The Petrified Fountain of Thought

Jean Cocteau’s La belle et la bête is one of the most beautiful films ever produced. If you think it is simply a black and white version of the Disney Beauty and the Beast, yes, you are wrong. Cocteau’s 1946 creation is soft, dreamlike, and romantic. It touches on surrealism, Jungian, and Freudian psychology. Each frame is sublime, yet compositionally erratic. Figures are askew, foreground objects hide the main action, and lighting is intentionally operatic. The intention is to create a narrative that is similar to a dream: symbols and the hidden information produce meaning.

The overt theme is that there is good in everyone. However, the characters all behave, at times, cruelly. The Cocteau version is about complex and contradictory behavior. There is subterfuge, hidden agenda, and betrayal mixed with compassion and kindness. Understanding the timing here is important. Cocteau produced La belle et la bête one year after the end of World War II. France was recovering from Nazi occupation, the puppet Vichy Regime, and years of combat. The war forced the French population into complex and unwelcome alliances to survive. The story can be viewed as one of understanding and sensitivity, or a Stockholm syndrome kidnapping. The duality mixed with the surreal set of symbols sets this apart from a simple fairy tale.

C'est le ton qui fait la musique

In honor of Bastille Day, I am posting scenes from the incredible film, Playtime, directed by Jacques Tati. Tati’s Monsieur Hulot films have a running theme of cold modernism and urbanity interrupted by human nature. I’ve never particularly understood the Playtime’s plot. It’s in French, so that’s an issue for me. But, nothing seems to happen. Monsieur Hulot is put in a series of funny situations and the sets are wonderful. I know they are supposed to be cold and sterile. They represent the decay of true non-conformity and human creativity. I, however, love them. So much glass, steel, and modern devices can only be good for people.

Paris is Burning

If you've seen the movie 2012, don't. I don't expect a movie about the entire world collapsing due to crustal displacement to be very realistic, but this one pushed it beyond the limit. I spent the entire movie saying, "Yeah, right," or "You have got to be joking." The biggest tragedy is when a Citroén DS is destroyed. Of course, the director of the Louvre drives a vintage Citroen DS. Don't all French people? And the British only drive Jaguars. See, "Yeah, right."

The Citroén DS is a sublime piece of sculpture. The first model was released in 1955. Production ceased in 1975. For those who appreciate an intellectual, rather than aesthetic, point of view, Roland Barthes wrote about the Citroén in 1957. In response to its showing at the Paris Auto Show, Barthes writes, "The object here is totally prostituted, appropriated: originating from the heaven of Metropolis, the Goddess is in a quarter of an hour mediatized, actualizing through this exorcism the very essence of petit-bourgeois advancement." To which I respond, "Yeah? Of course."