(The Blood of a Poet)
Director: Jean Cocteau
Production: Black and white, 35mm; running time: 58 minutes. Released 1930.
Producer: Vicomte de Noailles; screenplay: Jean Cocteau; photography: Georges Périnal; sound: Henri Labrély; production design: Jean Gabriel d'Aubonne; music: Georges Auric.
Lee Miller (
); Enrico Rivero (
); Jean Desbordes (
The Louis XV Friend
); Féral Benga (
The Black Angel
); Pauline Carton; Odette Thalazac; Fernand Duchamps; Lucien Jager;
Barbette; Jean Cocteau (
Cocteau, Jean, Le sang d'un poète , Paris, 1948; as The Blood of a Poet , New York, 1949; also included in " Le sang d'un poète Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 1–15 May 1983.
Crosland, Margaret, Jean Cocteau , London, 1955.
Dauven, Jean, Jean Cocteau chez les sirènes , Paris, 1956.
Kihm, Jean-Jacques, Cocteau , Paris, 1960.
Pillaudin, Roger, Jean Cocteau tourne son dernier film , Paris, 1960.
Fraigneau, Andre, Cocteau , New York, 1961.
Fowlie, Wallace, Jean Cocteau: The History of a Poet's Age , Bloomington, Indiana, 1968.
Lannes, Roger, Jean Cocteau , Paris, 1968.
Sprigge, Elizabeth, and Jean-Jacques Kihm, Jean Cocteau: The Man and the Mirror , New York, 1968.
Gilson, Rene, Cocteau , New York, 1969.
Armes, Roy, French Cinema Since 1946: The Great Tradition , New York, 1970.
Phelps, R., editor, Professional Secrets: an Autobiography of Jean Cocteau Drawn from His Lifetime Writings , New York, 1970.
Steegmuller, Francis, Cocteau , Boston, 1970.
Cocteau on the Film , New York, 1972.
Evans, Arthur, Jean Cocteau and His Films of Orphic Identity , Philadelphia, 1977.
Thiher, Allen, The Cinematic Muse: Critical Studies in the History of French Cinema , Columbia and London, 1979.
Anderson, Alexandra and Carol Saltus, editors, Jean Cocteau and the French Scene , New York, 1984.
de Miomandre, Philippe, Moi, Jean Cocteau , Paris, 1985.
Keller, Marjorie, The Untutored Eye: Childhood in the Films of Cocteau, Cornell, and Brakhage , Cranbury, New Jersey, 1986.
Peters, Arthur King, Jean Cocteau and His World: An Illustrated Biography , London, 1987.
New Statesman and Nation (London), 8 April 1933.
New York Times , 3 November 1933.
Variety (New York), 7 November 1933.
Wallis, C. G., in Kenyon Review (Gambier, Ohio), Winter 1944.
Yale French Studies (New Haven, Connecticut), Summer 1956.
Oxendandler, Neal, "On Cocteau," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Fall 1964.
Image et Son (Paris), March 1972.
Gauteur, C., "Jean Cocteau et le Cinéma Issue" of Image et Son (Paris), June-July 1972.
Campigli, M., in Bianco e Nero (Rome), March-April 1973.
Renaud, T., "Retrospective. Jean Cocteau. Un Cinéaste? Peut-être. Un Auteur? Certainement," in Cinéma (Paris), December 1973.
Rayns, Tony, in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), May 1977.
Gow, Gordon, "The Mirrors of Life," in Films and Filming (London), February 1978.
Milani, R., "Cocteau dell'immaginario," in Filmcritica (Florence), June 1984.
Paech, J., "Orpheus hinter den Spiegeln," in EPD Film (Frankfurt), July 1989.
Lalanne, Jean-Marc, "Profession: Phenixologe," Mensuel du Cinema (Paris), no. 10, October 1993.
* * *
Though the 1920s are generally considered the most significant years of experiment with filmic forms in French cinema, two of the acknowledged masterpieces of the avant-garde, Jean Cocteau's Le sang d'un poète and Luis Buñuel's L'age d'or , both date from the beginning of the sound era in the early 1930s. The bitter opposition, feuds and mutual denunciations existing at this time between Cocteau and the Surrealists seem in retrospect of less importance than the common avant-garde impulse which unites them. Significantly, both Le sang d'un poète and Buñuel's film were funded in exactly the same way, through private commissions by the wealthy art lover and socialite, the Vicomte de Noailles. Despite their differences and incompatibilities both films have proved to be lasting works of cinematic imagination. They provide a common inspiration for later independent filmmakers throughout the world.
Jean Cocteau came to the cinema as an amateur who had already acquired a literary reputation, though he was never concerned with the application of literary ideas or practices to film. Instead he saw filmmaking as a manual craft and gave far greater weight to the qualities of the film image than to the demands of a conventional narrative development. As Le sang d'un poète shows so clearly, he was a filmmaker able to disregard the conventionalities of cinematic construction simply because he never learned them in the first place. His essentially amateur approach is reflected in his choice of non-professional players for most of the key roles of the film. This did not preclude him from calling upon highly talented collaborators with real professional skills—such as George Périnal or Georges Auric— to assist him with the photography and music for Le sang d'un poète .
Cocteau has often denied that Le sang d'un poète contains either symbols or allegorical meaning. It uses some of the mechanics of the dream, not to explore social or psychological realities, but as ends in themselves. His concern is less to analyze than simply to recreate a state of inner consciousness, a world preceding rational thought. To this end he applies a whole range of trick devices—animation, mirrors, reverse action, false perspectives—and deliberately blurs the boundaries between the live action and graphic work or sculpture. Though haunted, like so much of Cocteau's work, by the omnipresence of death, Le sang d'un poète is a lyrical, idyllic work without tension or conflict. In Cocteau's mythology, death is reversible, just one aspect of a constant play of transformation. It is the director's ability to present this in a totally personal manner—aided by the first-person narration spoken by Cocteau himself—which makes the film such a fascinating work.
Le sang d'un poète introduces a distinctive new voice to world cinema. It contains an initial statement of virtually all the guiding themes of Cocteau's film work, and since it was followed by a dozen or more years of silence, it has a hauntingly premonitory quality. The wealth of themes and obsessions it contains is brought out clearly by the rich series of films from La belle et la bête to Le testament d'Orphée , which Cocteau made when he returned to film directing after World War II. Both as a work in its own right and as a forerunner of the director's later feature work, Le sang d'un poète has lost nothing of its power to fascinate and intrigue.