Cocteau, Jean


Cocteau, Jean
(1889-1963)
   Director and screenwriter. Jean Cocteau was born in Paris to a family from the wealthy Parisian bourgeoisie. Cocteau's father, a lawyer, was an important force in the young Cocteau's life, and he was deeply affected when his father committed suicide. Cocteau was only nine at the time. Cocteau undertook secondary studies, but abandoned them when he left home at the age of fifteen. He quickly took to literature, publishing his first volume of poetry at the age of only nineteen. His early success, and perhaps his family background, gave Cocteau access to the world of the Parisian literati, and Cocteau, even in his early twenties, found himself in the company of such literary greats as Marcel Proust and André Gide. He kept company with Picasso, with Apollinaire, with the Russian dancer Sergei Diaghilev, who inducted Cocteau formally into the avant-garde, by challenging him to write a ballet. Cocteau did so, and Parade, a thoroughly modern ballet, was produced, with the aid of Pablo Picasso, in 1917.
   Cocteau was mobilized by the military to serve in World War I. He drove an ambulance during his military service, and in that context, he met the novelist Raymond Radiguet. The two shared an intense personal connection, and Cocteau helped launch Radiguet in his literary career. Possibly as a result of his connection to Radiguet, who died from typhoid in 1923, Cocteau began to experiment with the novel, and he would go on to publish a number of them, most notably Les Enfants terribles (1929). In the 1930s, Cocteau also began dabbling in the theater and the cinema. He made his first film, Le Sang d'un poète, in 1931, and also collaborated with Marcel Carné and Robert Bresson.
   It was the 1940s, however, before Cocteau undertook filmmaking in earnest. He wrote the screenplay for Marcel L'Herbier's La Comédie du bonheur (1942) as well as for Jean Delannoy's classic film L'Eternel retour (1943). He then thrust himself into making a series of his own films. La Belle et la bête (1947), Cocteau's avant-garde vision of the Madame Le Prince de Beaumont fairytale, is considered a classic film and is perhaps the best film he made. It remains a stunning cinematic work to this day, and was, for its day, a technically advanced piece of filmmaking, particularly with respect to special effects. This film was followed by Les Parents terribles (1948), starring Jean Marais as a twenty-something who is tied to his parents. This in turn was followed by L'Aigle a deux têtes (1948), the story of an impossible love between an anarchist and a queen, played by Marais and Edwige Feuillière, respectively. Cocteau's next film, Orphée (1949), also starred Marais, and is a retelling of the classic Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice. The film is widely considered one of Cocteau's best works in any genre, and it is a masterpiece of cinema. Cocteau's last film was Le Testament d'Orphée (1960), a proto-mythical meditation on the role of the poet.
   In general, Cocteau's films are meticulously crafted, stunningly beautiful (even in black and white), lyrical modernizations of classic stories. There is a timelessness that is conveyed both internally to the narratives and in the films themselves. Cocteau experimented with form, with special effects, with film technique, and in this respect was avant-garde in his filmmaking, but there is, as noted, an underlying classicism of theme and of form that is almost heightened by such experimentation.
   In addition to the films he directed, Cocteau's contribution to cinema includes those films made from his screenplays or based on his literary works. These include Pierre Billon's Ruy Bias (1948), for which Cocteau wrote a screenplay adapted from the Victor Hugo novel; Jean-Pierre Melville's adaptation of Cocteau's Les Enfants terribles (1950), for which Cocteau wrote the screenplay; Delannoy's La Princesse de Clèves (1960), for which Cocteau wrote the screen-play, based on the novel by Madame de Lafayette; and Georges Franju's adaptation of Cocteau's Thomas l'imposteur (1964).
   Quite apart from his films, Cocteau remains a literary and avant-garde figure of some importance. Picasso, not known for his modesty, once referred to Cocteau as "the tail of my comet." Considering the comet to be esteemed worthy of consideration as part of the same artistic universe is already an accomplishment. Cocteau, apparently, was an integral part of that universe.

Historical Dictionary of French Cinema. . 2007.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Cocteau, Jean — born July 5, 1889, Maisons Laffitte, near Paris, France died Oct. 11, 1963, Milly la Forêt, near Paris French poet, playwright, and film director. He published his first collection of poems, La Lampe d Aladin, at age 19. He converted to… …   Universalium

  • Cocteau, Jean — (1889 1963)    Director and screenwriter. Jean Cocteau was born in Paris to a family from the wealthy Parisian bourgeoisie. Cocteau s father, a lawyer, was an important force in the young Cocteau s life, and he was deeply affected when his father …   Guide to cinema

  • Cocteau, Jean — (Maurice Cocteau / July 5, 1889, Maison Lafitte, Yvelines, France October II, 1963, Milly la Forêt, Essonne, France)    The son of a lawyer and amateur painter who killed himself when Cocteau was ten years old, he was a poet, playwright, novelist …   Encyclopedia of French film directors

  • Cocteau, Jean — (7/5/1892 Mainson Laffitte 10/11/1963 Milly la Foret) (France); aka Cocteau, Clement Eugene Jean Maurice    Novelist, dramatist, draughtsman, filmmaker, and poet. Major literary figure of the 20th century, also produced numerous homoerotic… …   Dictionary of erotic artists: painters, sculptors, printmakers, graphic designers and illustrators

  • Cocteau, Jean — • КОКТО (Cocteau) Жан (5.7.1889 11.10.1963)    франц. поэт, драматург, художник, режиссёр. Чл. Ин та Франции (1955). Учился в лицее Кондорсе. Для К. характерны разнообразие и непостоянство творч. устремлений; чрезвычайно восприимчивый к худож.… …   Кино: Энциклопедический словарь

  • Cocteau, Jean — (1889 1963)    writer    A leading and influential French writer, poet, novelist, dramatist, designer, painter, and filmmaker, Jean Cocteau was born in Maisons Laffitte, near Paris. He was a poor student who early dropped out of school, but at… …   France. A reference guide from Renaissance to the Present

  • Cocteau, Jean — ► (1889 1963) Polígrafo francés. Eterno innovador, se dedicó a la literatura y también a la pintura y al cine, con películas como Orfeo (1949). Autor de novelas, piezas teatrales, ensayos y poesía, participó en las vanguardias. Entre sus obras… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Cocteau,Jean — Coc·teau (kŏk tōʹ, kôk ), Jean. 1889 1963. French author and filmmaker who worked in nearly every artistic medium but is best known for the novel Les Enfants Terrible (1929), the play The Infernal Machine (1934), and the film Beauty and the Beast …   Universalium

  • Cocteau — Cocteau, Jean …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Jean Cocteau — en 1923. Bibliothèque nationale de France Nom de naissance Maurice Eugène Clément Jean Cocteau …   Wikipédia en Français


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