Thursday, December 10, 2009

Halfway House: Beauty Strangely Drawn to Beast

Halfway through the day, stop a movie halfway through. What do you see?

46 minutes into La Belle et la Bête, Beauty sees a disturbing sight:
The Beast, in all his finery, lapping up water like an animal

If you've never seen the 1946 Jean Cocteau take on Beauty and the Beast, you must. It's just exquisitely, eerily beautiful. I'm a huge fan of the Disney musical, of course, but they skimped on the basic psychosexual nature of the material. Animated films don't always do that -- I maintain that Disney really went for it with The Little Mermaid and Coraline also tapped that well -- but the only Best Picture animated nominee did not. Cocteau's version, on the other hand, is hypnotically erotic. And not just because Cocteau's muse Jean Marais plays the Beast.

In the scene that precedes this terrifically lit image, Beauty finds Beast in her bedroom. He's there to give her a pearl necklace (!) Disgusted, she orders him out of the room. As he leaves, dejected, he strokes the breast of the statue right outside his prisoner's door. But if Beauty is so disgusted by her animal suitor, why is she wearing his pearl necklace the very next time we see her in the scene showcased here. And why is The Beauty, -- and this goes for every incarnation of her -- so entranced by the savagery of her suitor?

<--- Cocteau and Marais in 1939

I feel like I should really see more of Jean Cocteau's work. And more of Marais. Lots more of Marais.

If you're a fan of either frenchmen, what other films do you suggest? Vous savais quoi faire...

20 comments:

Rob T. said...

You totally have to see Orpheus (or Orphée, to use the French title) with Marais in the title role. Looking forward to your reaction!

Ben said...

Il faut que tu visites la maison de cocteau dans le sud de la France. Delirant!

(I'll late you translate).

rebecka said...

J'adore Jean et Jean! One of my absolute favourite director/actor relationships. La Belle et la Bete is number one for me, but Orphée is also gorgeous.
I would also recomend Cocteau's literary works!

Jose said...

The whole Orphic trilogy is a must!

Criticlasm said...

This is one of my faves ever. I have a clip of an original print that someone gave me who was projecting it once. It's during the portion he tells her the secrets of his power. It's an exquisite movie.

ce sont les trois secrets de ma puissancccccceeee. Ma mirroire, mon gant, ma clef d'orrrrrrrrr.

I still haven't seen Orpheus myself, and hear it's gorgeous. Between him and Powell/Pressburger, there are some great movies.

David Coley said...

If you want to read a really interesting surrealist play, his "The Wedding on the Eiffel Tower" is a trip.

Jim T said...

Beauty and the Beast (the animated) is my favourite movie. I haven't seen this one but I don't think I want another take on the story. I think I want to keep believing Disney owns the only authentic version.


Nathaniel, what do you mean about Little Mermaid?? Where is the sexuality hidden? I really like this movie and saw it again recently but I totally missed that. I'm too innocent :p

Andreas said...

A resounding oui for the whole Orphic trilogy; Orphée makes a great follow-up to Belle et la Bête, with its similar visual magic and yearning Jean Marais. And from there either Sang or Testament for a step away from narrative cinema. Such beautiful films!

NATHANIEL R said...

Jim T -- i forgot to include the link to my piece on The Little Mermaid but it's one of my favorite things I've ever written.

if you click on that link (i just added it) you can read that article for a lot more detail on what i was referring to there.

adelutza said...

Oh, and for me, the actress of the decade is Meryl Streep , for sure.

adelutza said...

Sorry, wrong post for the above comment . Had a looong week ...

Freddelyon said...

Three Cocteau's movies with Jean Marais :

Orphée
Le Testament d'Orphée
L'Aigle à deux têtes (The Eagle with Two Heads)

Surrealist and kitchissime !!

A great poet and also very succesfull playwriter and a painter (see the wa,lls of the Menton's cityhall on the Cote d'Azur and the "Musée Jean Cocteau" in the same city, in an old fortress built in the siteen century by the Grimaldis of Monaco).

So many talents in only one man.

His epitaph on is grave : I stay among you (Je reste avec vous).

Died a few weeks after Edith Piaf's death. They were great friends.

OtherRobert said...

I'm a big Cocteau fan, especially his play The Infernal Machine. A brilliant twist of Oedipus that provides stronger commentary on the method modern and Greek drama than Anoilh's Antigone. But I digress. Orphee is great.

Jim T said...

Great piece!! (I mean the one about Little Mermaid)

I am glad I was born when I was born. That way I was able to watch the great Disney films as a kid at cinema! I was around 5 when I saw Little Mermaid. You all know what followed. Real luck! I used to obsess over new animated films!

Jim T said...

My f*cking lovely cat (he's actually my son but everyone seems to think he is just a cat...) did something and turned off my pc will I was writing the previous post. He just hates me sometimes!!

Stéphane said...

Actually, Cocteau died the DAY after Edith Piaf passed. They must indeed have been great friends...

adri said...

I liked "Orpheus", and although I saw "The Eagle with Two Heads", I don't remember much about it (I was watching for Edwige Feuillere, to see what she was like). I'd like to see "Elena and her Men", which is Jean Marais with Ingrid Bergman, directed by Jean Renoir.

Similar to Cocteau's "La Belle et le Bete" (which I just bought a couple of weeks ago, Janus Films Presents: Essential Art House), I'd suggest Marcel Carne's "Les Visitors du Soir", another medieval fable, written by the poet Jacques Prevert, where the devil's two emissaries come to earth to tempt humans, but one falls in love instead.

Chris Na Taraja said...

Cette robe est la bête, non?

I mean, look at that awful dress, and those pearls! What were they thinking!?

adri said...

Yeah, those pearls were really weird. They're not a necklace, but a kind of drapey thing with two brooches on either end. At first, Belle wore them assymetrically, which was just odd. Then she placed the two brooch end pieces symmetrically just above each arm pit, which looked better. But the jewellery of another era - strange.

archer said...

If you want to see him with green skin, the Fantômas saga...

If not all the Cocteau's films as everyone has already said and why not in his last great film : Peau d'âne directed by Jacques Demy ?

He is also known thanks to his roles in swashbucklers like ( Le bossu, Le capitaine Fracasse and so on)