J. Paul Getty Museum, Photographs, Film, and Video

Cocteau Dreams, In Nitrate

“One of the characteristics of the dream is that nothing surprises us in it. With no regret, we agree to live in it with strangers, completely cut off from our habits and friends.”―Jean Cocteau

Still from Jean Cocteau's Blood of a Poet

We’re offering an array of films this weekend in the free screening series Dream a Little Dream: Artists in Film. I’m particularly looking forward to our Jean Cocteau double feature on Saturday, when Blood of a Poet and Testament of Orpheus screen back to back.

Maybe because it’s easy to lump French films according to their circle of friends, one typically encounters Cocteau’s first film, Blood of a Poet (1930), on the heels of having watched Luis Buñuel’s early masterpieces Un Chien Andalou (1929) and L’Age d’Or (1930) and other works by the Surrealists. But you soon realize that Cocteau is in a separate dream world all to himself. Blood of a Poet feels the most profoundly dreamlike, yet Cocteau always made clear that it drew nothing from dreams, symbols, or Surrealism.

Still from Jean Cocteau's Blood of a Poet

Without trying to interpret Blood of a Poet’s evocative images—I’ll leave that fun part up to you—the film’s “downtempo” movements, and the non-linear structure Cocteau used to tackle his vision of the poet’s artistic process and struggle, may tempt you to just give in and experience the film as a 50-minute dream.

Blood of a Poet may draw nothing from Cocteau’s own dreams, but the way it choreographs everything from bringing a statue to life to falling through a mirror portal, peeking at opium smoke through keyholes, and a couple of suicide-triggered gunshots to the head, Cocteau uses film as one more visual license to dream poetic. As in a dream, the back and forth of images Cocteau presents don’t come as startling surprises, but as pleasant, strange encounters.

Still from Jean Cocteau's Blood of a Poet

Screening after Blood of a Poet is Testament of Orpheus, Cocteau’s final film. Testament of Orpheus (1960), the conclusion to the Orphic Trilogy, continues the conversation on the artistic process, features Cocteau himself traveling through the space-time continuum—along with cameos from Yul Brynner and Pablo Picasso—and is more fun than a Twilight Zone episode.

Still from Jean Cocteau's Testament of Orpheus

It would make for an interesting change of pace if more of today’s films were willing to let go and dream on screen.

Still from Jean Cocteau's Testament of Orpheus

Stills from Blood of a Poet (first three images) and Testament of Orpheus (last two images) courtesy of Tamasa Distribution. © Tamasa Distribution.

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      Olympian Census #4: Aphrodite

      Get the stats on your favorite (and not-so-favorite) gods and goddesses on view at the Getty Center.

      Roman name: Venus

      Employment: Goddess of Love and Beauty

      Place of residence: Mount Olympus

      Parents: Born out of sea foam formed when Uranus’s castrated genitals were thrown into the ocean

      Marital status: Married to Hephaestus, the God of Blacksmiths, but had many lovers, both immortal and mortal

      Offspring: Aeneas, Cupid, Eros, Harmonia, Hermaphroditos, and more

      Symbol: Dove, swan, and roses

      Special talent: Being beautiful and sexy could never have been easier for this Greek goddess

      Highlights reel:

      • Zeus knew she was trouble when she walked in (Sorry, Taylor Swift) to Mount Olympus for the first time. So Zeus married Aphrodite to his son Hephaestus (Vulcan), forming the perfect “Beauty and the Beast” couple.
      • When Aphrodite and Persephone, the queen of the underworld, both fell in love with the beautiful mortal boy Adonis, Zeus gave Adonis the choice to live with one goddess for 1/3 of the year and the other for 2/3. Adonis chose to live with Aphrodite longer, only to die young.
      • Aphrodite offered Helen, the most beautiful mortal woman, to Paris, a Trojan prince, to win the Golden Apple from him over Hera and Athena. She just conveniently forgot the fact that Helen was already married. Oops. Hello, Trojan War!

      Olympian Census is a 12-part series profiling gods in art at the Getty Center.


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