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
Maisons-Laffitte, France
Died 11 October 1963(1963-10-11) (aged 74)
Milly-la-Foret, France
Cause of death
Myocardial infarction
Other names The Frivolous Prince
Occupation Novelist, poet, artist, filmmaker
Years active 1908–1963
Partner(s) Jean Marais (1937–1963)
Signature Jean Cocteau signature.svg
Website
jeancocteau.net

Jean Maurice Eugène Clément Cocteau (French: [ʒɑ̃ kɔkto]; 5 July 1889 – 11 October 1963) was a French writer, designer, playwright, artist and filmmaker. Cocteau is best known for his novel Les Enfants Terribles (1929), and the films Blood of a Poet (1930), Les Parents Terribles (1948), Beauty and the Beast (1946) and Orpheus (1949). His circle of associates, friends and lovers included Kenneth Anger, Pablo Picasso, Jean Hugo, Jean Marais, Henri Bernstein, Yul Brynner, Marlene Dietrich, Coco Chanel, Erik Satie, Igor Stravinsky, María Félix, Édith Piaf, Panama Al Brown, Colette and Raymond Radiguet.

Early life[edit]

Cocteau was born in Maisons-Laffitte, Yvelines, a village 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. 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..."[1]

Early career[edit]

Portrait of Jean Cocteau by Federico de Madrazo de 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.

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.[2]

Friendship with Raymond Radiguet[edit]

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.[3] Cocteau himself was aware of this perception, and worked earnestly to dispel the notion that their relationship was sexual in nature.[4]

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,[5] 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, 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.

The Human Voice[edit]

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, in fact, 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 by 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.[6]

Maturity[edit]

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

In the 1930s, Cocteau had an 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.[7] Cocteau's longest-lasting relationships were with the French actors Jean Marais and Édouard Dermit (fr), whom Cocteau formally adopted. Cocteau cast Marais in The Eternal Return (1943), Beauty and the Beast (1946), Ruy Blas (1947), and Orpheus (1949).

Biographer James S. Williams describes Cocteau's politics as "naturally Right-leaning."[8] 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 in fact used his contacts to his failed attempt to save friends such as Max Jacob.[9]

Éric 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 Blood of a Poet (1930), Les Parents terribles (1948), Beauty and the Beast (1946), 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.

Cocteau was openly bisexual. His muse and lover for over 25 years was actor Jean Marais.[citation needed]

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

Honours and awards[edit]

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[edit]

Works[edit]

Literature[edit]

Poetry
  • 1909 La Lampe d'Aladin
  • 1910 Le Prince frivole
  • 1912 La Danse de Sophocle
  • 1919 Ode à PicassoLe Cap de Bonne-Espérance
  • 1920 Escale. Poésies (1917–1920)
  • 1922 Vocabulaire
  • 1923 La Rose de FrançoisPlain-Chant
  • 1925 Cri écrit
  • 1926 L'Ange Heurtebise
  • 1927 Opéra
  • 1934 Mythologie
  • 1939 Énigmes
  • 1941 Allégories
  • 1945 Léone
  • 1946 La Crucifixion
  • 1948 Poèmes
  • 1952 Le Chiffre septLa Nappe du Catalan (in collaboration with Georges Hugnet)
  • 1953 Dentelles d'éternitéAppoggiatures
  • 1954 Clair-obscur
  • 1958 Paraprosodies
  • 1961 Cérémonial espagnol du PhénixLa Partie d'échecs
  • 1962 Le Requiem
  • 1968 Faire-Part (posthume)
Novels
Theater
Poetry and criticism
  • 1918 Le Coq et l'Arlequin
  • 1920 Carte blanche
  • 1922 Le Secret professionnel
  • 1926 Le Rappel à l'ordreLettre à Jacques MaritainLe Numéro Barbette
  • 1930 Opium
  • 1932 Essai de critique indirecte
  • 1935 Portraits-Souvenir
  • 1937 Mon premier voyage (Around the World in 80 Days)
  • 1943 Le Greco
  • 1947 Le Foyer des artistesLa Difficulté d'être
  • 1949 Lettres aux AméricainsReines de la France
  • 1951 Jean Marais – A Discussion about Cinematography (with André Fraigneau)
  • 1952 Gide vivant
  • 1953 Journal d'un inconnu. Démarche d'un poète
  • 1955 Colette (Discourse on the reception at the Royal Academy of Belgium) – Discourse on the reception at the Académie française
  • 1956 Discours d'Oxford
  • 1957 Entretiens sur le musée de Dresde (with Louis Aragon) – La Corrida du 1er mai
  • 1950: Poésie critique I
  • 1960: Poésie critique II
  • 1962 Le Cordon ombilical
  • 1963 La Comtesse de Noailles, oui et non
  • 1964 Portraits-Souvenir (posthumous ; A discussion with Roger Stéphane)
  • 1965 Entretiens avec André Fraigneau (posthumous)
  • 1973 Jean Cocteau par Jean Cocteau (posthumous ; A discussion with William Fielfield)
  • 1973 Du cinématographe (posthumous). Entretiens sur le cinématographe (posthumous)
Journalistic poetry
  • 1935–1938 (posthumous)

Film[edit]

Director
Scriptwriter
Dialogue writer
Director of Photography

Poetry illustrator[edit]

  • 1924 : Dessins
  • 1925 : Le Mystère de Jean l'oiseleur
  • 1926 : Maison de santé
  • 1929 : 25 dessins d'un dormeur
  • 1935 : 60 designs for Les Enfants Terribles
  • 1941 : Drawings in the margins of Chevaliers de la Table ronde
  • 1948 : Drôle de ménage
  • 1957 : La Chapelle Saint-Pierre, Villefranche-sur-Mer
  • 1958 : La Salle des mariages, City Hall of MentonLa Chapelle Saint-Pierre (lithographies)
  • 1959 : Gondol des morts
  • 1960 : Chapelle Saint-Blaise-des-Simples, Milly-la-Forêt
  • 1960 : Windows of the Église Saint-Maximin de Metz

Recordings[edit]

  • Colette par Jean Cocteau, discours de réception à l'Académie Royale de Belgique, Ducretet-Thomson 300 V 078 St.
  • Les Mariés de la Tour Eiffel and Portraits-Souvenir, La Voix de l'Auteur LVA 13
  • Plain-chant by Jean Marais, extracts from the piece Orphée by Jean-Pierre Aumont, Michel Bouquet, Monique Mélinand, Les Parents terribles by Yvonne de Bray and Jean Marais, L'Aigle à deux têtes par Edwige Feuillère and Jean Marais, L'Encyclopédie Sonore 320 E 874, 1971
  • Collection of three vinyl recordings of Jean Cocteau including La Voix humaine by Simone Signoret, 18 songs composed by Louis Bessières, Bee Michelin and Renaud Marx, on double-piano Paul Castanier, Le Discours de réception à l'Académie française, Jacques Canetti JC1, 1984
  • Derniers propos à bâtons rompus avec Jean Cocteau, 16 September 1963 à Milly-la-Forêt, Bel Air 311035
  • Les Enfants terribles, radio version with Jean Marais, Josette Day, Silvia Monfort and Jean Cocteau, CD Phonurgia Nova ISBN 2-908325-07-1, 1992
  • Anthology, 4 CD containing numerous poems and texts read by the author, Anna la bonne, La Dame de Monte-Carlo and Mes sœurs, n'aimez pas les marins by Marianne Oswald, Le Bel Indifférent by Edith Piaf, La Voix humaine by Berthe Bovy, Les Mariés de la Tour Eiffel with Jean Le Poulain, Jacques Charon and Jean Cocteau, discourse on the reception at the Académie française, with extracts from Les Parents terribles, La Machine infernale, pieces from Parade on piano with two hands by Georges Auric and Francis Poulenc, Frémeaux & Associés FA 064, 1997
  • Poems by Jean Cocteau read by the author, CD EMI 8551082, 1997
  • Hommage à Jean Cocteau, mélodies d'Henri Sauguet, Arthur Honegger, Louis Durey, Darius Milhaud, Erik Satie, Jean Wiener, Max Jacob, Francis Poulenc, Maurice Delage, Georges Auric, Guy Sacre, by Jean-François Gardeil (baryton) and Billy Eidi (piano), CD Adda 581177, 1989
  • Le Testament d'Orphée, journal sonore, by Roger Pillaudin, 2 CD INA / Radio France 211788, 1998

Journals[edit]

  • 1946 La Belle et la Bête (film journal)
  • 1949 Maalesh (journal of a stage production)
  • 1983 Le Passé défini (posthumous)
  • 1989 Journal, 1942–1945

Stamps[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Cocteau, Jean, Le Coq et l'Arlequin: notes autour de la musique – avec un portrait de l'auteur et deux monogrammes par P. Picasso, Paris, Éditions de la Sirène, 1918
  • Cocteau, Jean, Le Grand Écart, 1923, his first novel
  • Cocteau, Jean, Le Numéro Barbette, an influential essay on the nature of art inspired by the performer Barbette, 1926
  • Cocteau, Jean, The Human Voice, translated by Carl Wildman, Vision Press Ltd., Great Britain, 1947
  • Cocteau, Jean, The Eagle Has Two Heads, adapted by Ronald Duncan, Vision Press Ltd., Great Britain, 1947
  • Cocteau, Jean, "Bacchus". Paris: Gallimard, 1952.
  • Cocteau, Jean, The Holy Terrors (Les Enfants Terribles), translated by Rosamond Lehmann, New Directions. New York, 1957
  • Cocteau, Jean, Opium: The Diary of a Cure, translated by Margaret Crosland and Sinclair Road, Grove Press Inc., New York, 1958
  • Cocteau, Jean, The Infernal Machine And Other Plays, translated by W.H. Auden, E.E. Cummings, Dudley Fitts, Albert Bermel, Mary C. Hoeck, and John K. Savacool, New Directions Books, New York, 1963
  • Cocteau, Jean, Toros Muertos, along with Lucien Clergue and Jean Petit, Brussel & Brussel,1966
  • Cocteau, Jean, The Art of Cinema, edited by André Bernard and Claude Gauteur, translated by Robin Buss, Marion Boyars, London, 1988
  • Cocteau, Jean, Diary of an Unknown, translated by Jesse Browner, Paragon House Publishers, New York, 1988
  • Cocteau, Jean, The White Book (Le Livre blanc), sometimes translated as The White Paper, translated by Margaret Crosland, City Lights Books, San Francisco, 1989
  • Cocteau, Jean, Les Parents terribles, new translation by Jeremy Sams, Nick Hern Books, London, 1994

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ "A Backward Glance, by Edith Wharton". Ebooks.adelaide.edu.au. 27 October 2010. Retrieved 14 March 2012. 
  2. ^ "How the Ox got its name, and other Parisian legends, by Daniella Thompson". Daniellathompson.com. Retrieved 14 March 2012. 
  3. ^ James S. Williams. Jean Cocteau. p. 32. 
  4. ^ 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" 
  5. ^ "Jean Cocteau Biography – Jean Cocteau Website". Netcomuk.co.uk. 11 October 1963. Retrieved 14 March 2012. 
  6. ^ Brown, Frederick, An Impersonation of Angels: A Biography of Jean Cocteau, The Viking Press, New York, p.170
  7. ^ Jean-Noël Liaut, "Natalie Paley: La princesse dechirée", Paris: Filipacchi, 1996 (ISBN 2-85018-295-8).
  8. ^ Williams, James S. (2008). Jean Cocteau. Reaktion Books. p. 123. 
  9. ^ Williams, James S. (2008). Jean Cocteau. Reaktion Books. pp. 182–185. 

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Evans, Arthur B. (1977). Jean Cocteau and his Films of Orphic Identity. Philadelphia: Art Alliance Press. ISBN 9780879820114.
  • Tsakiridou, Cornelia A., ed. (1997). Reviewing Orpheus: Essays on the Cinema and Art of Jean Cocteau. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press. ISBN 0-8387-5379-5.

External links[edit]