Jean Cocteau, as well as being a filmmaker, was also a poet, dramatist, designer and artist- this is all easy to see throughout his 1946 original adaptation, Le Belle et le Bête. He said, “The only jurisdiction to which a film should be subject concerns its style and its expressive power. The rest is a mystery and will always remain so.” (Cocteau) implying how film should be led by it’s emotive visual style. Romance is a strong theme throughout the film, and this is shown very visually through the soft, pre-Raphaelite style of Belle herself and the drapery in her clothing and bedroom at the Beast’s châteaux. (fig 1)(fig2)
(fig 2) Ophelia
Costume and Décor designer Christian Bérard was perfect for the film. “In Bérard, Cocteau had found a new fellow master of fantasy, an antimodern, neobaroque successor” (Steegmuller). Having a background in fashion design and fashion illustration, his designs and concept art had unique elements to them, having been done in chalk and gauche on black paper (fig 3).
|(fig 3) Concept Art for Le Belle et Le Bette|
Cocteau saw how unique Bérnard’s work was and tried to keep as close to it as possible in the actual film. Many scenes still have that ‘white on black’ feel, such as scenes which take part in the hallway with the arm candelabrum, and in the dining room. This really draws the viewer’s attention to the key elements of the scenes. It gives the film a dark mysery, rarely being able to see the floor or walls (fig 4)(fig 5)
|(fig 4 & 5) Stills from Le Bette et Le Belle|
It is clear that a lot of thought has gone into each element of the film, with the costumes handmade in the fashion house of Lanvin, making it such a large influence on Avant Gard cinema today. Cocteau really wanted to push the idea of something out of the ordinary happening, the film itself starting with a statement telling viewers to view the film with a child like open mind. Cocteau said, of his cinematographer Henri Alekan, "I'm pushing Alekan in precisely the opposite direction from what fools think is poetic," showing how much Cocteau was trying to fight convention. It is this persistence to not conform that has given the film, and Cocteau himself such an influential status.
Cocteau, J at http://www.talentpress.org/story/63/3663.html?cmf=1
(fig 1) Still from Le Belle et le Bête http://www.moviemail.com/film/dvd/La-Belle-et-la-Bete-Remastered/
(fig 2) Ophelia, Arthur Hughes (1865) http://www.essentialart.com/acatalog/Arthur_Hughes_Ophelia_1865.html
Steegmuller, F, (1991), On the Making of Beauty and the Beast http://www.criterion.com/current/posts/17-on-the-making-of-beauty-and-the-beast
(fig 3) Concept Art by Christian Bérard (1946) http://venetianred.net/category/textiles/fashion/
(fig 4) Still from Le Belle et le Béte http://www.mtholyoke.edu/~lascanne/jean_cocteau_1.html
(fig 5) Still from Le Belle et le Béte
Cocteau, J at http://www.theguardian.com/film/1999/jul/01/1