Cocteau Doc-Show

10 Sep 2013: Jean Cocteau: Autobiography of an Unknown (DVD, 1984, Edgardo Cozarinsky)

“A poet who isn’t dead is an anachronism,” Cocteau said prior to a screening of The Blood of a Poet in 1939, per a transcript of his speech on the Criterion disc of the film, and this documentary, made many years after he died, very effectively explores his life, work and philosophy (ripe with many other such quipped profundities) at what he might then agree was the proper time for an autobiography. Rather than employ the traditional talking heads to dispense their impressions and recollections of the man, he and his work are allowed to speak for themselves, albeit from the grave and through pre-existing film footage of him at home, in his studio and elsewhere. One gets a sense of the great extent to which his films are a pure extension of his personality, for he expresses himself in much the same tone as his art, with words that could serve almost as well as a voice-over in one of his own films. It is extremely refreshing to hear an artist speak of his life with any degree of thoughtfulness whatsoever, when surfeits of made-for-DVD featurettes and duplicate newspaper interviews with directors and actors (and musicians etc.) from the past ten to fifteen years could reasonably convince readers and listeners that “creative people” are some of the most banal and uninspired personalities on the planet. Cocteau has no patience for trivial truisms about the business or wanting to entertain – as far as both of us are concerned, nor should anybody else when it comes to art. It’s easy enough to come to love Cocteau through his few films if one is so disposed, but this splendid documentary rounds out the picture with thoughts, paintings and historical background that taken together (and seamlessly edited, as they are here, even when jumping between different times of the subject’s life – not to mention between color and lack thereof of archival footage) enchant the viewer just about as much as one of his features.

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