Posted by: Sally Ingraham | June 17, 2009

La Belle et la Bete

B&B1946 – Dir. Jean Cocteau

I got another library card last week! I am now a patron of COA’s Thorndike Library, and the eclectic movie collection (built partially by a friend) is mine to peruse. The first item I checked out was Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast. It’s been on my list for awhile, but I specifically wanted the Criterion Collection DVD, which was not available through Netflix and cost rather a lot to buy. Why so picky? Because in addition to the movie it has Philip Glass’ opera version as an alternative soundtrack!

The movie itself is wonderful. Based on Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont’s tale, it is a fairly straightforward retelling. The only deviation from the familiar tale is that back at home Belle has a suitor who helps plot with her brother and two sisters the death of the Beast. Disney got the idea for Gaston from Cocteau’s version.

Although black and white, the movie is bursting with eye candy. The costumes are lavish and the sets elaborate, and crafted to resemble the engravings of Gustave Dore the paintings of Jan Vermeer. Josette Day, who played Belle, was indeed beautiful.

There were things that were a little odd to me and therefore mildly distracting, such as the highly dramatic style of acting, but I can’t really complain about that when so many other interesting things were going on. The enchanted castle with it’s floating arms holding candles, and the faces in the fireplace that were alive and watching were fantastic.

There was a booklet that came with the DVD which contained something that Cocteau wrote for the American release of the film (and I would quote from it directly if I hadn’t had to already return the movie…). He said something like he wanted to make the Beast so appealing and sympathetic that when he was transformed into the handsome prince, it would be almost disappointing. He did this in his film particularly effectively by making the prince look exactly like a nicer version of Belle’s offish suitor from home (Jean Marais did very well playing the whole trio!). I really responded to this, because I always feel emotionally jerked around when the Beast is transformed into someone who Belle, quite aptly, thinks will take some getting used to…!

GlassThe idea behind Philip Glass’ opera is that it is performed live while the movie is projected behind. He painstakingly timed all of the sung lines so that they synced with the filmed actors. I imagine it is very impressive when done live. Even as just an alternative soundtrack to the movie it was enjoyable. I have to add though, that I am not overly awed by Philip Glass. While interesting, his music is just a bit too repetitive for me. I am still exploring his work though, so no official opinions yet.

What I have gained from this whole experience, aside from an appreciation for the film, is a great deal of curiosity about Jean Cocteau, who was also a poet, a playwright, a novelist, and a…boxing manager?? Yes indeed, he needs a little more of my attention. 🙂

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