Saturday, April 25, 2015
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1946)
Written & Directed By: Jean Cocteau
Story By: Jean Cocteau & Jean-Marie Leprince de Leaupont
Cinematography By: Henri Alekin
Editor: Claude Iberia
Costume By: Pierre Cardin
Production Design By: Carre & Christian Berard
Cast: Jean Marais, Josette Day, Mila Parely, Michel Auclair, Raoul Marco, Nane Germon, Marcel Andre
A half-ruined merchant lives in the country with his son Ludovic and his three daughters. Two of the daughters, Félicie and Adélaïde, are real shrews: selfish, pretentious, and evil. They exploit the third daughter, Belle, as a servant. One day, on a business trip, on the way home, the merchant gets lost in a forest and enters a strange castle. He picks up a rose for Belle, and the castle's owner appears. He is a monster, half-human, half-beast, and possesses magic powers. He sentences the merchant to death, unless he gives up one of his daughters. Belle sacrifices herself for her father and goes to the castle, discovering that the Beast is not so wild and inhuman as he seems.
I have to say so far each reiteration of this story on the big screen has always been inspired and creatively rendered and this version I believe set the benchmark. As it is visually stunning and surreal in live action. Still feel more magical then the Disney animated version, not to denounce that version at all.
I can admit due to my more modern sensibilities. When it comes to yesteryear classics of fantasy, horror and sci-fi. I find them incredibly dated and sometimes laughable, yet I find myself giving them a certain respect. Not only as forefathers of special effects that would teach modern day technicians the basics from which to experiment and grow from, but for what they manage to still do. Which is affect the viewer. They set their own world that usually comes off as enlightening, but also kind of creepy. Knowing it's not digital, it's created and if created by man knowing it's not out of the picture to be truly created by nature. There is also imagination at play that while living to a degree allots the filmmakers and creative team room to be inspired to do what they can and probably come up with something more fantastic then originally intended.
While some might look fake to certain audience members, while looking at the detail. It could be scarier once you contemplate why is there a man or woman pretending to be whatever monster, creature or object. Making the creature or person portraying it seem even more demented and inspired. Plus to imagine the painstaking journey and time taken to apply and create that creature. So long and for so few minutes in an almost 2 hour feature. Where a good part of the time and work when it comes to production is spent and might never be notice entirely.
Never coming close to approaching the heights of the landscapes of your own mind, but if truly good, surpassing them or at least presenting you with theirs. One that while. It identical leaves you with a visual feast and constantly keep you interested.
The film surpasses itself in creating not only a haunting atmosphere for supposedly a romantic tale. That leads to the film being gothic and surreal. It also manages to create it's own legend and world that does make his feel like a fairy tale as it plays by it's own logic and rules. While trying to tell a certain moralistic story. Nothing in the films imagery works the way it would normally. Which is what he filmmaker intended. It is like an imagination come to life and staying unsteady, while it get's to where you know it is going.
Jean Cocteau used several different kinds of film stock because of the difficulty of getting stock immediately after the war. He claimed that the different visual textures added to the poetic effect of the film.
It's a fairy tale intended for children but plays more for adults. That doesn't bring out the child in you as it more espouses you to the harshness of the circumstances of the relationships, characters and story. Though while immersed in all of the surroundings. You still manage to find the love story somewhat believable. Even as it plays note theatrical due to the sets and limited locations. Though at first it is more powerfully fascinating and as it plays you get used to the elements. The visuals and story still manage to stay with you.
The initial design for the Beast was like a deer, before the more predatory look was decided upon.
During the shooting of the film, Jean Cocteau became very ill and eventually had to be hospitalized. While he was recovering, Rene Clement served as the director. -"On my face there's a plenty of cracks, wounds and itches and my hands are bleeding" Jean Cocteau wrote when he was hospitalized because of a bad skin disease "but the face and the hands of Jean Marais are covered with a so painful crust that removing it is similar to suffer my treatments". In fact all the visible parts of the body of Marais were covered every morning with animal hair.
This is a film that leaves you impressed just by the art design. The heavy focus on make-up, lighting and angles to help do the work and drive home the point of grotesque, horror, fantasy and beauty, helps not only fulfill the fantastic elements. So that it feels otherworldly, but allows us to believe and desire. as it feels like it could be a certain long ago reality and fears of it in our world and life. Making us believe that it is possible and can be achieved.
Makes it also feel more theatrical. The pacing the dialect and nature that could come apart without a certain synchronicity. The sets that look lavish and that you want to live in, but know they are well constructed and designed replicas that is all done for your benefit to try if even for a minute. To tell you someplace and believe in it's existence.
Philip Glass composed an opera perfectly synchronized to the film. The original soundtrack was eliminated, and he composed the opera to be performed along with the film projected behind the orchestra and voice talent. The compact disc recording of Glass' "La Belle et la Bête" can be played alongside the film with a very similar effect. Note: the opera is recorded on two compact discs; hence it will be necessary to pause the film once while changing discs. In the US, the second DVD release of this film by the Criterion Collection gives the viewer the option of hearing the original soundtrack or the Glass opera version, which, in a sense, gives you two movies for the price of one. Glass has composed similar works for two other Jean Cocteau films: Orpheus and Les Enfants Terribles.
So convincing was Jean Marais underneath his make-up as the Beast, that when he was transformed at the end back to human form, Greta Garbo famously said "Give me back my Beast!"
Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne lists this film as one of his favorites.