Tuesday, June 28, 2016

#580: The Blood of a Poet

Directed by: JEAN COCTEAU
1930, TSPDT Rank #861

During the introductory sequence of The Blood of a Poet, a series of intertitles describes a poet's work as "a documentary of unreal events". This film was director (and poet) Jean Cocteau's first attempt with the medium, and as such, it functions primarily as a declaration of intent - a poetic meditation on the nature of art and the tortured souls whose solemn task it is to create it. As an attempt to transfer the essence of poetry to film - quite a groundbreaking idea at the time - it emphasizes art's function as a portal to "unreality", while also focusing on the creative process itself, which is depicted as being destructive for its creator - who must either destroy himself in order to create, or destroy his creations in order to save himself. Cocteau's portrayal of the struggle between an artist and his creations is shown from a number of angles, but it is seen to invariably result in the artist's death. The Blood of a Poet is known today as a landmark work of surrealism, but unlike the other famous surrealist film of the early 1930s - Luis Bunuel's L'age D'or - it is less concerned with the hypocrisies of the external world of political authority and religion than it is with the internal world of the artist. In conveying the "unreal events" of this internal world, Cocteau employed a number of innovative techniques which distort the appearance of the on-screen space and the movement of characters within it - creating a distinctive sense of the uncanny which sets this film apart from other surrealist films of its era. It would be over ten years before Cocteau made his return to the screen with his most famous film, Beauty and the Beast, but the "unreal" imagery and dreamlike atmosphere of The Blood of a Poet would go on to influence countless filmmakers and artists in the years to follow, and the film remains a striking work of vision to this day.

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