The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has an
excellent film series often in conjunction with current exhibitions. For the current show of "The Art
of Lee Miller" through September 14th the so-called Orphic trilogy by Jean Cocteau was screened.
Miller was a model artist and photographer. Born in New York in 1907, she met Man Ray in Paris in
1929 as well as Jean Cocteau. During July the museum screened Cocteau’s films which deal with the saga of
Orpheus beginning with Blood of a Poet
from 1930. The film features Lee Miller who plays a
statue who comes to life. The poet played by Enrique Rivera sketches a mouth onto his hand and later
puts into onto the mouth of Lee Miller. Miller leads him to a mirror symbolizing the portal to his
unconscious where he discovers a series of doors, each one inhabited by curious people: a Mexican
revolutionary who shoots at him, a girl with bells who walks on the ceiling and a Chinese man
After the poet returns he observes a snowball fight, a scene that Cocteau later used
in his novel made into a film directed by Jean Pierre Melville - Les Enfants Terribles
In the second film, Orpheus played by Jean Marais is a modern day French poet revered by his country. At a café
he sees Cegeste (Edouard Dermithe) a younger poet who is the new rage. Cegeste gets drunk and rowdy
and is run over by two men on motorcycles. An elegant woman appears (María Casares) and asks Orpheus to help
her with get Cegeste into the car. Orpheus is mortified when he discovers that Cegeste is dead. But
when they arrive at their destination, Cegeste comes to life. Orpheus returns home, disturbed by the
events he has witnessed. An angel named Heurtebise (François Périer) accompanies him. Orpheus' wife,
Eurydice (Marie Déa) finds her husband changed especially since he spends a lot of time in the
automobile listening to strange poetry written by Cegeste. Orpheus is obsessed by the elegant woman.
She turns out to be the princess of death and she falls in love with
Orpheus. Later she finds a way for the two to come together. Orpheus is attacked by a mob of people
led by the women who worked with Euridice before she was married and is shot dead.
full of magical sequences. "Le Zone", is a weightless space between life and death.
Mortals cling to the wall, just as the poet in the Blood of a Poet
does in the corridor of
doorways. In The Testament of Orpheus
, Cocteau himself comes back from the dead to try to discovery
why poetry is outlawed. He encounters many mythical creatures such as Athena, the goddess of war, a
blind Orpheus and a centaur. In the film are several of Cocteau’s friends, Pablo Picasso and Yul
Brynner, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Serge Lifar, and Charles Aznavour.
Death leads the poet to his
unconscious in Cocteau’s Orphic Trilogy. In most of his films, particularly these three, the poet is
hounded by rationality. Death seems to be a rationale end, not a poetic one. People have orders to
follow in the underworld, cold and calculated. Even the mere presence of a flower is out of place.
So when the watchguards of the underworld fall in love their punishment is not pleasant as
Heurtebise remarks in "Opheus". And Cocteau has fun by breaking the rules. These are films you
can watch over and over because poetry is subject to constant interpretation as we go through the
corridors of life.
For Movie Magazine this is Moira Sullivan
© 2008 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date:
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: Films Honoring Lee Miller