Special Report: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: Films Honoring Lee Miller

By Moira Sullivan
Movie Magazine International
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 smoking opium.
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 (1950) 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.
Orpheus is 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
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San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: Films Honoring Lee Miller