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, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Man Ray and the Ciné­ma Pur: Four Sur­re­al­ist Films From the 1920s

Anémic Ciné­ma: Mar­cel Ducham­p’s Whirling Avant-Garde Film (1926)

Bal­let Méchanique: The His­toric Cin­e­mat­ic Col­lab­o­ra­tion Between Fer­nand Legér and George Antheil

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