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Jean Cocteau's Orphic Trilogy (The Blood of a Poet / Orpheus / Testament of Orpheus) (The Criterion Collection)

Jean Marais , François Périer , Jean Cocteau    Unrated   DVD
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
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The Blood of a Poet
"A realistic documentary of unreal situations" reads the introductory card of Jean Cocteau's debut film, which recalls the work of the silent surrealists (notably Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí's Un Chien Andalou and L'Âge d'Or). Cocteau uses dream imagery to explore poetry, artistic creation, memory, death, and rebirth in four separate fantasy sequences. In the first scene, an artist confronts his creations when they take on a life of their own. In the second, he dives through a mirror (a primitive but startling effect Cocteau refines for Orpheus) and into a skewed hall where every door reveals a fantastic dream scene. The third sequence finds a gang of boys turning a snowball fight into a cruel war, and in the last an audience gathers to witness a dead boy's resurrection amidst a strange card game. These descriptions do little to communicate the poetry of each segment, which rely on creative imagery to create meaning not in stories but in symbols and metaphors. Cocteau's realization is often stiff and stilted, the work of a visual artist transforming still images into an medium that moves through time, but it's never less than beautiful and evocative. Cocteau returned to many of the same themes in Orpheus and The Testament of Orpheus. --Sean Axmaker

Orpheus
A Parisian poet becomes seduced by the prospect of eternal fame in Jean Cocteau's jazzy 1949 update of the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus. The café set won't give successful Orpheus (Jean Marais) the time of day, so he obliges when the Princess of Death (Maria Casarés) orders him into her Rolls Royce with her injured young protégé. It isn't long before the poet realizes the commanding Princess is no ordinary benefactor of the arts; for one thing, she can travel through mirrors. The next day, Orpheus returns to his frantic wife Eurydice (Marie Déa) with the kindly chauffeur Heurtibise (François Périer), but remains distracted by the Princess and the cryptic messages from her car radio. The equally smitten Princess eventually takes Eurydice before her time, which results in an underworld trial about her actions. To get his wife back, Orpheus must promise to never to look at his wife, but his heart's not in it. This black-and-white film slyly explores the dark side of the creative urge with panache. Dreamy and mesmerizing, it depicts an underworld not too different from everyday life. With subtitles. --Diane Garrett

The Testament of Orpheus
It is the unique power of the cinema to allow a great many people to dream the same dream together and to present illusion to us as if it were strict reality. It is, in short, an admirable vehicle for poetry." Jean Cocteau, at age 70, thus ruminates on the life and purpose of the creative artist in a poetic essay. Cocteau himself stars as a time-traveling poet bopping helplessly through the ages until an experimental scientist grounds him in a kind of never-never land where he defends himself to the judges of Orpheus, dies, and is resurrected to complete his sentence: "condemned to live." Though the film opens with scenes from Orpheus, the series of symbolic encounters and surreal images more resembles The Blood of a Poet. What's different is his cinematic assurance and sly sense of humor: shot through with jokey gags and playful imagery, the film is less philosophical treatise than career summation by way of farewell party. He's invited fictional characters (most of the cast of Orpheus) and real-life friends (cameos range from Brigitte Bardot to Yul Brynner to Pablo Picasso) from his past and present to send him off to an uncertain future. The new Home Vision video and Criterion DVD releases feature the restored color sequence. Cocteau died in 1963, three years after completing the film. --Sean Axmaker

Product Description

Decadent, subversive, and bristling with artistic invention, the myth-born cinema of Jean Cocteau disturbs as much as it charms. Cocteau was the most versatile of artists in prewar Paris. Poet, novelist, playwright, painter, celebrity, and maker of cinema-his many talents converged in bold, dreamlike films that continue to enthrall audiences around the world. In The Blood of Poet, Orpheus, and Testament of Orpheus, Cocteau utilizes the Orphic myth to explore the complex relationships between the artist and his creations, reality and the imagination. The Criterion Collection is proud to present the DVD premiere of the Orphic Trilogy in a special limited-edition three-disc box set.

Blood of a Poet
"Poets . . . shed not only the red blood of their hearts but the white blood of their souls," proclaimed Jean Cocteau of his groundbreaking first film-an exploration of the plight of the artist, the power of metaphor and the relationship between art and dreams. One of cinema's great experiments, this first installment of the Orphic Trilogy stretches the medium to its limits in an effort to capture the poet's obsession with the struggle between the forces of life and death. Criterion is proud to present The Blood of a Poet (Le Sang d'un poète).

Orpheus
Jean Cocteau's 1940s update of the Orphic myth depicts Orpheus (Jean Marais), a famous poet scorned by the Left Bank youth, and his love for both his wife Eurydice (Marie Déa) and the mysterious Princess (Maria Casarès). Seeking inspiration, the poet follows the Princess from the world of the living to the land of the deceased through Cocteau's trademark "mirrored portal." As the myth unfolds, the director's visually poetic style pulls the audience into realms both real and imagined in this, the centerpiece to his Orphic Trilogy. Criterion is proud to present Orpheus (Orphée) in a gorgeous new digital transfer.

Testament of Orpheus
In his last film, legendary writer/artist/filmmaker Jean Cocteau portrays an 18th-century poet who travels through time on a quest for divine wisdom. In a mysterious wasteland, he meets several symbolic phantoms that bring about his death and resurrection. With an eclectic cast that includes Pablo Picasso, Jean-Pierre Leáud, Jean Marais and Yul Brynner, Testament of Orpheus (Le Testament de Orphée) brings full circle the journey Cocteau began in The Blood of a Poet, an exploration of the torturous relationship between the artist and his creations. Criterion is proud to present the last installment of the Orphic Trilogy in a new digital transfer.


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4.0 out of 5 stars a great trilogy. Criterion's first box set also May 16 2004
By Ted
Format:DVD
This is the first box set released by the Criterion Collection. "Brazil" was on three discs but was only one movie so I don't think it counts.
In this 3 disc box set there are 3 feature films by Jean Cocteau.
The Blood of a Poet (Le Sang d'un poète)
Orpheus (Orphée)
The Testament of Orpheus (Le Testament d'Orphée)
Blood of a Poet is a surreal film which is about a painter who ends up having a set of lips growing on his hand.
Orpheus is based on the famous myth depicted in then-modern times. It has some great scenes and was very popular.
Testament of Orpheus is about a poet whotravels through time and visits a post apoctalyptic wasteland.
The set has special features on each disc. There is one hour biography on Jean Cocteau, transcripts of lectures Cocteau gave before screenings of the films, behind the scenes photos of Blood of a Poet, bibliography and filmography of Cocteau, and the 36 minute film La Villa Santo-Sospir.
The films also have some cool reverse-motion effects which show actions in reverse, some of the reverse scenes are of a man jumping into a lake, a flower being crumbled in someone's hand and a few others. This box set is a great release and is a MUST for Cocteau fans.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Orphic, but not a Trilogy April 18 2003
Format:DVD
Criterion notwithstanding, this collection of three movies directed by Jean Cocteau is no trilogy. Rather the three works represent three quite different views of the Poet-the prototypic artistic creator for Cocteau--at three different moments in his career. The first, Blood of a Poet (1930) released at the same time as L'Age d'Or of Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali-both pictures were financed by the wealthy patron of the arts, the Vicomte de Noailles-is the most "Orphic" of three, and like L'Age d'Or very much in the vein of French experimental films of the 1920s, with an abundance of symbolism and rejection of conventional narrative syntax. Less radically innovative than L'Age d'Or, Blood of a Poet is like a brilliant book of sketches, some of which work, some of which don't.
Cocteau made no films for over a decade, and only returned to the cinema during the Occupation with The Eternal Return, for which he wrote the screenplay. Although directed by Jean Delannoy, the film was clearly Cocteau's own creation, and marked both the beginning of a period of fertile cinematic collaboration with Jean Marais and a new phase in Cocteau's contributions to film. The masterpiece of this period is, of course, Orpheus (1949). Cocteau had begun in Blood of a Poet by radically breaking with realism. Now he set about showing how the images of modern life could be invested with a mythic power of their own.
In The Eternal Return, Cocteau had put the story of Tristan and Yseult into a modern setting, but without the least hint of irony. In updating the myth of Orpheus to post-World War II Paris, however, he adopted a very different strategy. The Thracian singer becomes a rich and famous writer (Jean Marais) who supplies exactly what the public looks for in literature.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Orpheus Oct. 23 2002
Format:DVD
Let me start off by saying that the trilogy itself is a treasure, well worth the price to have these three spectaculary surreal masterpieces in one set and having Criterion give it their famous treatment (even though we reeeeally need to include more extras). My review at the moment is regarding the midle film, 'Orpheus'. You might all be a little familiar with the greek myth by now as I was, but Cocteau's treatment and interpretation are simply stunning. The film by itself is fascinating, I think it has that kind of quality that some foreign films have that whether or not you're used to subtitles you will enjoy the film. Jean Marris (Cocteau's real life lover) is fascinating in the role of Orpheus. Even though the role doesn't seem that complicated and I see him more as a medium with which Cocteau comunicates all that he wants to say about beauty, death, love and above all art. I think that is the basic question the movie brings up: what exactly is art? what makes good art? and how big a role does love play in the artistic process? But those are just hidden treats throughout the movie, and those who pay most attention are the ones who will notice that the movie is indeed deep and fascinating in its own respect. The sequences where Orpheus descends into death's underworld are simply fascinating to experience. Cocteau seems to retry some of the cinematic 'tricks' from his 'Blood of a Poet' and manages to invent some new ones in the process, this aspect is also fun to watch and adds a level of technical wizardry to an already beautiful and stunningly surreal masterpiece. The cinematography is at times also very good, some of the shots are composed in a very difficult way it may seem, and we wonder what exactly is behind the decisions to film in that particular way. Read more ›
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5.0 out of 5 stars Regarding "Blood Of a Poet" Sept. 24 2001
Format:DVD
Jean Cocteau, who would later go on to direct such classics as "Orpheus" and "Beauty and the Beast" began with this short (50min.) non-narrative film. "Blood of a Poet" (included in Criterion's "Orphic Trilogy" in a solid print) explores the figurative and literal blood and sweat that goes into creating a work of art. The film starts with an image of a tall chimney as it starts collapsing (an image that will now probably be impossible to separate from the World Trade Center collapsing) and then shifts to an artist that is painting a portrait. The film then follows this artist as he literally becomes one with his art (the portrait's mouth attaches itself to his hand), as he falls into the world on the other side of the mirror (where he sees such things as an opium den and a child being whipped and implored to take flight), and as he eventually shoots himself in the head to receive "eternal glory", and is immortalized in the form of a statue.
The film the shifts to a schoolyard where the statue of the artist is sitting, as a snowball fight erupts. One young child is knocked out and left bloody after the fight. Then the schoolyard reveals itself as a stage with noble spectators. A poet and a woman begin to play cards. The woman tells the poet "If you do not have the Ace of Hearts, then you are lost." The poet, realizing he doesn't have it, pickpockets it from the unconscious boy. Then the boy's guardian angel appears, covers the boy, and takes back his Ace. The poet, without the Ace, kills himself. The crowd applauds. The woman reveals herself to be Death, and wanders off talking of the mortal desire for immortality. We then see the chimney from the film's start collapse completely, suggesting the artist's dilemma lasted only a few seconds.
The film is exceptionally vivid.
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