Jean Cocteau’s Avante-Garde Film From 1930, The Blood of a Poet

In a 1946 essay Jean Cocteau cautions against making a quick interpretation of his first film, The Blood of a Poet, with a quote from Montaigne:

Most of Aesop’s fables have many different levels and meanings. There are those who make myths of them by choosing some feature that fits in well with the fable. But for most of the fables this is only the first and most superficial aspect. There are others that are more vital, more essential and profound, that they have not been able to reach.

Cocteau conceived The Blood of a Poet (Le Sang d’un Poète) in late 1929, soon after the publication of his novel Les Enfants Terribles. He had just kicked his opium habit and was entering one of the most prolific periods of his career. The film is often called a surrealist work, but Cocteau rejected the association, saying that he had set out “to avoid the deliberate manifestations of the unconscious in favor of a kind of half-sleep through which I wandered as though in a labyrinth.” He goes on:

The Blood of a Poet draws nothing from either dreams or symbols. As far as the former are concerned, it initiates their mechanism, and by letting the mind relax, as in sleep, it lets memories entwine, move and express themselves freely. As for the latter, it rejects them, and substitutes acts, or allegories of these acts, that the spectator can make symbols of if he wishes.

Many of its first spectators saw anti-Christian symbolism in the film. Although production ended in September of 1930, Cocteau was not able to get his film shown publicly until January of 1932. The Blood of a Poet features the only film appearance by Lee Miller, a noted photographer and model of Man Ray. (She plays a statue.) The film is now considered a classic of experimental cinema and is the first in what came to be known as Cocteau’s “Orphic Trilogy,” which includes Orphée (1950) and Testament of Orpheus (1959). The Blood of a Poet will be added to our collection of free movies online.

Related content:

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