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The Cinematheque's running a Jean Cocteau series right now, so last night the girlfriend and I caught The Phantom Baron (1943), which was scripted and directed by Serge de Poligny but also features Cocteau, who wrote the dialogue, in a small role as the title character. We both found the film amusing and eerie in places but nothing too spectacular, except for isolated moments like this one fantastic how-did-they-do-that shot where a woman looks at a log over a river, and sees in the water the reflection of a man carrying a woman across that log, but on the log itself there is nothing and no one. Has anyone else seen this film?

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Good timing PTC, Stef and I were about to start a discussion of the Orpheus trilogy. Or at least what he has seen of it so far. Unfortunately I have not caught The Phantom Baron yet, what a treat that must have been. And it is such a late Cocteau, I know little about him from this period.

Can you compare/contrast with any of his earlier stuff?

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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I haven't seen The Phantom Baron but I love the Orpheus trilogy, or what I have seen so far, I have the third waiting for me at home. The Orpheus trilogy is poetry in visual motion.

The Phantom Baron isn't late for Cocteau though. Most of his work happened after 1940 if I am not mistaken.

...the kind of film criticism we do. We are talking about life, and more than that the possibility of abundant life." -M.Leary

"Dad, how does she move in mysterious ways?"" -- Jude (my 5-year-old, after listening to Mysterious Ways)

[once upon a time known here as asher]

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Oh, sorry Asher, should have spelled that out.

He actually published his first volume of poetry when he was 19, and was already hanging out with Proust and Gide by then. He was even the witness at Picasso's first wedding (I am fairly certain about that, and that was before the 1920's). He followed this rather interesting adolescence with a number of books, plays, and performance art spectacles until he got into film much later. Film is the late Cocteau interestingly enough. I think he would be about 40 or so at that point.

But, I guess I asked that because it is odd to think that something like the Orpheus trilogy happened that late in the history of art. Surrealism was already old hat by then. But now I am just blathering, Stef may have something of more substance to add.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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I'm looking forward to everyone's comments. I've only seen "Orphee", but it was the first movie that showed me that movies could be Art, and not just entertainment.

"I feel a nostalgia for an age yet to come..."
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(M) I see where you were coming from now. It was late in his artistic career.

The Blood of a Poet did come after the Avantgarde movement but film was still relatively young and he had accomplished quite a bit by the time he began to use film as another artistic form. It seems like a natural progression and we have to remember, his crowd was one of poets and painters. In an interview Jean Cocteau even says that many classify The Blood of a Poet as surrealism yet he does not.

Here is something interesting I read regarding The Blood of a Poet in a symposium of Art in Cinema - San Francisco Museum of Art:

"In a profound and detailed manner it indicates what realms the cinema, as an art, might deal with, and to what extent those realms can be traversed."

...the kind of film criticism we do. We are talking about life, and more than that the possibility of abundant life." -M.Leary

"Dad, how does she move in mysterious ways?"" -- Jude (my 5-year-old, after listening to Mysterious Ways)

[once upon a time known here as asher]

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The following comment on The Blood of a Poet made me think of you Stef.

"The burden of the charge of unintelligibility however is always upon the accuser; and its simple refutation is any systematic explanation of meaning and intention." (Art in cinema symposium)

Sleep well my friend.

...the kind of film criticism we do. We are talking about life, and more than that the possibility of abundant life." -M.Leary

"Dad, how does she move in mysterious ways?"" -- Jude (my 5-year-old, after listening to Mysterious Ways)

[once upon a time known here as asher]

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(M)Leary wrote:

: Can you compare/contrast with any of his earlier stuff?

No, alas, the only Cocteau film I had seen before this week was Beauty and the Beast (which I loved, of course).

: . . . it is odd to think that something like the Orpheus trilogy happened that late in

: the history of art. Surrealism was already old hat by then.

Really? The Blood of a Poet (1930) came out just a year or so after Un chien Andalou (1929), no? At any rate, it is certainly an interesting film on some levels, but alas, it came at the end of tonight's double-bill and I felt myself fighting off the urge to sleep -- even so, that first moment with the mirror-pool jolted me back to full consciousness, and I liked a fair bit else besides. I am somewhat perplexed by the fact that this film uses sound so much -- though frequently in an asynchronous manner that reflects the lingering influence of the silent era. The reason for my perplexity is that I have long understood that it was Abel Gance's Le fin du monde (1931) that was the first French talkie. But I guess I could be wrong about that. At any rate, whether tired or fully alert, The Blood of a Poet is one of those films that I think I will need some help deciphering.

The first half of tonight's double-bill was Robert Bresson's Les dames du Bois de Boulogne (1945), for which Cocteau wrote the dialogue. Interesting film, though obviously more "mainstream" than the films for which Bresson is best known. Found myself thinking back to Les Liaisons Dangereuses; it has that same cold, vengeful, romantic-manipulation-of-an-ex-lover thing going on, though it is all focused on a single love triangle, and not on a sprawling network of lovers. The audience laughed during the scene shot from inside the guy's car at the end -- the scene where he drives back and forth and the woman glaring at him from outside just stands there as her head pops in and out of the frame -- and I had to wonder if Bresson, so famous for his austerity, MEANT for that scene to be funny. Another thing I noticed, in both this film and The Phantom Baron, was that we could sometimes see the actors' breath when they spoke -- were these studios ultra-cold or something?

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Heh. That is a great quote, Thom. And yeah, for everyone else, after The Blood of a Poet

i had a hard time going to sleep. I laid down and tried to put up some Z's, but i kept thinking there were people crawling all over my bedroom walls. The film, as i said in my journal, really freaked me out.

But not without a sense of amazement. To the point that, even though i have Orph

Edited by stef

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Man, Les Parents Terrible (1948) is a twisted little movie. Talk about Oedipal. I'm not surprised it was made in France, even at that relatively early date, but I have to wonder when it first came to the United States, and what sort of reception it had here once it arrived. It took me a while to get into the film, but I have to say it didn't help that some of the main characters are as non-sympathetic as it gets.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Man, Les Parents Terrible...
Edited by stef

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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I think a large part of the idea ties together in the Testament of Orpheus where we may find that the poet, as an artist, moves effortlessly through time and this is what has been caught on film, poetic imagery.

...the kind of film criticism we do. We are talking about life, and more than that the possibility of abundant life." -M.Leary

"Dad, how does she move in mysterious ways?"" -- Jude (my 5-year-old, after listening to Mysterious Ways)

[once upon a time known here as asher]

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stef wrote:

: Heh, Peter, do you think you live in the States?

No, but since the United States is basically the source of all our "mainstream" film (even many foreign films are made with American money), and since American film has long been produced within (and has had to kowtow to) a highly moralistic culture that is way out of step with the rest of the world, it is always fascinating to see how films that are clearly made outside the American moral context are received in the United States. I'm not sure how the film would have been received in Canada in the 1940s, if that's what you're asking, but since that was in the pre-Trudeau era, when Canada proudly admitted its British heritage, I suspect we would have given it pretty much the same reception the British did -- whatever THAT was.

BTW, I meant to post here that I caught Beauty and the Beast (1946) a few nights ago, and loved it all over again -- but it was so strange to see that film now, now that I had seen so many of those actors playing such screwed-up characters in Les Parents Terrible. I was struck, incidentally, by the way Belle addresses the Beast as "LA bete", or "THE beast", in the early scenes (before she falls in love with him and addresses him as "MA bete" or "MY beast"). I wonder if we lose anything else in the translation by losing that definite article.

Speaking of which, the subtitles on most of the prints in this series have been pretty bad, so I've ended up skipping a few of these films (including the two Orpheus films) and putting holds on the DVD copies of those films at the library, since I figure the DVDs are bound to be of better quality.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 6 months later...

I recently watched Blood of a Poet and Orphee. I have the third one waiting in the wings, but a part of me feels like watching it will be pointless because I won't be able to reflect on these films. I liked some of the images and effects in both films, but without really thinking about their meaning and significance, I feel like watching those films were pointless. I don't know when I'll get back to them, too.

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