Sunday, March 08, 2015


A few years ago I had a discussion with a fellow art historian about the French writer Jean Cocteau. My friend maintained that Cocteau's only significance was his brief role as a satellite of Pablo Picasso. Wrong.
To be sure, Cocteau may now seem somewhat dated, and his reputation is still suffering from homophobic attacks on the part of the Surrealists. To my mind, Cocteau had two main accomplishments.
1) With La Machine Infernale in 1934 he discovered a viable way ofmodernizing Greek tragedy. In this country that approach came to fruition much later with Schechner's Dionysus in 69, but it has dominated productions of the Greek classics ever since.
2) In the immediate postwar years after 1945 there were two models of film making: the realism of Hollywood and the neo-realism of Rosselini and other Italian directors. Without denigrating either one - and I love Hollywood noirs - there was a great need for another template, one that was more poetic. Cocteau provided this alternative in such evocative films as Les Parents Terribles (1948), Beauty and the Beast (1946), and Orpheus (1949).