Jean Cocteau

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Jean Cocteau
Jean Cocteau b Meurisse 1923.jpg
Jean Cocteau in 1923
Born
Jean Maurice Eugène Clément Cocteau

(1889-07-05)5 July 1889
Died11 October 1963(1963-10-11) (aged 74)
Other namesThe Frivolous Prince
OccupationPoet, dramatist, novelist, filmmaker and visual artist
Years active1908–1963
Partner(s) Jean Marais (1937–1963)
Website jeancocteau.net
Signature
Jean Cocteau signature.svg

Jean Maurice Eugène Clément Cocteau (French:  [ʒɑ̃ kɔkto] ; 5 July 1889 – 11 October 1963) was a French poet, playwright, novelist, designer, filmmaker, visual artist and critic. Cocteau is best known for his novels Le Grand Écart (1923), Le Livre Blanc (1928) and Les Enfants Terribles (1929), the stage plays Le Voix Humaine (1930), La Machine Infernale (1934), Les Parents terribles (1938), La Machine à écrire (1941) and L'Aigle à deux têtes (1946) and the films The Blood of a Poet (1930), Les Parents Terribles (1948), from his own eponymous piéce, Beauty and the Beast (1946), Orpheus (1949) and Testament of Orpheus (1960), which alongside Blood of a Poet and Orpheus constitute the so-called Orphic Trilogy. He was described as "one of [the] avant-garde's most successful and influential filmmakers" by AllMovie. [1]

<i>Les Enfants Terribles</i> book by Jean Cocteau

Les Enfants Terribles is a 1929 novel by Jean Cocteau, published by Editions Bernard Grasset. It concerns two siblings, Elisabeth and Paul, who isolate themselves from the world as they grow up, an isolation which is shattered by the stresses of their adolescence. It was first translated into English by Samuel Putnam in 1930 and published by Brewer & Warren Inc. A later English translation was made by Rosamond Lehmann in 1955, and published by New Directions (ISBN 0811200213) in the U.S., and Mclelland & Stewart in Canada in 1966, with the title translated as The Holy Terrors. The book is illustrated by the author's own drawings.

The Human Voice is a monodrama first staged at the Comédie-Française in 1930, written two years earlier by Jean Cocteau. It is set in Paris, where a still-quite-young woman is on the phone with her lover of the last five years. He is to marry another woman the next day, which causes her to despair. The monologue triggers the woman's crippling depression.

The Infernal Machine, or La Machine Infernale is a French play by the dramatist Jean Cocteau, based on the ancient Greek myth of Oedipus. The play initially premiered on April 10, 1934 at the Theatre Louis Jouvet in Paris, France, under the direction of Louis Jouvet himself, with costumes and scene design by Christian Bérard. The Infernal Machine, as translated by Albert Bermel, was first played at the Phoenix Theatre, New York, on February 3, 1958, under the direction of Herbert Berghof, with scenery by Ming Cho Less, costumes by Alvin Colt, and lighting by Tharon Musser.

Contents

Early life

Cocteau was born in Maisons-Laffitte, Yvelines, a town near Paris, to Georges Cocteau and his wife, Eugénie Lecomte; a socially prominent Parisian family. His father was a lawyer and amateur painter who committed suicide when Cocteau was nine. From 1900–1904, Cocteau attended the Lycée Condorcet where he met and began a physical relationship with schoolmate Pierre Dargelos who would later reappear throughout Cocteau's oeuvre. [2] He left home at fifteen. He published his first volume of poems, Aladdin's Lamp, at nineteen. Cocteau soon became known in Bohemian artistic circles as The Frivolous Prince, the title of a volume he published at twenty-two. Edith Wharton described him as a man "to whom every great line of poetry was a sunrise, every sunset the foundation of the Heavenly City..." [3]

Maisons-Laffitte Commune in Île-de-France, France

Maisons-Laffitte is a commune in the Yvelines department in the Île-de-France region in north-central France. It is located in the north-western suburbs of Paris 18.2 km (11.3 mi) from the center.

Yvelines Department of France in Île-de-France

Yvelines is a department in the region of Île-de-France, France. Located west of Hauts-de-Seine, it had a population of 1,431,808 as of 2016. Its main cities are Versailles, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Mantes-la-Jolie and Rambouillet.

Paris Capital of France

Paris is the capital and most populous city of France, with an area of 105 square kilometres and an official estimated population of 2,140,526 residents as of 1 January 2019. Since the 17th century, Paris has been one of Europe's major centres of finance, diplomacy, commerce, fashion, science, and the arts.

Early career

Amedeo Modigliani, Jean Cocteau, 1916, Henry and Rose Pearlman Collection, on long-term loan to the Princeton University Art Museum 1916, Modigliani, Jean Cocteau.jpg
Amedeo Modigliani, Jean Cocteau, 1916, Henry and Rose Pearlman Collection, on long-term loan to the Princeton University Art Museum
Portrait of Jean Cocteau by Federico de Madrazo y Ochoa, ca. 1910-1912 Portrait of Jean Cocteau.jpg
Portrait of Jean Cocteau by Federico de Madrazo y Ochoa, ca. 1910-1912

In his early twenties, Cocteau became associated with the writers Marcel Proust, André Gide, and Maurice Barrès. In 1912, he collaborated with Léon Bakst on Le Dieu bleu for the Ballets Russes; the principal dancers being Tamara Karsavina and Vaslav Nijinsky. During World War I Cocteau served in the Red Cross as an ambulance driver. This was the period in which he met the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, artists Pablo Picasso and Amedeo Modigliani, and numerous other writers and artists with whom he later collaborated. Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev persuaded Cocteau to write a scenario for a ballet, which resulted in Parade in 1917. It was produced by Diaghilev, with sets by Picasso, the libretto by Apollinaire and the music by Erik Satie. The piece was later expanded into a full opera, with music by Satie, Francis Poulenc and Maurice Ravel. "If it had not been for Apollinaire in uniform," wrote Cocteau, "with his skull shaved, the scar on his temple and the bandage around his head, women would have gouged our eyes out with hairpins."[ citation needed ] He denied being a Surrealist or being in any way attached to the movement.[ citation needed ] Cocteau wrote the libretto for Igor Stravinsky's opera-oratorio Oedipus rex , which had its original performance in the Théâtre Sarah Bernhardt in Paris on 30 May 1927.

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Maurice Barrès French novelist

Auguste-Maurice Barrès was a French novelist, journalist and politician. Spending some time in Italy, he became a figure in French literature with the release of his work The Cult of the Self in 1888. In politics, he was first elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1889 as a Boulangist and would play a prominent political role for the rest of his life.

An important exponent of avant-garde art, Cocteau had great influence on the work of others, including a group of composers known as Les six. In the early twenties, he and other members of Les six frequented a wildly popular bar named Le Boeuf sur le Toit, a name that Cocteau himself had a hand in picking. The popularity was due in no small measure to the presence of Cocteau and his friends. [4]

Le Boeuf sur le Toit is the name of a celebrated Parisian cabaret-bar, founded in 1921 by Louis Moysés which was originally located at 28, rue Boissy d'Anglas in the 8th arrondissement of Paris. It was notably the gathering place for the avant garde arts scene during the period between the wars. Maurice Sachs chronicled it in his 1939 book Au temps du boeuf sur le toit. Currently it is at 34, rue du Colisée, having moved five times within the 8th arrondissement. The current building dates from the 18th century.

Friendship with Raymond Radiguet

Marie Laurencin, Portrait de Jean Cocteau, 1921 Marie Laurencin, 1921, Portrait de Jean Cocteau.jpg
Marie Laurencin, Portrait de Jean Cocteau, 1921

In 1918 he met the French poet Raymond Radiguet. They collaborated extensively, socialized, and undertook many journeys and vacations together. Cocteau also got Radiguet exempted from military service. Admiring of Radiguet's great literary talent, Cocteau promoted his friend's works in his artistic circle and arranged for the publication by Grasset of Le Diable au corps (a largely autobiographical story of an adulterous relationship between a married woman and a younger man), exerting his influence to have the novel awarded the "Nouveau Monde" literary prize. Some contemporaries and later commentators thought there might have been a romantic component to their friendship. [5] Cocteau himself was aware of this perception, and worked earnestly to dispel the notion that their relationship was sexual in nature. [6]

Raymond Radiguet French writer

Raymond Radiguet was a French novelist and poet whose two novels were noted for their explicit themes, and unique style and tone.

Le Diable au corps is an early 1923 novel by Parisian literary prodigy Raymond Radiguet. The story of a young married woman who has an affair with a sixteen-year-old boy while her husband is away fighting at the front provoked scandal in a country that had just been through World War I. Though Radiguet denied it, it was established later that the story was in large part autobiographical. Critics, who initially despised the intense publicity campaign for the book's release were finally won over by the quality of Radiguet's writing and his sober, objective style.

There is disagreement over Cocteau's reaction to Radiguet's sudden death in 1923, with some claiming that it left him stunned, despondent and prey to opium addiction. Opponents of that interpretation point out that he did not attend the funeral (he generally did not attend funerals) and immediately left Paris with Diaghilev for a performance of Les noces (The Wedding) by the Ballets Russes at Monte Carlo. Cocteau himself much later characterised his reaction as one of "stupor and disgust."[ citation needed ] His opium addiction at the time, [7] Cocteau said, was only coincidental, due to a chance meeting with Louis Laloy, the administrator of the Monte Carlo Opera. Cocteau's opium use and his efforts to stop profoundly changed his literary style. His most notable book, Les Enfants Terribles , was written in a week during a strenuous opium weaning. In Opium: Journal of drug rehabilitation  [ fr ], he recounts the experience of his recovery from opium addiction in 1929. His account, which includes vivid pen-and-ink illustrations, alternates between his moment-to-moment experiences of drug withdrawal and his current thoughts about people and events in his world. Cocteau was supported throughout his recovery by his friend and correspondent, Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain. Under Maritain's influence Cocteau made a temporary return to the sacraments of the Catholic Church. He again returned to the Church later in life and undertook a number of religious art projects.

Opium Dried latex obtained from the opium poppy

Opium is the dried latex obtained from the opium poppy. Approximately 12 percent of the opium latex is made up of the analgesic alkaloid morphine, which is processed chemically to produce heroin and other synthetic opioids for medicinal use and for illegal drug trade. The latex also contains the closely related opiates codeine and thebaine, and non-analgesic alkaloids such as papaverine and noscapine. The traditional, labor-intensive method of obtaining the latex is to scratch ("score") the immature seed pods (fruits) by hand; the latex leaks out and dries to a sticky yellowish residue that is later scraped off and dehydrated. The word "meconium" historically referred to related, weaker preparations made from other parts of the opium poppy or different species of poppies.

Les Noces is a ballet and orchestral concert work composed by Igor Stravinsky for percussion, pianists, chorus, and vocal soloists. The composer gave it the descriptive title "Choreographed Scenes with Music and Voices" and dedicated it to impresario Sergei Diaghilev. Though initially intended to serve as a ballet score, it is often performed without dance.

Ballets Russes

The Ballets Russes was an itinerant ballet company based in Paris that performed between 1909 and 1929 throughout Europe and on tours to North and South America. The company never performed in Russia, where the Revolution disrupted society. After its initial Paris season, the company had no formal ties there.

The Human Voice

Cocteau's experiments with the human voice peaked with his play La Voix humaine . The story involves one woman on stage speaking on the telephone with her (invisible and inaudible) departing lover, who is leaving her to marry another woman. The telephone proved to be the perfect prop for Cocteau to explore his ideas, feelings, and "algebra" concerning human needs and realities in communication.

Cocteau acknowledged in the introduction to the script that the play was motivated, in part, by complaints from his actresses that his works were too writer/director-dominated and gave the players little opportunity to show off their full range of talents. La Voix humaine was written, in effect, as an extravagant aria for Madame Berthe Bovy. Before came Orphée , later turned into one of his more successful films; after came La Machine infernale , arguably his most fully realized work of art. La Voix humaine is deceptively simple — a woman alone on stage for almost one hour of non-stop theatre speaking on the telephone with her departing lover. It is full of theatrical codes harking back to the Dadaists' Vox Humana experiments after World War One, Alphonse de Lamartine's "La Voix humaine", part of his larger work Harmonies poétiques et religieuses and the effect of the creation of the Vox Humana ("voix humaine"), an organ stop of the Regal Class by Church organ masters (late 16th century) that attempted to imitate the human voice but never succeeded in doing better than the sound of a male chorus at a distance.

Reviews varied at the time and since but whatever the critique, the play represents Cocteau's state of mind and feelings towards his actors at the time: on the one hand, he wanted to spoil and please them; on the other, he was fed up with their diva antics and was ready for revenge. It is also true that none of Cocteau's works has inspired as much imitation: Francis Poulenc's opera La voix humaine , Gian Carlo Menotti's "opera buffa" The Telephone and Roberto Rossellini's film version in Italian with Anna Magnani L'Amore (1948). There has also been a long line of interpreters including Simone Signoret, Ingrid Bergman and Liv Ullmann (in the play) and Julia Migenes, Denise Duval, Renata Scotto, Anja Silja and Felicity Lott (in the opera).

According to one theory about how Cocteau was inspired to write La Voix humaine, he was experimenting with an idea by fellow French playwright Henri Bernstein. [8]

Later years

Tribute to Rene Clair: I Married a Witch, Jean Cocteau (1945), a set design for the Theatre de la Mode. Jean Cocteau I Married a Witch Maryhill Museum.jpg
Tribute to René Clair: I Married a Witch, Jean Cocteau (1945), a set design for the Théâtre de la Mode.

Biographer James S. Williams describes Cocteau's politics as "naturally Right-leaning." [9] During the Nazi occupation of France, Cocteau's friend Arno Breker convinced him that Adolf Hitler was a pacifist and patron of the arts with France's best interests in mind. In his diary, Cocteau accused France of disrespect towards Hitler and speculated on the Führer's sexuality. Cocteau effusively praised Breker's sculptures in an article entitled 'Salut à Breker' published in 1942. This piece caused him to be arraigned on charges of collaboration after the war, though he was cleared of any wrongdoing and had used his contacts to his failed attempt to save friends such as Max Jacob. [10]

Erik Satie, Parade, theme de Jean Cocteau Erik Satie Parade.jpg
Érik Satie, Parade, théme de Jean Cocteau

In 1940, Le Bel Indifférent, Cocteau's play written for and starring Édith Piaf, was enormously successful. He also worked with Pablo Picasso on several projects and was a friend of most of the European art community. Cocteau's films, most of which he both wrote and directed, were particularly important in introducing the avant-garde into French cinema and influenced to a certain degree the upcoming French New Wave genre.

Cocteau is best known for his novel Les Enfants Terribles (1929), and the films The Blood of a Poet (1930), Beauty and the Beast (1946), Les Parents terribles (1948), and Orpheus (1949). His final film, Le Testament d'Orphée (The Testament of Orpheus) (1960), featured appearances by Picasso and matador Luis Miguel Dominguín, along with Yul Brynner, who also helped finance the film.

In 1945 Cocteau was one of several designers who created sets for the Théâtre de la Mode. He drew inspiration from filmmaker René Clair while making Tribute to René Clair: I Married a Witch. The maquette is described in his "Journal 1942–1945," in his entry for 12 February 1945:

I saw the model of my set. Fashion bores me, but I am amused by the set and fashion placed together. It is a smoldering maid's room. One discovers an aerial view of Paris through the wall and ceiling holes. It creates vertigo. On the iron bed lies a fainted bride. Behind her stand several dismayed ladies. On the right, a very elegant lady washes her hands in a flophouse basin. Through the unhinged door on the left, a lady enters with raised arms. Others are pushed against the walls. The vision provoking this catastrophe is a bride-witch astride a broom, flying through the ceiling, her hair and train streaming.

Private life

Jean Cocteau never hid his homosexuality. He was the author of the mildly homoerotic and semi-autobiographical Le livre blanc (translated as The White Paper or The White Book), [11] published anonymously in 1928. He never repudiated its authorship and a later edition of the novel features his foreword and drawings. The novel begins:

As far back as I can remember, and even at a age when the mind does not yet influence the senses, I find traces of my love of boys. I have always loved the strong sex that I find legitimate to call the fair sex. My misfortunes came from a society that condemns the rare as a crime and forces us to reform our inclinations.

Frequently his work, either literary ( Les enfants terribles ), graphic (erotic drawings, book illustration, paintings) or cinematographic ( The Blood of a Poet , Orpheus , Beauty and the Beast ), is pervaded with homosexual undertones, homoerotic imagery/symbolism or outright camp. In 1947 Paul Morihien published a clandestine edition of Querelle de Brest by Jean Genet, featuring 29 very explicit erotic drawings by Cocteau. In recent years several albums of Cocteau's homoerotica have been available to the general public.

Cocteau had affairs with Jean Le Roy, Raymond Radiguet, Jean Desbordes, Marcel Khill, and Panama Al Brown.

In the 1930s, Cocteau is rumoured to have had a very brief affair with Princess Natalie Paley, the daughter of a Romanov Grand Duke and herself a sometime actress, model, and former wife of couturier Lucien Lelong. [12]

Cocteau's longest-lasting relationships were with French actors Jean Marais [13] and Édouard Dermit, whom Cocteau formally adopted. Cocteau cast Marais in The Eternal Return (1943), Beauty and the Beast (1946), Ruy Blas (1947), and Orpheus (1949).

Death

Cocteau died of a heart attack at his chateau in Milly-la-Forêt, Essonne, France, on 11 October 1963 at the age of 74. His friend, French singer Édith Piaf, died the day before but that was announced on the morning of Cocteau's day of death; it has been said that his heart failed upon hearing of Piaf's death. Actually, according to author Roger Peyrefitte, Cocteau was devastated after a breach with his longtime friend and patroness Francine Weisweiller [ citation needed ].

According to his wishes Cocteau is buried beneath the floor of the Chapelle Saint-Blaise des Simples in Milly-la-Forêt. [14] The epitaph on his gravestone set in the floor of the chapel reads: "I stay with you" ("Je reste avec vous").

Honours and awards

In 1955, Cocteau was made a member of the Académie française and The Royal Academy of Belgium.

During his life, Cocteau was commander of the Legion of Honor, Member of the Mallarmé Academy, German Academy (Berlin), American Academy, Mark Twain (U.S.A) Academy, Honorary President of the Cannes Film Festival, Honorary President of the France-Hungary Association and President of the Jazz Academy and of the Academy of the Disc.

Filmography

Works

Literature

Poetry
Novels
Theater
Poetry and criticism
Journalistic poetry

Film

Director
Scriptwriter
Dialogue writer
Director of Photography

Artworks

Recordings

Journals

Stamps

Bibliography

See also

Footnotes

  1. "Biography". AllMovie.
  2. Guédras, Annie, ed. (1999). Jean Cocteau: Erotic Drawings. Köln: Evergreen. p. 11. ISBN   3-8228-6532-X.
  3. Wharton, Edith (17 December 2014) [1st pub. 1934]. "Chapter 11". A Backward Glance. eBooks@Adelaide. Retrieved 9 April 2016.
  4. Thompson, Daniella (6 May 2002). "How the Ox got its name, and other Parisian legends". The Boeuf Chronicles. Musica Brasiliensis. Retrieved 9 April 2016. (Autoplaying music on site)
  5. Williams 2008, p. 32.
  6. Francis Steegmuller (1970). Cocteau, A Biography. Monsieur, I have just received your letter and must reply despite my regret at being unable to explain the inexplicable. It is possible that my friendship for your son and my deep admiration for his gifts (which are becoming increasingly apparent) are of an uncommon intensity, and that from the outside it is hard to make out how far my feelings go. His literary future is of primary consideration with me: he is a kind of prodigy. Scandal would spoil all this freshness. You cannot possibly believe for a second that I do not try to avoid that by all the means in my power
  7. "Jean Cocteau Biography – Jean Cocteau Website". Netcomuk.co.uk. 11 October 1963. Retrieved 14 March 2012.
  8. Brown, Frederick (1968). An Impersonation of Angels: A Biography of Jean Cocteau. New York City: The Viking Press. p. 170.
  9. Williams 2008, p. 123.
  10. Williams 2008, pp. 182–185.
  11. "Cocteau's White Paper on Homophobia". rictornorton.co.uk.
  12. Liaut, Jean-Noël (1996). Natalie Paley: Une princesse dechiree (in French). Paris: Filipacchi. ISBN   2-85018-295-8.
  13. "Légendes d'Écran Noir: Jean Marais". www.ecrannoir.fr.
  14. Wilson, Scott. Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed.: 2 (Kindle Location 8971). McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. Kindle Edition.
  15. fr:Église Saint-Maximin de Metz

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References

Further reading