The Blood of a Poet

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The Blood of a Poet
DVD cover art
Directed byJean Cocteau
Produced byCharles de Noailles
Written byJean Cocteau
StarringEnrique Riveros
Lee Miller
Pauline Carton
Odette Talazac
Féral Benga
Jean Desbordes
Music byGeorges Auric
CinematographyGeorges Périnal
Edited byJean Cocteau
Distributed byTamasa Distribution, The Criterion Collection
Release date
  • 20 January 1932 (1932-01-20)
Running time
55 min.

The Blood of a Poet (French: Le sang d'un poète) (1930) is an avant-garde film directed by Jean Cocteau, financed by Charles de Noailles and starring Enrique Riveros, a Chilean actor who had a successful career in European films. Photographer Lee Miller made her only film appearance in this movie, which features an appearance by the famed aerialist Barbette.[1] It is the first part of the Orphic Trilogy, which is continued in Orphée (1950) and concludes with Testament of Orpheus (1960).


The Blood of a Poet is divided into four sections. In section one, an artist sketches a face and is startled when its mouth starts moving. He rubs out the mouth, only to discover that it has transferred to the palm of his hand. After experimenting with the hand for a while and falling asleep, the artist awakens and places the mouth over the mouth of a female statue.

In section two, the statue speaks to the artist, cajoling him into passing through a mirror. The mirror transports the artist to a hotel, where he peers through several keyholes, witnessing such people as an opium smoker and a hermaphrodite. The artist is handed a gun and a disembodied voice instructs him how to shoot himself in the head. He shoots himself but does not die. The artist cries out that he has seen enough and returns through the mirror. He smashes the statue with a mallet.

In section three, some students are having a snowball fight. An older boy throws a snowball at a younger boy, but the snowball turns out to be a chunk of marble. The young boy dies from the impact.

In the final section, a card sharp plays a game with a woman on a table set up over the body of the dead boy. A theatre party looks on. The card sharp extracts an Ace of Hearts from the dead boy's breast pocket. The boy's guardian angel appears and absorbs the dead boy. He also removes the Ace of Hearts from the card sharp's hand and retreats up a flight of stairs and through a door. Realizing he has lost, the card sharp commits suicide as the theatre party applauds. A female player transforms into the formerly smashed statue and walks off through the snow, leaving no footprints. In the film's final moments the statue is shown with an ox, a globe, and a lyre.

Intercut through the film, oneiric images appear, including spinning wire models of a human head and rotating double-sided masks.



The Blood of a Poet was funded by Charles, Vicomte de Noailles, who gave Cocteau 1,000,000 francs to make it. Cocteau invited the Vicomte and his wife Marie-Laure de Noailles, along with several of their friends, to appear in a scene as a theatre party. In the scene, they talked among themselves and, on cue, began applauding. Upon seeing the completed film, they were horrified to learn that they were applauding a game of cards that ended with a suicide, which had been filmed separately. They refused to let Cocteau release the film with their scene included, so Cocteau re-shot it with the famed female impersonator Barbette and some extras.[2]

Delayed release[edit]

Shortly after the completion of the film, rumors began to circulate that it contained an anti-Christian message. This, combined with the riotous reception of another controversial Noailles-produced film, L'âge d'or, led to Charles de Noailles' expulsion from the famous Jockey-Club de Paris, and he was even threatened with excommunication by the Catholic Church.[2] The furore caused the release of The Blood of a Poet to be delayed for more than a year.


On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 94% based on 18 reviews, with a weighted average rating of 7.66/10.[3] Author and film critic Leonard Maltin awarded the film three out of four stars, calling it "Imaginative, dreamlike, and still a visual delight."[4]


  1. ^ Liner, Elaine (13 June 2002). "Swingers: Barbette soars to greatness with the tragic tale of a trapeze artist". Dallas Observer. Retrieved 19 May 2008.
  2. ^ a b Francis Steegmuller, "An Angel, A Flower, A Bird", The New Yorker, September 27, 1969.
  3. ^ "The Blood of a Poet (1930) - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Flixer. Retrieved 7 April 2018.
  4. ^ Leonard Maltin; Spencer Green; Rob Edelman (January 2010). Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide. Plume. p. 68. ISBN 978-0-452-29577-3.

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