Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Paris Journal VII: Jean Cocteau at the Cinematheque Francaise

Photograph: Hallie Cohen
The Cinematheque Francaise was the brain child of Henri Langlois. Along with Andre Bazin’s Cahiers du Cinema, it became the home for New Wave directors like Truffaut, Rivette, Resnais Godard, and Chabrol.  Now housed in a Frank Gehry designed structure, the Cinematheque has come a long way from its humble beginnings and is now as auspicious a part of the French cultural landscape as say the Louvre, the Grand Palais or the Paris Opera. It’s hard to believe that the Cinematheque and the directors who supported it were once the new boys on the block, many of whose early efforts were a rebellion against the techniques and methods by which many French films had previously been made. One could look at Les Quatre cent coups as both a film about adolescence as well as a metaphor for rocky development of an art form. One thing that can also be said about the Cinematheque is that it’s a hundred and eighty degree turn from the quadriplexes in which films are now shown around the world. Even American art houses like Film Forum serve popcorn, but while you can eat in the Cinematheque’s café, there are no concession stands. The Cinematheque is like the Vatican for film buffs and you don’t eat popcorn when visiting  the Holy See. October ll was the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Jean Cocteau the poet, playwright and director and along with an exhibition devoted to his life, the Cinematheque has been showing classics like Le sang d’un poete and La belle et la bete. A newly restored version of the surrealist classic with its statues come to life  recently enchanted a Sunday afternoon audience of children and adults. In the hands of Cocteau the classic fairytale is turned into one of the great essays on sexual initiation and its accompanying landscape of murderous and libidinous wishes. As the current exhibition demonstrates, Cocteau had an enormous impact on both past and present. He and Andre Bazin wrote one of the first books in French on Orson Welles and his poetic vision of cinema was enormously influential on many French directors. Could there have been L’Annee derniere a Marienbad without the surrealist innovations of a film like Beauty and the Beast?

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