Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Blood of a Poet (Cocteau, 1930)

Jean Cocteau’s debut film is a bold, confident effort that is all the more amazing when we realize that there was very little precedent for what he was trying to accomplish. One of the most versatile artists of the early twentieth century, Cocteau comes to the medium of film seemingly with a fully formed idea of what he wants to accomplish. Already there are stylistic elements that will reoccur later in films like Beauty and the Beast and Orpheus – the camera trickery, the reverse motion effects, the romantic world view. As in those films, a protagonist is transported to a world of magical irrationality. Here, we have a poet whose work suddenly comes alive in a way that suggests the power and tenacity of the creative impulse. Once expressed, it is the art itself that teaches the artist, penetrates his soul and forces him to view himself from the inside out. What follows is a journey that is largely instinctual and will likely either fill the viewer with wonder or with boredom. Which way the film registers may depend largely on the level of sympathy one has for the idea of artist as martyr. Beneath Cocteau’s surreal imagery is, I believe, a film about the lengths to which an artist must go in order to have an impact on the surrounding world. The path may be littered with pain. The ultimate reaction may be derision. These are the truths that Cocteau explores with his trademark elegance. Cocteau’s later films take this starting point and explode into fully realized visions of unparalleled poetic magic; however, there is no question that The Blood of a Poet is a film way ahead of its time.



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