Friday, October 05, 2012

Jean Cocteau: Le Sang d'un poète / The Blood of a Poet

A nifty little film, less than an hour long: Jean Cocteau's Le Sang d'un poète / Le sang d'un poète* / The Blood of a Poet (1930; premiered in France in 1932). I checked out the Criterion Collection version because it restores six minutes as a sort of "director's cut." *(In some cases, Sang [blood] is in caps for emphasis, but in others, not.)

Le Sang d'un poète employs an eclectic mix of techniques, making it a hybrid sound-and-silent film, theatre, visual art, mythlike, dreamlike, and, by all but official name, surreal. What we see on the screen is poetry in motion from a poet's imagination, and a poetic response to external stimuli. As a backdrop, there's the myth of Orpheus and his lyre -- again.   
The film gives us a rare glimpse of Lee Miller (1907-1977) in motion, albeit fairly slow motion. (Indeed, in a few of the more lagging silent parts of the film that didn't include Miller in the frame, I felt free to speed the tempo up to 2012 levels). You can see here why she was treated as a Muse by Man Ray, yet also understand why she would move on from that role, too. Within fifteen years, she'd become an accomplished photographer and war correspondent, and at the end of World War II would be in Munich sitting in one of Hitler's abandoned bathtubs for a superbly iconic shot. In Le Sang d'un poète, she plays an armless statue and a mysterious card player, among other things. Costumes for the film were designed by Coco Chanel (1883-1971).
Also of note is a Guardian Angel played by Féral Benga (1906–1957) of Dakar, Senegal, a stylized Mexican firing squad and a peephole into "the mystery of China" that involves opium. There is a reclining hermaphrodite in one room, a man in drag on a balcony in the center of a cluster of aristocratic types, and also a kid wrapped in what appears to be chains who flies up to a ceiling to escape harrassment and stays there, making faces.

There are statues that come to life, a passageway through a looking glass mirror (above), a demanding mouth in one of the poet's hands (much to his horror), hurled snowballs, what appears to be a silver cylinder flying through a room (think David Lynch), painted masks, glowing eyes, moving pictures and a cow apparently decorated with maps being led by Lee Miller. And that's not all, folks!

Today's Rune: Partnership.   

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