Jean Cocteau

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Jean Cocteau

Born Jean Maurice Eugène Clément Cocteau
5 July 1889(1889-07-05)
Maisons-Laffitte, France
Died 11 October 1963 (aged 74)
Milly-la-Foret, France
Partner Jean Marais

Jean Maurice Eugène Clément Cocteau (5 July 1889 – 11 October 1963) was a French poet, novelist, dramatist, designer, boxing manager, playwright and filmmaker. Along with other Surrealists of his generation (Jean Anouilh and René Char for example) Cocteau grappled with the "algebra" of verbal codes old and new, mise en scène language and technologies of modernism to create a paradox: a classical avant-garde. His circle of associates, friends and lovers included Pablo Picasso, Jean Marais, Henri Bernstein, Édith Piaf, whom he cast in one of his one act plays entitled Le Bel Indifferent in 1940, and Raymond Radiguet.

His work was played out in the theatrical world of the Grands Theatres, the Boulevards and beyond during the Parisian epoque he both lived through and helped define and create. His versatile, unconventional approach and enormous output brought him international acclaim.


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Cocteau was born in Maisons-Laffitte, a small village near Paris to Georges Cocteau and his wife Eugénie Lecomte, a prominent Parisian family. His father was a lawyer and amateur painter, who committed suicide when Cocteau was nine. At the age of fifteen, Cocteau left home. Despite his achievements in virtually all literary and artistic fields, Cocteau insisted that he was primarily a poet and that all his work was poetry. He published his first volume of poems, Aladdin's Lamp, at nineteen. Soon Cocteau became known in the 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..."

In his early twenties, Cocteau became associated with the writers Marcel Proust, André Gide, and Maurice Barrès. During the Great war Cocteau served in the Red Cross as an ambulance driver. This was the period in which he met the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, Pablo Picasso, artist Amedeo Modigliani and numerous other writers and artists with whom he later collaborated. The Russian ballet-master Sergei Diaghilev challenged Cocteau to write a scenario for the ballet - "Astonish me," he urged. This resulted in Parade which was produced by Diaghilev, designed by Pablo Picasso, and composed by Erik Satie in 1917. An important exponent of Surrealism, he had great influence on the work of others, including the group of composer friends in Montparnasse known as Les Six. The word Surrealism was coined, in fact, by Guillaume Apollinaire in the prologue to Les mamelles de Tirésias , a work begun in 1903 and completed in 1917 less than a year before he died.[1] "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." Cocteau denied being a Surrealist or being in any way attached to the movement.[citation needed]

[edit] Friendship with Raymond Radiguet

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. In admiration of Radiguet's great literary talent, Cocteau promoted his friend's works in his artistic circle and also 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 garner the "Nouveau Monde" literary prize for the novel. Some contemporaries and later commentators thought there might have been a romantic component to their friendship.[2] Cocteau himself was aware of this perception, and worked earnestly to dispel the notion that their relationship was sexual in nature.[3]

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." His opium addiction at the time,[4] 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, Diary of an Addict, 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.

[edit] The Human Voice

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 Poetiques 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 1500s) 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, in a nutshell, represents Cocteau's state of mind and feelings towards his actors at the time: on the one hand, he desired 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 of the same name, Gian Carlo Menotti's "opera bouffa" Le Telephone and Roberto Rosselini's film version in Italian with Anna Magnani L'Amore (segment: "Il Miracolo") (1948), to name the high point. There has also been a long line of interpreters including Simone Signoret, Ingrid Bergman and Liv Ullmann (in the play) and Julia Migenes (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.[5] "When, in 1930, the Comedie-Française produced his La Voix Humaine...Cocteau disavowed both literary right and literary left, as if to say, "I'm standing as far right as Bernstein, in his very place, but it is an optical illusion: the avant-garde is spheroid and I've gone farther left than anyone else."

[edit] Maturity

In the 1930s, Cocteau had an unlikely affair with Princess Natalie Paley, the beautiful daughter of a Romanov grand duke and herself a fashion-plate, sometimes actress, model, and former wife of couturier Lucien Lelong. She became pregnant. To Cocteau's distress and Paley's life-long regret, the fetus was aborted. Cocteau's longest-lasting relationships were with the French actors Jean Marais and Edouard Dermit, whom Cocteau formally adopted. Cocteau cast Marais in The Eternal Return (1943), Beauty and the Beast, Ruy Blas (1947) and Orpheus (1949).

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 friends with most of the European art community. He struggled with an opium addiction for most of his adult life and was openly gay, though he had a few brief and complicated affairs with women other than Paley (including, some say, Piaf). He published a considerable amount of work criticising homophobia.

Cocteau's films, most of which he both wrote and directed, were particularly important in introducing Surrealism into French cinema and influenced to a certain degree the upcoming French New Wave genre.

Cocteau is best known for his 1929 play Les enfants terribles, the 1948 film Les parents terribles, and the films Beauty and the Beast, (1946) and Orpheus (1949).

Cocteau died of a heart attack at his chateau in Milly-la-Foret, France, on 11 October 1963 at the age of 74, only hours after hearing of the death of his friend, the French singer Édith Piaf. He is buried beneath the floor of the Chapelle Saint Blaise Des Simples in Milly La Foret, Essonne, France. The epitaph on his gravestone set in the floor of the chapel reads: "I stay among you" ("Je reste avec vous").

[edit] Honours and awards

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.

[edit] Filmography

[edit] Works

[edit] Literature

  • 1909 La Lampe d'Aladin
  • 1910 Le Prince frivole
  • 1912 La Danse de Sophocle
  • 1919 Ode à Picasso - Le Cap de Bonne-Espérance
  • 1920 Escale. Poésies (1917-1920)
  • 1922 Vocabulaire
  • 1923 La Rose de François - Plain-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 sept - La Nappe du Catalan (en collaboration avec Georges Hugnet)
  • 1953 Dentelles d'éternité - Appoggiatures
  • 1954 Clair-obscur
  • 1958 Paraprosodies
  • 1961 Cérémonial espagnol du Phénix - La Partie d'échecs
  • 1962 Le Requiem
  • 1968 Faire-Part (posthume)
Poetry and Criticism
  • 1918 Le Coq et l'Arlequin
  • 1920 Carte blanche
  • 1922 Le Secret professionnel
  • 1926 Le Rappel à l'ordre - Lettre à Jacques Maritain
  • 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 artistes - La Difficulté d'être
  • 1949 Lettres aux Américains - Reines 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 1Template:Er mai
  • 1959 Poésie critique I
  • 1960 Poésie critique II
  • 1962 Le Cordon ombilical
  • 1963 La Comtesse de Noailles, oui et non
  • 1964 Portrait 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)

[edit] Film

Dialogue Writer
Director of Photography

[edit] Poetry Illustrator

  • 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 Menton - La Chapelle Saint-Pierre (lithographies)
  • 1959 : Gondol des morts
  • 1960 : Chapelle Saint-Blaise-des-Simples, Milly-la-Forêt
  • Années 1960 : Windows of the Église Saint-Maximin de Metz

[edit] Recordings

  • 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, 16/09/1963 à Milly-la-Forêt, Bel Air 311035
  • Les enfants terribles, radio version with Jean Marais, Josette Day, Sylvia Montfort 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

[edit] Journals

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

[edit] Stamps

[edit] Bibliography

  • 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 Publishing Corp., 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.A. 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

[edit] References

  1. ^ Surreal Lives
  2. ^ James S. Williams. Jean Cocteau. p. p.32. 
  3. ^ 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" 
  4. ^ Jean Cocteau Biography - Jean Cocteau Website
  5. ^ Brown, Frederick,An Impersonation of Angels: A Biography of Jean Cocteau, The Viking Press, New York, p.170

[edit] External links

NAME Cocteau, Jean
SHORT DESCRIPTION French poet, novelist, dramatist, designer, boxing manager and filmmaker
DATE OF BIRTH 5 July 1889
PLACE OF BIRTH Maisons-Laffitte, France
DATE OF DEATH 11 October 1963
PLACE OF DEATH Milly-la-Foret, France

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