, poet, painter, sculptor and playwright.

Cocteau wrote, directed, narrated, edited and performed in his first film, "The Blood of a Poet," shot in 1930. Privately financed by the Vicomte de Noailles, the film's release was delayed for two years due to the scandal that surrounded another 1930 Noailles production, Dali and Bunuel's "L'Age d'or," which was denounced as "sacrilegious" when first screened.

"Blood of a Poet" was certainly influenced by the work of Dali and Bunuel, as well as other surrealist films by Man Ray and Rene Clair. But in its unprecedented use of sync-sound dialogue, narration and music (by the prolific and accomplished Georges Auric), juxtaposed with free-form episodic imagery, Cocteau's debut marked a watershed in non-narrative, personal filmmaking. Bracketing the beginning and end of the work with a shot of a factory chimney collapsing (to show that the events represented actually take place in an instant of "real time"), Cocteau designed the piece as a series of disparate sections, each centering on the adventures of a young poet/artist condemned to walk the halls of the "Hotel of Dramatic Follies" for his crime of having brought a statue to life. Perhaps the most famous of the film's striking images is the sequence in which the young man, having created a drawing with a moving mouth, wipes the mouth onto his hand in an effort to erase it from the picture; whereupon the mouth takes on a life of its own, begging for air and later drinking from a bowl of water. Another memorable--and much-imitated--conceit is that of the poet passing through a mirror which turns into a pool of water.

Cocteau worked only intermittently in film for the next 15 years, one reason being his recurring addiction to opium. His return to directing in 1945, with "Beauty and the Beast," was partly due to the efforts of his favorite actor and close associate Jean Marais, who played the Beast in the film.

Relentlessly romantic, beautifully mounted (despite the problems attendant on film production in post-war France) and flawlessly acted, "Beauty and the Beast" marked a triumphant return to the screen for Cocteau. With its linear narrative and familiar mythic structure, the film was less experimental than "Blood of a Poet." Yet Marais's unforgettable performance, the beast's (pre-prosthetic) make-up and Cocteau's inspired visual conceits (the beast's fingers smoking after a kill, human hands used as candelabras in his castle), made the film one of the director's most memorable--and most enduringly popular--works.

Cocteau directed two films adapted from his own plays, "The Eagle with Two Heads" and "The Storm Within" (both 1948). "Eagle" is a rather ordinary palace romance which the director later claimed he had created solely to please Marais. "The Storm Within," on the other hand, is perhaps the finest of all Cocteau's narrative films. At the center of the work is the magnetic performance of Yvonne de Bray as Marais's violently possessive, drug-addicted mother, who kills herself when her son decides to marry. Shot almost entirely in one apartment, "The Storm Within" achieves an unparalled sense of claustrophobic melancholy, highlighted by brilliant camera movement within the confines of the small, cramped flat.

In 1950 Cocteau made the film for which he is perhaps best known, "Orpheus," again starring Marais, this time as a young poet beset by artistic and romantic rivals. When his wife dies, Orpheus descends to Hell to rescue her, only to be brought before a tribunal where his final fate is determined. Once again, Cocteau makes considerable use of liquid mirrors through which his protagonists enter and leave rooms. Attacked in some quarters as being too mannered and occasionally pretentious (a charge that followed Cocteau throughout his career), the film is on the whole a successful blend of the real and the fantastic, "a realistic document of unrealistic events," as Cocteau had termed "Blood of a Poet" many years earlier.

Over the next ten years Cocteau worked on several projects, providing dialogue and/or off-screen narration for a number of features by other directors and contributing to several short films. His one-act, one-person play "The Human Voice" was made into an excellent short film ("L'Amore") in 1948 by Roberto Rossellini and also provided the inspiration for Pedro Almadovar's 1988 farce, "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown." Cocteau also adapted his novel "Les Enfants Terribles" into the screenplay for Jean-Pierre Melville's 1950 film of the same name. Like Jean Delannoy's "L'Eternel Retour" (1943), the work bears Cocteau's stamp far more than that of its nominal director.

In 1959, with private financing (part of it coming from Francois Truffaut), Cocteau made his last film as a director, "The Testament of Orpheus." A rather elaborate home movie starring its director, the work features cameos from numerous celebrities including Pablo Picasso, Yul Brynner and Jean-Pierre Leaud. A nostalgic return to the legend of Orpheus in the manner and style of "The Blood of a Poet," the film lacks the earlier work's imagination and intensity.

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

Testament of Orpheus (1962)
Director
La Villa Santo-Sospir (1952)
Director
Coriolan (1950)
Director
Orpheus (1950)
Director
Parents Terribles, Les (1948)
Director
The Eagle Has Two Heads (1948)
Director
La belle et la bête (1946)
Director
The Blood of a Poet (1932)
Director
Jean Cocteau fait du cinema (1925)
Director

Cast (Feature Film)

Le Mystere Babilee (2001)
Himself
Testament of Orpheus (1962)
Himself, the poet
8 x 8 (1956)
La Villa Santo-Sospir (1952)
Coriolan (1950)
Narration
Les enfants terribles (1950)
Voice (Paul'S Doctor)
Les enfants terribles (1950)
Narration
Orpheus (1950)
Voice S
Parents Terribles, Les (1948)
Narrator
The Eagle Has Two Heads (1948)
Narration
La belle et la bête (1946)
Voice (Raoul Marco)
The Blood of a Poet (1932)
Narration
The Blood of a Poet (1932)
Voice S

Writer (Feature Film)

The Mystery of Oberwald (1981)
Play As Source Material
La Voix du large (1971)
Play As Source Material ("La Voix Humaine")
Thomas the Imposter (1965)
Screenwriter
Les dames du Bois de Boulogne (1964)
Dial
Testament of Orpheus (1962)
Screenwriter
Modigliani of Montparnasse (1961)
Foreword
Le Bel Indifferent (1957)
Play As Source Material
8 x 8 (1956)
Screenwriter
8 x 8 (1956)
From Story ("Queening Of The Pawn")
La Villa Santo-Sospir (1952)
From Story
La Villa Santo-Sospir (1952)
Screenwriter
Orpheus (1950)
Screenwriter
Les enfants terribles (1950)
Screenwriter
Les enfants terribles (1950)
Novel As Source Material ("Les Enfants Terribles")
Les enfants terribles (1950)
Dialogue
Orpheus (1950)
Play As Source Material
Coriolan (1950)
From Story
Coriolan (1950)
Screenwriter
The Eagle Has Two Heads (1948)
Screenwriter
Parents Terribles, Les (1948)
Screenplay
Parents Terribles, Les (1948)
Play As Source Material
The Eagle Has Two Heads (1948)
Play As Source Material
La belle et la bête (1946)
Screenwriter
The Eternal Return (1943)
Screenwriter
The Blood of a Poet (1932)
Screenwriter
Jean Cocteau fait du cinema (1925)
Screenwriter

Producer (Feature Film)

La Villa Santo-Sospir (1952)
Producer

Editing (Feature Film)

La Villa Santo-Sospir (1952)
Editor
Coriolan (1950)
Editor
The Blood of a Poet (1932)
Editor
Jean Cocteau fait du cinema (1925)
Editor

Film Production - Main (Feature Film)

Jean Cocteau fait du cinema (1925)
Photography

Misc. Crew (Feature Film)

Le Mystere Babilee (2001)
Other
The Offering (1999)
Other
Earth Girls Are Easy (1988)
Other
Heaven (1987)
Other
Jeux d'artifices (1987)
Source Material (From Novel)
Donkey Skin (1970)
Other
Thomas the Imposter (1965)
Source Material (From Novel)
Gate of Hell (1954)
Other
Les enfants terribles (1950)
Source Material (From Novel)
The Blood of a Poet (1932)
Other

Cast (Special)

Marcel Proust: A Writer's Life (1993)

Writer (Special)

The Human Voice (1979)
Play As Source Material

Special Thanks (Special)

The Human Voice (1979)
Play As Source Material

Misc. Crew (Special)

Oedipus Rex (1993)
Other

Cast (Short)

Le Musee Grevin (1958)

Writer (Short)

Human Voice (2014)
Writer
Le Musee Grevin (1958)
Dialogue (Improvised)

Life Events

1925

Made short 16mm film "Jean Cocteau fait du cinema"; no prints extant and never shown in public

1930

Film directing debut (also writer; editor; sets; voices), "Le sang d'un poete/The Blood of a Poet" (58mins)

1940

First feature as screenwriter, "La comedie du bonheur"

1942

Worked with Marcel Carne on adaptation of "Juliette ou la cle des songs" (later filmed by Carne with other collaborators)

1943

Appeared in Sacha Guitry's "La malibran"

Videos

Movie Clip

Orpheus (1950) - Cafe Des Poetes Quickly establishing the post-war Left-bank milieu, popular poet (and title character) Jean Marais expresses disdain for the goings-on at the cafe, in Jean Cocteau's contemporary rendering of the Greek myth, Orpheus, 1950.
Orpheus (1950) - You Will Serve Me "The Princess" (Maria Casares) resurrects poet Cegeste (Edouard Dermit) and takes him through a mirror through which the hero (Jean Marais) cannot follow, as things get wild in Jean Cocteau's Orpheus, 1950.
Orpheus (1950) - Make Yourself Useful The poet Cegeste (Edouard Dermit) gets grabbed by the cops, hit by a motorcycle, then collected by "The Princess" (Maria Casares), who commandeers the title character (Jean Marais), a bystander, in Jean Cocteau's Orpheus, 1950.
Les Enfants Terribles (1950) - Two Halves Of One Body Continuing exposition by novelist, screenwriter and narrator Jean Cocteau, director Jean-Pierre Melville and cinematographer Henri Decae, on the relationship between Elisabeth (Nicole Stéphane) and brother Paul (Edouard Dermit, Cocteau’s lover at the time) whom she’s nursing, along with their mother, following a weird injury, in Les Enfants Terribles, 1950.
Beauty And The Beast (1946) - You Will Never See Me Belle (Josette Day) in her continuing adventure at the castle, meets "The Beast" (Jean Marais) and passes out, followed by further freakiness, in Jean Cocteau's Beauty And The Beast, 1946.
Beauty And The Beast (1946) - Is Anyone There Disconsolate father (Marcel Andre) of the heroine, lost in the woods, comes upon a mysterious house, nobody apparently home, in Jean Cocteau's Beauty And The Beast, 1946.
Beauty And The Beast (1946) - You Steal My Roses Father (Marcel Andre) awakens in the mysterious castle and meets and offends "The Beast" (Jean Marais), in Jean Cocteau's Beauty And The Beast, 1946.
Beauty And The Beast (1946) - I Am Your Mirror Hoping to save her father from ruin, Belle (Josette Day) sneaks into the home of the beast, guided by the "voice of magic" (voice of director and scenarist Jean Cocteau) in Beauty And The Beast, 1946.
Beauty And The Beast (1946) - Once Upon A Time Imaginative opening sequence from director and writer Jean Cocteau, from Beauty And The Beast, 1946, starring Josette Day and Jean Marais.
Les Enfants Terribles (1950) - A Perfect Battlefield Typical of the director Jean-Pierre Melville, on his second feature, with camera by Henri Decae, a remarkable opening shot, narrated by the novelist and screenwriter Jean Cocteau, introducing Renèe Cosima as Dargelos and Eduard Dermit as Paul, filmed at the historic Lycée Condorcet in Paris, from Les Enfants Terribles, 1950.
Les Enfants Terribles (1950) - Suicide Is A Deadly Sin Stir-crazy Elisabeth (Nicole Stéphane) observes weird behavior by her brother Paul (Edouard Dermit), whom she’s still nursing following his snowball-fight injury, then receives his classmate Gerard (Jacques Bernard), leading to further fighting and a visit to their invalid mother, in writer Jean Cocteau and director Jean-Pierre Melville’s Les Enfants Terribles, 1950.
vLes Enfants Terribles (1950) - I'll Keep The Boys Out Of Trouble Vacationing at the beach, the uncle (Roger Gaillard) brings nephew Gerard (Jacques Bernard) and his two weird, orphaned friends (Nicole Stéphane and Edouard Dermit as Elisabeth and Paul) to a shop, where novelist, screenwriter and narrator Jean Cocteau further describes their strange game, in Les Enfants Terribles, 1950, directed by Jean-Pierre Melville.

Companions

Jean Marais
Companion
Actor. Appeared in several of Cocteau's films including "La Belle et la bete" (1946) and "Orphee" (1950); met in 1937.
Edouard Dermithe
Companion
Actor. Acted in "Orphee" (1950).

Bibliography

"L'Inconcevable Jean Cocteau"
Jean Marais