The characters referenced in Woody Allen’s movie “Midnight in Paris” (Part 31, Jean Cocteau)

I have enjoyed Woody Allen’s latest movie “Midnight in Paris.” Going through all the characters referenced has been a real education. Today I am discussing Jean Cocteau. There is a scene in the movie when Gil is invited by Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald to attend a party hosted by Jean Cocteau. They all jump into a back of a car with Cole Porter and the Spanish bull fighter Juan Belmonte (who was personal friends of Ernest Heminingway) and take off to the Cocteau party where they see the famous Josephine Baker dance.

File:Jean Cocteau.jpg

Jean Maurice Eugène Clément Cocteau
5 July 1889
Maisons-Laffitte, France
Died 11 October 1963 (aged 74)
Milly-la-Foret, France
Partner Panama Al Brown(?)
Jean Marais (1937–1963)

Jean Maurice Eugène Clément Cocteau (French pronunciation: [ʒɑ̃ kɔkto]; 5 July 1889 – 11 October 1963) was a French poetnovelist,dramatistdesignerboxing manager, playwrightartist and filmmaker. Along with other avant-garde artists of his generation (Jean Anouilhand René Char for example) Cocteau grappled with the algebra of verbal codes old and new, mise en scène language and technologies ofmodernism to create a paradox: a classical avant-garde.[citation needed] His circle of associates, friends and lovers included Kenneth Anger,Pablo PicassoJean HugoJean MaraisHenri BernsteinMarlene DietrichCoco ChanelErik SatieMaría FélixÉdith Piaf (whom he cast in one of his one-act plays entitled Le Bel Indifferent in 1940), and Raymond Radiguet.

His work was played out in the theatrical world of the Grands Theatres, the Boulevards and beyond during the Parisian epoque he both lived through and helped define and create. His versatile, unconventional approach and enormous output brought him international acclaim.

Cocteau was born in Maisons-LaffitteYvelines, once a small village near Paris to Georges Cocteau and his wife Eugénie Lecomte, a prominent Parisian family. His father was a lawyer and amateur painter, who committed suicide when Cocteau was nine. He left home at age fifteen. Despite his achievements in virtually all literary and artistic fields, Cocteau insisted that he was primarily a poet and that all his work was poetry. He published his first volume of poems, Aladdin’s Lamp, at nineteen. Soon Cocteau became known in the Bohemian artistic circles as ‘The Frivolous Prince’—the title of a volume he published at twenty-two. Edith Wharton described him as a man “to whom every great line of poetry was a sunrise, every sunset the foundation of the Heavenly City…”[citation needed]

In his early twenties, Cocteau became associated with the writers Marcel ProustAndré Gide, and Maurice Barrès. In 1912 he collaborated withLéon Bakst to produce Le Dieu bleu for the Ballets Russes – the principal dancers being Tamara Karsavina and Vaslav Nijinsky. During World War I Cocteau served in the Red Cross as an ambulance driver. This was the period in which he met the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, artists Pablo Picasso and Amedeo Modigliani, and numerous other writers and artists with whom he later collaborated. The Russian ballet-master Sergei Diaghilev challenged Cocteau to write a scenario for the ballet – “Astonish me,”[citation needed] he urged. This resulted in Parade which was produced by Diaghilev, designed by Picasso, and composed by Erik Satie in 1917. An important exponent of avant-garde art, he had great influence on the work of others, including the group of composer friends in Montparnasse known as Les six. “If it had not been for Apollinaire in uniform,” wrote Cocteau, “with his skull shaved, the scar on his temple and the bandage around his head, women would have gouged our eyes out with hairpins.”[citation needed] Cocteau denied being a Surrealist or being in any way attached to the movement.[citation needed]

Portrait of Jean Cocteau by Federico de Madrazo de Ochoa

[edit]Friendship with Raymond Radiguet

In 1918 he met the French poet Raymond Radiguet. They collaborated extensively, socialized, and undertook many journeys and vacations together. Cocteau also got Radiguet exempted from military service. In admiration of Radiguet’s great literary talent, Cocteau promoted his friend’s works in his artistic circle and also arranged for the publication by Grasset of Le Diable au corps (a largely autobiographical story of an adulterous relationship between a married woman and a younger man), exerting his influence to have the novel awarded the “Nouveau Monde” literary prize. Some contemporaries and later commentators thought there might have been a romantic component to their friendship.[1] Cocteau himself was aware of this perception, and worked earnestly to dispel the notion that their relationship was sexual in nature.[2]

There is disagreement over Cocteau’s reaction to Radiguet’s sudden death in 1923, with some claiming that it left him stunned, despondent and prey toopium addiction. Opponents of that interpretation point out that he did not attend the funeral (he generally did not attend funerals) and immediately left Paris with Diaghilev for a performance of Les noces (The Wedding) by the Ballets Russes at Monte Carlo. Cocteau himself much later characterised his reaction as one of “stupor and disgust.”[citation needed] His opium addiction at the time,[3] Cocteau said, was only coincidental, due to a chance meeting with Louis Laloy, the administrator of the Monte Carlo Opera. Cocteau’s opium use and his efforts to stop profoundly changed his literary style. His most notable book,Les Enfants terribles, was written in a week during a strenuous opium weaning. In Opium, Diary of an Addict, he recounts the experience of his recovery from opium addiction in 1929. His account, which includes vivid pen-and-ink illustrations, alternates between his moment-to-moment experiences of drug withdrawal and his current thoughts about people and events in his world. Cocteau was supported throughout his recovery by his friend and correspondent philosopher Jacques Maritain. Under Maritain’s influence Cocteau made a temporary return to the sacraments of the Catholic Church.

[edit]The Human Voice

Cocteau’s experiments with the human voice peaked with his play La Voix humaine. The story involves one woman on stage speaking on the telephone with her (invisible and inaudible) departing lover, who is leaving her to marry another woman. The telephone proved to be the perfect prop for Cocteau to explore his ideas, feelings, and “algebra” concerning human needs and realities in communication.

Cocteau acknowledged in the introduction to the script that the play was motivated, in part, by complaints from his actresses that his works were too writer/director-dominated and gave the players little opportunity to show off their full range of talents. La Voix humaine was written, in effect, as an extravagant aria for Madame Berthe Bovy. Before came Orphée, later turned into one of his more successful films; after came La Machine infernale, arguably his most fully realized work of art. La Voix humaine is deceptively simple—a woman alone on stage for almost one hour of non-stop theatre speaking on the telephone with her departing lover. It is, in fact, full of theatrical codes harking back to the Dadaists’ Vox Humana experiments after World War One, Alphonse de Lamartine’s “La Voix humaine”, part of his larger work Harmonies poétiques et religieuses and the effect of the creation of the Vox Humana (“voix humaine”), an organ stop of the Regal Class by Church organ masters (late 16th century) that attempted to imitate the human voice but never succeeded in doing better than the sound of a male chorus at a distance.

Reviews varied at the time and since but whatever the critique, the play represents Cocteau’s state of mind and feelings towards his actors at the time: on the one hand, he wanted to spoil and please them; on the other, he was fed up by their diva antics and was ready for revenge. It is also true that none of Cocteau’s works has inspired as much imitation: Francis Poulenc‘s opera La Voix humaineGian Carlo Menotti‘s “opera bouffa” The Telephone and Roberto Rosselini‘s film version in Italian with Anna Magnani L’Amore (1948). There has also been a long line of interpreters including Simone SignoretIngrid Bergman and Liv Ullmann (in the play) and Julia Migenes (in the opera).

According to one theory about how Cocteau was inspired to write La Voix humaine, he was experimenting with an idea by fellow French playwright Henri Bernstein.[4] “When, in 1930, theComedie-Française produced his La Voix humaine… Cocteau disavowed both literary right and literary left, as if to say, ‘I’m standing as far right as Bernstein, in his very place, but it is an optical illusion: the avant-garde is spheroid and I’ve gone farther left than anyone else.'”[citation needed]


In the 1930s, Cocteau had an affair with Princess Natalie Paley, the beautiful daughter of a Romanov grand duke and herself a sometimes actress, model, and former wife of couturierLucien Lelong. She became pregnant. To Cocteau’s distress and Paley’s life-long regret, the fetus was aborted. Cocteau’s longest-lasting relationships were with the French actors Jean Marais and Edouard Dermithe, whom Cocteau formally adopted. Cocteau cast Marais in The Eternal Return (1943), Beauty and the Beast (1946), Ruy Blas (1947), and Orpheus (1949).

During the Nazi occupation of France, Cocteau’s friend Arno Breker convinced him that Adolf Hitler was a pacifist and patron of the arts with France’s best interests in mind. In his diary, Cocteau accused France of disrespect towards Hitler and speculated on the Führer’s sexuality. Cocteau effusively praised Breker’s sculptures in an article entitled ‘Salut à Breker’ published in 1942. This piece caused him to be arraigned on charges of collaboration after the war, though he was cleared of any wrongdoing and had in fact used his contacts to attempt to save friends such as Max Jacob.[5]

Éric Satie Parade, théme de Jean Cocteau

In 1940, Le Bel Indifférent, Cocteau’s play written for and starring Édith Piaf, was enormously successful. He also worked with Pablo Picasso on several projects and was friends with most of the European art community. Cocteau’s films, most of which he both wrote and directed, were particularly important in introducing the avant-garde into French cinema and influenced to a certain degree the upcoming French New Wave genre.

Cocteau is best known for his novel Les Enfants terribles (1929), and the films Blood of a Poet (1930), Les Parents terribles (1948), Beauty and the Beast(1946), and Orpheus (1949).

Cocteau died of a heart attack at his chateau in Milly-la-ForêtEssonneFrance, on 11 October 1963 at the age of 74. It is said that upon hearing of the death of his friend, the French singer Édith Piaf the same day, he choked so badly that his heart failed. He is buried beneath the floor of the Chapelle Saint Blaise Des Simples in Milly-la-Forêt. The epitaph on his gravestone set in the floor of the chapel reads: “I stay with you” (“Je reste avec vous”).


Midnight in Paris begins with a Manhattan-esque montage of the titular city, and after so many consecutive duds, Woody Allen has finally rediscovered (and relocated) the vital essence that traces back to his very best films. Don’t mistake his latest for a nostalgic throwback, though–in fact, it’s something of an essay on the dangerous intoxication of nostalgic throwbacks. Take it, too, as fair indication that Allen has shared our frustrations with his recent output and knew that the only way to get out of his rut was to confront the spectre of his earlier work. While he probably hates himself for it, it was bound to happen sooner or later: the pull of the past is simply too great to resist. Here, Manhattan becomes Paris, Paris becomes Manhattan, and we’re left to wonder what, exactly, that’s supposed to mean in the long run. Allen projects himself onto a younger avatar, who in turn projects himself onto the artists who came before him, who in turn have their own projections to deal with. As usual, Allen stops the action cold to explain his theses in a brief monologue, but for the first time in a long time, it feels necessary. It feels like legitimate self-criticism.

Hollywood screenwriter Gil (Owen Wilson) is struggling through a novel, convinced that he would’ve seen greater artistic success had he sacrificed the big paydays for a little more time spent daydreaming in the City of Lights. He returns there for a mini-vacation, and after several frustrating nights in the company of selfish fiancé Inez (Rachel McAdams), Gil wanders alone in search of inspiration. On a random street corner, he’s picked up by an old-timey car and transported to 1920s Paris, where he meets a who’s who of the era’s cultural elite: F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston), Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), Salvador Dalí (Adrien Brody), Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), and what seems like every other major artist of the early twentieth century. Naturally, they love his gaping naïveté and (obnoxious) hero worship. He gets to show off his work to some pretty big names and maybe even enjoy an affair with resident muse Adriana (Marion Cotillard), though as these excursions continue, they demonstrate little purpose beyond fulfilling the writer’s desire for self-gratification. (In a brief stay back in his own reality, Gil uses his newfound historical knowledge to take the piss out of a pompous, wannabe art critic (Michael Sheen) with eyes on Inez.) Would it have been possible for someone to meet all of these artists in the same place in such rapid succession? More importantly, does Gil make any real progress on his much-ballyhooed novel? It doesn’t really matter, because if he’s getting all this attention from these idols, well, he must be a good writer.

Gil’s superficial interactions in yesteryear mirror his relationships in the modern day. If we are to conclude that Inez is wrong for Gil, then we must also ask why they got engaged in the first place. Early political conversations with his future father-in-law (Kurt Fuller) reveal an unwillingness to engage opposing viewpoints, while Gil’s flirtation with a local merchant (Léa Seydoux) only seems to transpire because he thinks the romantic setting demands it. “‘Prufrock’ is my mantra,” Gil says upon meeting T.S. Eliot, unaware of just how well he embodies that poem as an aging romantic, an interloper gawking impotently as the women come and go, talking of Michelangelo. The entire thing is an exercise in intellectual tourism and impossible fever dreams (as all art may be, the film’s wink of an ending suggests) Allen understands only too well. Ultimately, Midnight in Parisis about the struggle to figure out where the “true self” emerges from a cacophony of influences and preconceived notions of an unlived past.

In other words, the film follows through on the career retrospective Allen promised with Whatever Works. He recognizes nostalgia as poisonous to his craft, yet at the same time, he can’t suppress his curiosity over revisiting his old stuff. In the movie’s funniest moment, Gil pitches The Exterminating Angel to a confused Luis Buñuel (Adrien de Van), and suddenly Woody appears overly concerned about what Bergman and Fellini thought about his own pastiches of the same. (Does he feel differently about them, and their impact on him, now that they’re dead?)) Armed with the appropriate time and distance, Woody takes a good, long look at his career and the man he used to be, and despite decades of denial, he betrays his desire to understand what he has accomplished and what he’ll leave behind. Does he regard his younger self as a separate entity? What has he really learned in his career as an artist? Thankfully, unlike his last few films, Midnight in Paris actually explores these themes and lets enough questions linger to keep it interesting. It’s almost as if Allen decided to punish himself with the power of true introspection. After all’s said and done, it’s not hard to imagine him traveling back in time to visit his much younger self–a much more persuasive artistic force–to tell him how much he loves his movies… particularly the early, funny ones. Truly, we have come full circle.Ian Pugh

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