The Blood of a Poet (1930, dir. Jean Cocteau)


2023 52-week film challenge, film 11

Jean Cocteau, renaissance man and “poet” of film, theatre, writing (including poetry), designing and more was a truly remarkable human being, a leader in the surrealist and art movements, and one of the most influential men in the arts of the 20th century. Among his numerous other achievements, he really helped advance the idea of film as an art form and not just a storytelling form.

Probably best known among cinephiles for his 1946 film of Beauty and the Beast, until recently I was unaware that his two later Orpheus films were intended as the middle and end of a three-film trilogy, beginning with his first film, The Blood of a Poet.

It is a very experimental and surrealist film that broke a lot of ground in its day for special effects; some have aged less well than others, but a lot of this remains impressive and frankly more effective than zillion-dollar CGI jobs you know aren’t at all real. The work involved in pulling off some of this at the time must have been painstaking.

The “story,” such as it is, is that of a handsome and perennially shirtless male artist who is invited by one of his statues to fall into the mirror and pass through to the other side, where a series of strange tableaus unfold. I suspect it is meant as a metaphor for the creative inspiration process, both the downside where the ideas aren’t coming or don’t work, alongside the chasing of inspiration and realisation.

It’s gorgeous to look at, if hard to quite grasp. It’s certainly a surrealist film, and the only one I’ve seen that has an occasional narrator. Cocteau explores several techniques and ideas himself over the course of this 51-minute film, making it rather disjointed and occasionally confusing — but it’s hard to take your eyes off it.