Movies We Like
Blood of a Poet
Jean Cocteau, one of the great multi-talented artists of the 20th century is given free reign in his first film. His approach is whimsical and free improvisational; a childlike freedom hangs in the air of this film, even as it addresses rather dark subject matter. The result is a series of powerful images that still seem fresh nearly 80 years later.
Experimental and surrealistic in nature, Blood of a Poet is not a film for individuals who seek clear and definite story lines, to say the least. Rather this is a film that should be considered as a work of art, and not as a traditional movie. That is not to say that these are a series of meaningless images - this is essentially a poem in the form of a film. A series of Cocteau's own reflections...as Cocteau puts it ,"a descent into oneself, a way of using the mechanism of the dream without sleeping, a crooked candle, often mysteriously blown out, carried about in the night of the human body."
The loosely defined story begins with an artist, the poet, painting a portrait. He then rubs the mouth off of the portrait and soon discovers that it has transferred onto his hand. Eventually, after experimentation, he transfers the mouth onto the face of a statue. The statue then coerces the poet to step into a mirror, behind which he finds himself in a hotel with a hall of doors, each containing a fantastic diorama of Cocteau's design. The story purposefully dips and pivots so that even though there is a sequence of story like events, any attempt to discern a linear plot is more likely a product of the viewer's own imagination, rather than the intent of the director. Cocteau himself, describing his film in a lecture later in his life, dismissed his own musings on the content of his first film, stating that they were but one interpretation of the material.
The unhinged techniques Cocteau used at times seem slightly haphazard, even by the standards of 1930, but every effect is treated with poetic reverence, so that even the choppiest, lo-fi effects come off as tasteful. The atmosphere of this film is very dreamlike, wavering in and out, oscillating between disjointed imagery, and the poet's inner dialogue. Everything is strikingly original and framed with Cocteau's particular stylistic flourish.
Anyone who has an interest in Jean Cocteau should really see this film. I can think of no example of his work that encapsulates his artistic world so fully as it is captured in Blood of a Poet. His handwriting, poetry, sculpture, sketches all come to life here. This is Cocteau's attempt at defining what it means to be a poet, no easy task, especially considering that this is Cocteau's first foray into the art of film. I personally feel that he was largely successful, perhaps not so much on a universal level, but in a way this film seems like the artist himself is speaking plainly, diaristically, as directly as he possibly can while attempting to interpret his dreams.
The Criterion DVD is an excellent transfer, even if you can see the signs of its age throughout (personally, I sometimes dislike when movies are over restored), the sprightly score is the original, and the sound quality is excellent (even if it is not my favorite aspect of the film). It also comes with a fantastic hour long documentary about the director, so that one can obtain the complete Cocteau experience.
Blood of a Poet is a classic that would be enjoyed by anyone who is a fan of art history, surrealism, or experimental film. A unique and original piece of cinema with historical and aesthetic importance. Totally dreamy...