Tuesday, September 28, 2004
Cocteau's anemic Blood of the Poet
I just watched Jean Cocteau's 1930 art film The Blood of the Poet, read a lecture by him on the same, and watched about ten minutes of a documentary about his life, and you know what? i'm really beginning to tire of the old boy. He's a jabbering French aesthete who seems more than anything to be not so much a poet as he is someone in love with the idea of being a poet, or what it means to be a poet, or what a poet is.
The first film it makes you think of is Bunuel's 1928 Un Chien Andalou and his L'Age d'Or and it bears some similarity to both; like them, it's a somewhat crude, somewhat amateurish attempt to give filmic life to abstract ideas, and it bears some of the same images involving identity, sexual or otherwise, and hands. Bunuel had ants crawling out of one of his; Cocteau's artist-figure wipes a mouth off a portrait he's drawing -- it becomes attached to his palm and the lips talk to him, not unlike those celebrity figures in those Robert Smigel segments on Conan.
I could detail other things that happen in the film -- which is, basically, a very metaphoric film about an artist who tries to penetrate the nature of himself, so some such thing -- but why bother? It's an art film where a guy falls into a mirror, people writhes on walls, and you hear irritating little apercus like "By breaking statues one risks turning into one oneself," which also happens.
I could see someone having the same reaction to Bunuel's early work, although I don't. To me those films were genuinely inspired and witty and anarchic. Cocteau taikes himself too seriously; he's too cerebral, too pretentious. You know, the first you do in watching a movie like this is tell yourself not to laugh, because it's kind of immature to laugh at something so old that is made with such serious intent; to try to meet the artist at least half-way, to see beyond the limitations of his actors or a technique imposed by a small budget. On the other hand, it's so insular that it tends to short-circuit whatever fascination it might provoke.
I don't know if I'll get around to finishing the artsy little docu-thing about his life, which he finds more fascinating than I do.