Sunday, January 18, 2009

Beauty and the Beast (Rhoades)

‘Beauty and the Beast’ Is Surrealistic Fairy Tale

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Back in college I saw Jean Cocteau’s 1946 surreal classic “La Belle et la Bête” for the first time. That’s “Beauty and the Beast” to you non-French-speaking plebeians out there. Even then, it had achieved cult status, a film that appealed to art students, potheads, and French majors alike.

“Beauty and the Beast” is Mary Sparacio’s selection for tomorrow night’s Monday Classic Movie Series – a weekly program at the Tropic Cinema. And let’s be clear, we’re not talking about the animated Disney version.

Jean Cocteau was a French poet, novelist, playwright, designer, boxing manager, and filmmaker. Although Cocteau sometimes denied being a surrealist, he clearly influenced the movement. In fact, the word “surrealism” was coined to describe a ballet he’d designed. He produced two great surrealist films: “Le Sang d’un Poete” (“The Blood of a Poet”) as well as the subject of this review, “La Belle et la Bête.”

The familiar story of a beautiful girl who falls in love with an ugly beast is based on a French fairy tale by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont (which was itself influenced by an earlier story of the same name by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve).

We’ve seen the theme repeated again and again. Most directly in the aforementioned Disney film, stage show, and on-ice productions. In the Philip Glass opera. Or by reference in Merian C. Cooper’s classic giant-ape thriller “King Kong.”

However, no version comes close to the poetry and surrealistic beauty found in the Cocteau film.

Using existing movie technology to evoke a feeling of magic and enchantment, he conjured up haunting images as he spun this story of romance, beauty, and unrequited desire. I promise you’ll never forget the hallway scene, the passageway illuminated by torches held aloft by disembodied human hands. Like something you’d encounter in a nightmarish dream.
Jean Marais, Josette Day, Marcel Andre, and Mila Parely star in this fairy tale. Cocteau’s collaborator and muse, Marais is credited with suggesting that he create this mesmerizing film.

If you’ve never seen Jean Cocteau’s “La Belle et la Bête” – or haven’t seen it since college – go! 

It’s a requirement in any quest for film literacy.
[from Solares Hill]

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