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Cocteau, Jean


Nationality: French. Born: Maisons-Lafitte, near Paris, 5 July 1889. Education: Lycée Condorcet and Fenelon, Paris. Career: Actor, playwright, poet, librettist, novelist, painter, and graphic artist in 1920s and throughout career. Directed first film, Le Sang d'un poète, 1930; became manager of boxer Al Brown, 1937; remained in Paris during the Occupation, 1940. Awards: Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur, 1949; member, Academie Royale de Belgique, 1955; member, Academie Française, 1955; honorary doctorate, Oxford University, 1956. Died: In Milly-la-Foret, France, 11 October 1963.

Films as Director:


Jean Cocteau fait du cinéma (+ sc) (neg lost?)


Le Sang d'un poète (originally La Vie d'un poète) (+ ed, sc, voice-over)


La Belle et la bête (+ sc)


L'Aigle à deux têtes (+ sc)


Les Parent terribles (+ sc, voice-over)


Orphée (+ sc); Coriolan (+ sc, role); a 1914 "dramatic scene" by Cocteau included in Ce siècle a cinquante ans (Tual) (+ sc)


La Villa Santo-Sospir (+ sc)


Le Testament d'Orphée (Ne me demandez pas pourquoi) (+ sc, role as le poète)

Other Films:


La Comedie du bonheur (L'Herbier) (co-sc)


Le Baron fantôme (de Poligny) (sc, role as Le Baron)


L'Eternel Retour (Delannoy) (sc); La Malibran (Guitry) (narration + role as Alfred de Musset)


Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne (Bresson) (co-sc)


L'Amitie noire (Villiers and Krull) (role and narration)


Ruy Blas (Billon) (sc)


La Voix humaine (Rossellini, from Cocteau's play); Les Noces de sable (Zvoboda) (sc, voice-over); La Légende de Sainte Ursule (Emmer) (role and narration)


Tennis (Martin) (role + narration)


Les Enfants terribles (Melville) (sc); Colette (Bellon) (role + narration); Venise et ses amants (Emmer and Gras) (role + narration)


Desordre (Baratier) (role + narration)


La Couronne noire (Saslavski) (co-sc); 8 x 8 (Richter) (role + narration)


Le Rouge est mis (Barrère and Knapp) (role + narration)


A l'aube d'un monde (Lucot) (role + narration); Pantomimes (Lucot) (role + narration)


Le Bel indifferent (Demy, from Cocteau's play)


Django Reinhardt (Paviot) (role + narration); Le Musée Grevin (Demy and Masson) (role + narration)


Charlotte et son Jules (Godard, from same play as Demy 1957 film)


La Princesse de Cleves (Delannoy) (co-sc)


Anna la bonne (Jutra, from song by Cocteau)


Thomas l'imposteur (Franju) (co-sc)


La Voix humaine (Delouche, from Poulenc and Cocteau opera)


By COCTEAU: books—

L'Aigle à deux têtes, Paris, 1946.

Diary of a Film [La Belle et la bête], New York, 1950.

Cocteau on the Film, New York, 1954.

Jean Cocteau par lui-même, edited by André Fraigneau, Paris, 1957.

Le Sang d'un poète, with drawings, Monaco, 1957.

Le Testament d'Orphée (filmscript), Paris, 1961.

The Eagle with Two Heads, London, 1962.

The Journals of Jean Cocteau, edited by Wallace Fowlie, Bloomington, Indiana, 1964.

The Difficulty of Being, London, 1966.

Two Screenplays [The Blood of a Poet and The Testament ofOrpheus], New York, 1968.

Beauty and the Beast, edited by Robert Hammond, New York, 1970.

Professional Secrets: An Autobiography of Jean Cocteau, edited by Robert Phelps, New York, 1970.

Cocteau on the Film, New York, 1972.

Jean Cocteau: Three Screenplays [The Eternal Return, Beauty andthe Beast, and Orpheus], New York, 1972.

Le Testament d'Orphée; Le Sang d'un poète, Monaco, 1983.

Past Tense, Volume 1: Diaries, London, 1987.

Souvenir portraits: Paris in the Belle Epoque, translated by Jesse Browner, London, 1990.

Erotica: Drawings, London, 1991.

Correspondance: Jacques-Emile Blanche, Jean Cocteau, Paris, 1993.

Les parents terribles, translated by Simon Callow, London, 1994.

By COCTEAU: articles—

Interview with Francis Koval, in Sight and Sound (London), August 1950.

"Conversation," in Sight and Sound (London), July/September 1952.

"Cocteau," in Film (London), March 1955.

Interview in Film Makers on Filmmaking, edited by Harry Geduld, Bloomington, Indiana, 1967.

"Four Letters by Jean Cocteau to Leni Riefenstahl," in Film Culture (New York), Spring 1973.

"Aphorismes cinématographiques," and "Cocteau face a La Belle etla bête," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), July/September 1973.

"Encuento con Chaplin," in Cine Cubano (Havana), no. 126, 1989.

On COCTEAU: books—

Crosland, Margaret, Jean Cocteau, London, 1955.

Dauven, Jean, Jean Cocteau chez les Sirènes, Paris, 1956.

Pillaudin, Roger, Jean Cocteau tourne son dernier film, Paris, 1960.

Fraigneau, André, Cocteau, New York, 1961.

Fowlie, Wallace, Jean Cocteau: The History of a Poet's Age, Bloomington, Indiana, 1968.

Lannes, Roger, Jean Cocteau, Paris, 1968.

Sprigge, Elizabeth, and Jean-Jacques Kihm, Jean Cocteau: The Manand the Mirror, New York, 1968.

Gilson, René, Cocteau, New York, 1969.

Armes, Roy, French Cinema since 1946: Vol. 1—The Great Tradition, New York, 1970.

Steegmuller, Francis, Cocteau, Boston, 1970.

Evans, Arthur, Jean Cocteau and His Films of Orphic Identity, Philadelphia, 1977.

Anderson, Alexandra, and Carol Saltus, editors, Jean Cocteau and theFrench Scene, New York, 1984.

de Miomandre, Philippe, Moi, Jean Cocteau, Paris, 1985.

Keller, Marjorie, The Untutored Eye: Childhood in the Films ofCocteau, Cornell and Brakhage, Cranbury, New Jersey, 1986.

Peters, Arthur King, Jean Cocteau and His World: An IllustratedBiography, London, 1987.

Knapp, Bettina L., Jean Cocteau, Boston, 1989.

Mourgue, Gérard, Cocteau, Paris, 1990.

Marais, Jean, L'inconcevable Jean Cocteau, Monaco, 1993.

Soleil, Christian, Jean Cocteau: Le Bonheur Fabriqué, Le Chambon-Fuegerolles, France, 1993.

Tsakiridou, Cornelia A., editor, Reviewing Orpheus: Essays on theCinema and Art of Jean Cocteau, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, 1997.

On COCTEAU: articles—

Lambert, Gavin, "Cocteau and Orpheus," in Sequence (London), Autumn 1950.

Oxenhandler, Neal, "On Cocteau," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Fall 1964.

Durgnat, Raymond, "Images of the Mind—Part 13: Time and Timelessness," in Films and Filming (London), July 1969.

Amberg, G., "The Testament of Jean Cocteau," in Film Comment (New York), Winter 1971/72.

"Cocteau Issue" of Image et Son (Paris), June/July 1972.

"Cocteau Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), July/September 1973.

Renaud, T., "Retrospective: Jean Cocteau. Un cineaste? Peut-etre. Un auteur? Certainement.," in Cinéma (Paris), December 1973.

Gow, Gordon, "Astonishments: Magic Film from Jean Cocteau," and "The Mirrors of Life," in Films and Filming (London), January and February 1978.

"Cocteau Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 1 May 1983.

"Cocteau Supplement," in Cinéma (Paris), May 1983.

Milani, R., "Cocteau dell'immaginario," in Filmcritica (Florence), June 1984.

Combs, Richard, "Dream work," in Listener (London), 29 May 1986.

Spiess, E., "Ein schillernder Paradiesvogel verirrt sich in eine Ruinenlandschaft. Eine Betrachtung zu Jean Cocteau," in Filmfaust (Frankfurt/Main), vol. 13, July-September 1989.

Prudenzi, A., "Cocteau poeta dell'illusione," in Immagine (Rome), no. 13, Winter 1989–1990.

Gauteur, C., "Cocteau contre Cocteau," in Revue de la Cinémathèque (Montreal), no. 464, October 1990.

"France's anti-Cartesian," in The Economist (London), 9 May 1992.

Perry, Joseph, "L'enfant Terrible: The 'Cinematographic' Poetry of Jean Cocteau," Filmfax (Evanston, Illinois), no. 36, December-January, 1992–93.

Beylot, P., "Premières images," in Focales, 1993.

Vajdovich, G., "Uralom az idö felett," in Filmkultura (Budapest), vol. 30, December 1994.

* * *

Jean Cocteau's contribution to cinema is as eclectic as one would expect from a man who fulfilled on occasion the roles of poet and novelist, dramatist and graphic artist, and dabbled in such diverse media as ballet and sculpture. In addition to his directorial efforts, Cocteau also wrote scripts and dialogue, made acting appearances, and realized amateur films. His work in other media has inspired adaptations by a number of filmmakers ranging from Rossellini to Franju and Demy, and he himself published several collections of eclectic and stimulating thoughts on the film medium.

Though Cocteau took his first real steps as a filmmaker at the very beginning of the sound era, his period of greatest involvement was in the 1940s, when he contributed to the scripts of a half-dozen films, at times dominating his director (as in L'Eternel Retour), at other times submitting to the discipline of contributing to another's vision (as in his dialogue for Bresson's Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne). In addition, he directed his own adaptations of such diverse works as the fairy tale La Belle et la bête, his own period melodrama L'Aigle à deux têtes, and his intense domestic drama, Les Parents terribles. But Cocteau's essential work in cinema is contained in just three wholly original films in which he explores his personal myth of the poet as Orpheus: Le Sang d'un poète, Orphée, and Le Testament d'Orphée. Though made over a period of thirty years, these three works have a remarkable unity of inspiration. They are works of fascination in a double sense. They convey Cocteau's fascination with poetry and his own creative processes, and at the same time display his openness to all the ways of fascinating an audience, utilizing stars and trickery, found material and sheer fantasy. The tone is characterized by a unique mixture of reality and dream, and his definition of Le Sang d'un pòete as "a realistic documentary of unreal events" is a suitable description of all his finest work.

Crucial to the lasting quality of Cocteau's work, which at times seems so light and fragile, is the combination of artistic seriousness and persistent, but unemphatic, self-mockery. For this reason his enclosed universe, with its curiously idyllic preoccupation with death, is never oppressive or constricting; instead, it allows the spectator a freedom rare in mainstream cinema of the 1930s and 1940s. In technical terms Cocteau displays a similar ability to cope with the contributions of totally professional collaborators, while still retaining a disarming air of ingenuousness, which has sometimes been wrongly characterized as amateurism.

Reviled by the Surrealists as a literary poseur in the 1920s and 1930s and distrusted as an amateur in the 1940s, Cocteau nonetheless produced films of lasting quality. In retrospect he is to be admired for the freedom with which he expressed a wholly personal vision and for his indifference to the given rules of a certain period of French "quality" filmmaking. He was one of the few French filmmakers of the past to whom the directors of the New Wave could turn for inspiration, and it is totally fitting that Cocteau's farewell to cinema, Le Testament d'Orphée, should have been produced by one of the most talented of these newcomers, François Truffaut.

—Roy Armes

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Jean Cocteau

Jean Cocteau

The French writer Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) explored nostalgia for childhood and adolescence, frustration in love, and fear of solitude and death.

Jean Cocteau was born in a suburb of Paris and brought up in a well-to-do home frequented by the artistic notables of the day. As a schoolboy at the Lycée Condorcet, he was anything but a model pupil, but he charmed his teachers by his verve and brilliance. His official debut was at the age of 18, when the renowned actor édouard de Max gave a lecture on Cocteau's poetry. Cocteau soon visited Edmond de Rostand, Anna de Noailles, and Marcel Proust; everybody and everything fashionable attracted him.

When the Russian ballet performed in Paris, Jean Cocteau was there. Soon he proposed to its director, Sergei Diaghilev, a ballet of his own. The resulting Blue God, which was not presented until 1912, was not a success. Not daunted, Cocteau started the ballet David, for which he hoped Igor Stravinsky would do the music. Although the ballet did not materialize, Potomak, a curious prose work of fantasy dedicated to Stravinsky, did get written, and texts composed for both works were finally incorporated in a ballet called Parade. Erik Satie and Pablo Picasso collaborated with Cocteau on this production, for which Guillaume Apollinaire, in a program note, coined the word surrealistic.

After World War I, when Dada and surrealism replaced cubism and the "new spirit," Cocteau played about with the new ideas and techniques without adhering strictly to any group. The mime dramas of The Newlyweds of the Eiffel Tower and The Ox on the Roof as well as the poems of The Cape of Good Hope all demonstrate the manner of the day without, however, following any prescribed formula. Subsequently, in verse Cocteau reverted to more conventional prosody, and in fiction, to an uncomplicated narrative style. The Big Split and Thomas the Impostor present in forthright prose the themes of the author's life and times.

Antigone opened Cocteau's series of neoclassic plays, which enjoyed great success from the late 1920s on with their sophisticated props such as oracular horses, symbolic masks and mirrors, angels, and mannequins. The same trappings would be maintained for his plays of romantic or medieval inspiration and would constitute, as well, recognizable features of Cocteau's films.

In the universe that Cocteau's work evokes, the boundaries between what is real and what is unreal disappear, and none of the conventional oppositions such as life and death or good and bad remains fixed. Enveloping the work is a hallucinatory atmosphere that is characteristic. Cocteau was elected to the French Academy in 1955.

Further Reading

Francis Steegmuller's sympathetic Cocteau (1970) is the most comprehensive biography. Margaret Crosland deliberately avoids gossip in her Jean Cocteau (1955). Neal Oxenhandler in Scandal and Parade: The Theater of Jean Cocteau (1957) expressed indignation at what he considers unfair treatment of Cocteau. Wallace Fowlie is frankly admiring in Jean Cocteau: The History of a Poet's Age (1966). Elizabeth Spigge, collaborating with a French biographer (Jean Jacques Kihm) on Jean Cocteau: The Man and the Mirror (1968), handles her subject with bland discretion. Not so, however, Frederick Brown, whose hostile treatment of Cocteau has given An Impersonation of Angels: A Biography of Jean Cocteau (1968) particular notoriety. Brutal though it is, this is a witty and well-written book.

Additional Sources

Album Masques, Jean Coctea, Paris: Masques, 1983.

Cocteau, Jean, The difficulty of being, New York: Da Capo Press, 1995.

Cocteau, Jean, Souvenir portraits: Paris in the Belle Epoque, New York: Paragon House, 1990.

Peters, Arthur King, Jean Cocteau and the French scen, New York: Abbeville Press, 1984.

Steegmuller, Francis, Cocteau, a biography, Boston: D.R. Godine, 1986, 1970.

Touzot, Jean, Jean Cocteau, Lyon: Manufacture, 1989. □

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Cocteau, Jean

Jean Cocteau (zhäN kôktō´), 1889–1963, French writer, visual artist, and filmmaker. He experimented audaciously in almost every artistic medium, becoming a leader of the French avant-garde in the 1920s. His first great success was the novel Les Enfants Terribles (1929), which he made into a film in 1950. Surrealistic fantasy suffuses his films and many of his novels and plays. Among his best dramatic works are Orphée (1926) and La Machine infernale (1934, tr. 1936), in which the Orpheus and Oedipus myths are surrealistically adapted to modern circumstances. His films include The Blood of a Poet (1933), Beauty and the Beast (1946), and Orphée (1949). Among other works are ballets, sketches, monologues, whimsical drawings, and the text (written with Stravinsky) for the opera-oratorio Oedipus Rex (1927).

See his autobiography; comp. from his writings by R. Phelps (tr. 1970); biographies by F. Brown (1968), E. Sprigge and J.-J. Kihm (1968), and F. Steegmuller (1970); M. Crosland, ed., Cocteau's World (tr. 1972).

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Cocteau, Jean

Cocteau, Jean (1889–1963) French writer and film-maker, an experimental leader of the French avant-garde. He was associated with many leading artistic figures of the 1920s, such as Apollinaire, Picasso, Diaghilev, and Stravinsky. His many successful works of surrealist fantasy include the novel Les enfants terribles (1929; filmed 1950); the plays Orphée (1926; filmed 1950) and La Machine Infernale (1934); and the films Le sang d'un poète (1930) and La belle et la bête (1946).

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Cocteau, Jean

Cocteau, Jean (b Maisons-Laffitte, 1889; d Milly-la-forêt, 1963). Fr. poet, novelist, and playwright, often assoc. with mus. as librettist or propagandist. Wrote scenario for Satie's Parade (1917) and libs. for Honegger's Antigone, Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex, Milhaud's Le Pauvre Matelot, and Poulenc's La Voix humaine, among others.

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"Cocteau, Jean." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . 14 Dec. 2017 <>.

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