RETRO REVIEW: LA BELLE ET LA BETE: Jean Cocteau’s Masterpiece of Gothic Fantasy Gets Rare Big Screen Treatment at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema

Posted on: Apr 7th, 2014 By:

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (LA BELLE ET LA BÊTE) (1946); Dir. Jean Cocteau; Starring Jean Marais and Josette Day; Tuesday, April 7 @ 7:00 p.m.; Landmark Midtown Art Cinema; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

As part of their Midtown Cinema Classics series, the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema is bringing one of the greatest works of filmed fantasy to the big screen in a stunning new digital restoration: Jean Cocteau’s immortal BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.

“Children believe what we tell them. They have complete faith in us. They believe that a rose plucked from a garden can plunge a family into conflict. They believe that the hands of a human beast will smoke when he slays a victim, and that this will cause him shame when a young maiden takes up residence in his home. They believe a thousand other simple things.

“I ask of you a little of this childlike sympathy and, to bring us luck, let me speak four truly magic words, childhood’s ‘Open Sesame’:

“Once upon a time…”

Jean Cocteau

Painter, poet, novelist, designer, filmmaker: all these and more were the simultaneous identities of Jean Cocteau, an artist so brilliant that one medium could not contain the full range of his talent. And much like the man himself, the handful of films he created transcend any categorization or pigeonholing. They are poems written in light and shadow; full of visionary imagery and drawing from painterly influences to create moving works of art that continue to resonate through the years. His films are bountiful feasts that fill your plate every time you return to the table. And while this is particularly true of his Orphic trilogy (THE BLOOD OF A POET, ORPHEUS and TESTAMENT OF ORPHEUS), those films—as great as they are—stand in the shadow of his singular masterpiece, LA BELLE ET LA BÊTE, or BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.

I’ll spare you a detailed plot summary. It’s a tale that has been told and retold so often that it has become part of our collective genetic memory at this point. The lovely Belle is forced to live in the kingdom of the cursed Beast to repay the actions of her father (he steals a rose from Beast’s garden). Beast falls in love with Belle, and proposes to her on a nightly basis; each night, she refuses, though she becomes more and more drawn to him over time. Their growing feelings are tested when he allows her to return to her home for a week and informs her that if she doesn’t return after those seven days, he will die of grief. However, she is unaware of the plans her scheming siblings and her previously intended beau Avenant have drawn up to ensnare Beast’s fortune while Belle is away.

Cocteau implores us in the film’s opening to view his adaption of the classic fairy tale with the eyes of a child. To let ourselves be carried away by the irrational and the dreamlike, rather than impose the hard-and-fast logic of the adult workaday world onto our experience. And with those eyes open, we are treated to a darkly magical manifestation of the fantastic. An atmosphere of love and loss hangs over the film like an embrace both heartfelt and sorrowful. Living faces peer from mantelpieces, human arms bear the torches that light a hallway, food serves itself for dinner. Meanwhile, as in a dream, details are introduced and suddenly abandoned: Beast’s five items of power (a rose, a horse, the key to his pavilion, a glove and a mirror) are vital objects in the story, yet when they are lost or stolen after their purpose has been established, we do not revisit them.

And, much as in any fairy tale told to a child, the implications of sexual tension are sublimated and find abstract release in symbols. Belle indicates her growing acceptance of Beast by allowing him to sup water from her cupped hands. Beast’s source of power is tied inexorably to the feminine: his pavilion dedicated to the Greek goddess Diana. A strike from Diana’s arrow transforms the loutish Avenant into another Beast, revealing the savage nature that lies beneath the veneer of the handsome gentleman. And it’s another feminine power that redeems our Beast and turns him back into Prince Ardent: the transformative effects of Belle’s acceptance and love.

Speaking of that transformation, what is perhaps the most interesting move Cocteau took in adapting this story is in creating the disappointment many feel when Beast is ultimately metamorphosed into Prince Ardent (who happens to unfortunately look exactly like the rejected Avenant). We, along with Belle, spend the entire film falling more and more in love with Beast, so it’s natural that when he is revealed as the prince after the death of his feral countenance, we are left wanting. It’s said that screen legend Greta Garbo shouted “give me back my beautiful Beast!” at the screen when she first saw the film. Indeed, Belle herself is left with mixed feelings about the whole arrangement, as she informs him that “I shall have to get accustomed to you” after his transformation. Cocteau later revealed that this was his intent all along, writing:

“My story would concern itself mainly with the unconscious obstinacy with which women pursue the same type of man, and expose the naïveté of the old fairy tales that would have us believe that this type reaches its ideal in conventional good looks. My aim would be to make the Beast so human, so sympathetic, so superior to men, that his transformation into Prince Charming would come as a terrible blow to Beauty, condemning her to a humdrum marriage and a future that I summed up in that last sentence of all fairy tales: ‘And they had many children.’”

We can well imagine that Beauty may long miss—and may spend many days attempting to uncover remnants of—that beautiful Beast with whom she first fell in love.

Ultimately, what can I say about this movie? I could go on, lathering up further praise without ever coming close to expressing just how wonderful and magical LA BELLE ET LA BÊTE truly is. Suffice it to say that its wonders continue to reveal themselves nearly 70 years after it was released, and any chance to see this film should be leapt upon by any lover of cinema. What pushes its screening at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema into the realm of absolute necessity is the fact that they will be presenting the widely-hailed digital restoration which debuted last year to mark the 50th anniversary of Cocteau’s death. Years of print damage have been immaculately swept away to fully reveal the sumptuous detail of the film that Guillermo del Toro called “the most perfect cinematic fable ever told.”

Come. Accept the Beast’s invitation. Cast off the grind of the harsh realm of adult reality, look upon this film with the eyes of a child, and be swept away by the pure, dark, sublimely gothic bliss of the fantastique. There are few things in the world that compare.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Vive la France! Emory Cinematheque: Dousing Atlanta in Art-House Films & Cinema of the French-Persuasion during Their Spring 2014 ‘Global French Cinema’ Series

Posted on: Mar 4th, 2014 By:

by Melanie Crew
Contributing Writer

Emory Cinematheque offers art-house films to the masses! They’re available to the critics, film-students and all film-lovers alike! Their retro-tastic line-up of critically-acclaimed films, all screened in 35mm, is available free to the public every Wednesday night during each semester’s series.  Their Spring 2014 ‘Global French Cinema’ series runs through April 23 with all films being screened in room 208 of Emory’s White Hall at 7:30 pm, almost every Wednesday.  ATLRetro caught up with Dr. Matthew Bernstein, Chair of Emory’s Film and Media Department as well as Dr. Charlie Michael, Professor in the French and Italian Language Department at Emory and curator of the series, to discuss their love of French cinema and its profound international influence on filmmakers worldwide throughout the history of cinema.  Let Emory Cinematheque quench your thirst for all things retro, French and cinema-tastic!  

“The reach of (Jean) Renoir’s films was enormous,” Bernstein explains and was one of the reasons why Jean Renoir’s LA GRANDE ILLUSION/GRAND ILLUSION (1937) was the screening that kicked off the series. Given that the focus is French films in a global setting, it made absolute sense. Bernstein further went on to share a tidbit of film trivia: “Twentieth Century-Fox wanted to remake it with John Ford directing. Ford rightly demurred, saying it could not be replicated.” And rightly so! Renoir’s anti-war masterpiece, dubbed by Nazi Propaganda Minister Goebbels as “Cinematic Public Enemy No.1” was released on the eve of World War II, not only showcasing Renoir’s humanity but also touching on the harsh realities of nationalism, classism and anti-Semitism. The epic was one of the first prison escape movies, leading the way for a plethora of replicas attempting to reach the same peak, visually and emotionally.  The film proved so inspirational that even Orson Welles said that it would be one of two he would take with him, “on the ark” (Dick Cavett interviews Orson Welles, July 27, 1970).  American film lovers and critics alike agreed with the enormity and significance of Renoir’s work of art, when it became the first foreign-language film nominated for Best Film at the 1938 Academy Awards. 

“I think the 1960s New Wave probably still holds the mantle as the most influential movement in French filmmaking history,” notes Michael. Thus their next choice was an easy one, as Jean-Luc Godard is one of the most prominent members of the movement.  Godard’s PIERROT LE FOU/PIERROT THE MADMAN (1965) was touted as an apex in the French New Wave and considered Godard’s last ‘frolic’ before delving into his more radically political cinema. Godard dubs his protagonists as “the last romantic couple,” their love being the last shard of humanness left among the clouds of chaos that surrounds them. This tactic has been replicated time and time again in many modern films. Renata Adler, of the New York Times, described Godard’s chaotic and drastic hero as one whom, “ultimately wraps his head in dynamite and blows himself to bits,” but added that, “it is in part a delicate, sentimental love story.” (New York Times, January 1969)

Renior, Truffaut and Godard seem to be the usual suspects at most French cinematic events.  Michael notes, “The insertion of the word ‘global’ in front of the word ‘French’ in the title of the series is meant as a gentle push back against the sorts of common assumptions we have about foreign films.”  His goal was to redirect assumptions that French filmmakers only created their art in France. That couldn’t be more true when thinking about Ousmane Sembene’s first feature-length film, LA NOIRE DE/THE BLACK GIRL (1966).  Senbene has been dubbed the “Father of African Film” and this film in particular was the first Sub-Saharan African film made by an African filmmaker to receive international attention.  It’s the tale of a young Senegalese woman who abandons her home in Senegal to work for a wealthy French couple in France.  This film gracefully touches on history at its most repulsive – colonialism, racism and post-colonial identity – through the eyes of its heroine.

“French cinema and American cinema have a long, long, love-hate relationship,” says Michael, with regards to film as art and film as entertainment.  “Ever since the Lumieres and Edison, the two traditions have been inspiring each other and measuring themselves against one another,” he adds.  This dynamic can be seen clearly during their screening of  LA NUIT AMERICAINE (AMERICAN NIGHT)/DAY FOR NIGHT (1973), French New Wave alum Francois Truffaut’s dark comedy about filmmaking and his slight jab at the artificiality of American-style studio films. The film’s title speaks volumes regarding the director’s disregard for the artificial and the manufactured. Truffaut’s film within a film, not only spotlights the personal and chaotic lives of filmmakers over a short period of time and all the mishaps that go along with creating a film, but he also brings into question whether films, the end products, are more important than the lives of those who create them. 

“France’s youngest, flashiest and most visually-inventive of Jean-Luc Godard’s heirs”, Leos Carax,  makes his appearance with his second film, MAUVAIS SANG (“Bad Blood”)/THE NIGHT IS YOUNG (1986). Michael’s post-modern pick for the series, it will take you on the darkly-tinged 1980s journey of a French bad boy who falls for a beautifully tragic and very unavailable American girl. The film aims to “re-incorporates the post-modern slickness of US advertising,” while exposing the cinematic game of ping-pong that has been played between the US and France since the beginning of the art form. Carax’s film screams modern ’80s melodrama and has a film score including music from David Bowie. Still at the same time, the director pulls from his cinematic forefathers’ influence, as Richard Brody of the New Yorker explains, “with an emotional world akin to that of Godard’s early films, a visual vocabulary that pays tribute to his later ones, and a magical sensibility that owes much to Jean Cocteau, Carax allegorizes the burden of young genius in a world of mighty patriarchs who aren’t budging.” (Richard Brody, New Yorker, December 2013)

As much as French filmmakers enjoy taking a cunning jab at their American counterparts, from time-to-time they also enjoy a nice, swift kick to the rear with regards to their own industry. This can be seen in Olivier Assayas’ satire, IRMA VEP (1996) and his pictorial view of the contemporary French film industry.  Assayas’ film-within-a film technique, previously used by Truffaut and his other filmmaking forefathers, lays the framework that unfolds the beautifully tragic life of a filmmaker, well past his prime,, attempting to revive his career in an industry that has blown past him, by remaking and  modernizing Louis Feuillade’s classic silent film, LES VAMPIRES (1915).  Assayas, through his satire of the current French industry, was able to get back to his roots, or as Manohla Dargis of LA Weekly puts it beautifully, “There’s not a false note in IRMA VEP, not one wasted image, nor one superfluous move of the camera. [Assayas discovered] a native cinema as querulous, alive and magical as [French cinema] was, once upon a time.” 

The series then sends the viewer on a journey to Tunisia with the screening of Abdel Kechiche’s LA GRAINE ET LE MULET/THE SECRET OF THE GRAIN (COUS-COUS) (2007).  From the director of 2013’s BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR, this film follows an aging and displaced immigrant and his family trying to begin life anew by opening a family-run restaurant.  Kechiche touches on the universal theme of what to do next when life throws you a curve ball.  In this case, Kechiche’s hero takes that curve ball and attempts to turn it into a thriving restaurant and new life for him and his family. 

Directed by Agnes Varda, lifetime filmmaker and French New Wave alum, LES GLANEURS ET LA GLANEUSE/THE GLEANERS AND I (2000) was included in this series because it, “speaks out against our global problem with consumption and waste,” Michael says. The documentary is shot completely with her hand-held digital camera in a  total abandonment of the usual high-end equipment. That personal element, she said, took her back to the early short films she shot in 1957 and 1958. She told Melissa Anderson of Cineaste Magazine during a 2001 interview: “I felt free at that time. With the new digital camera, I felt I could film myself, get involved as a filmmaker.” Varda’s documentary follows the lives of various kinds of gleaners throughout the French countryside. (M. Anderson, Cineaste Magazine, 2001)

The series then crosses the Atlantic to Canada and Denis Villeneuve’s film adaptation of Wajdi Mouawad’s play by the same name, INCENDIES (2010). This movie takes the viewer on a nonlinear trek through time, using a dead mother’s flashbacks between present-day Quebec and 1970’s Lebanon as a pair of twins try to untangle the mystery of their mother’s life and the lack of their father in their own.  M. O’Sullivan of the Washington Post describes Villeneuve’s film as, “A horror movie, a love story and a mystery, each thread of which is so expertly interwoven into the larger narrative that it is impossible to separate any one strand from the other.” (M. O’Sullivan Film Review, May 2011)

The French aren’t always so sophisticated, artsy and stuck-up, as proven with the series’ next film. Michel Hazanaviciusparody, OSS 117: CAIRE LE NID D’ESPIONS/OSS 117: CAIRO, NEST OF SPIES (2006), represents a layer of French cinema rarely seen when offering up such a series.  Kudos to Michael for throwing this one in! OSS 117 spoofs ’50s and ’60s spy films, following the exploits of a French secret agent in 1955 Cairo. Curt Holman, Creative Loafing noted that, “CAIRO, NEST OF SPIES looks like a perfect artifact from half a century ago, but its political satire smells brand new.” (Curt Holman, Film Review, June 2008)  Hazanavicius is better known for his throwback to the ’20s retro-style film, THE ARTIST (2011), which won five Academy Awards.

Finally, Emory Cinematheque screens Marcel Carne’s celebrated three-hour, two-part epic, LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS/CHILDREN OF PARADISE (1945), set in the 1820s and 1830s Parisian theatre scene and filmed during Germany’s occupation of France during World War II.  Follow the mime, the actor, the criminal and the aristocrat as they pine over the gloriously beautiful courtesan.  During a 1990 interview with Brian Stonehill for Criterion, Carne responded to his question about the New Wave Critics’ aversion to studio films, stating that Francois Truffaut once told him, “I would give up all my films to have directed CHILDREN OF PARADISE.” (Exerpt from 1990 Criterion Audio Interview). In the original American trailer for the film, it was described as, “The French answer to GONE WITH THE WIND.

Both Michael and Bernstein have enjoyed and continue to express gratitude for the opportunity to share their love of cinema and in particular, during this semester’s series, their love of French-language cinema.  “Frankly, it was difficult not to show more films from that period [French New Wave] in this series – but I really think there are other great stories to be told and films to be seen.  French-language filmmaking is so deep, rich and varied,” explains Michael.  Bernstein notes that, “Truffaut and Godard and their cohorts (of the French New Wave movement) reinvented film language and influenced filmmakers the world over, while inspiring the greats [Coppola, Scorsese, Paul Schrader, et al] and continuing to have a hand in the production of modern films.”

See below for a full screening schedule and make sure you make it out to Emory Cinematheque for the remainder of their Spring 2014 ‘Global French Cinema’ series!

Full Screening Schedule:

1/22/14 – ‘La Grande Illusion’ (1937) – Jean Renoir
2/05/14 – ‘Pierrot le fou’ (1965) – Jean-Luc Godard
2/12/14 – ‘La Noire de…’ (1966) – Ousmane Sembene
2/19/14 – ‘La nuit americaine’ (1973) – Francois Truffaut
2/26/14 – ‘Mauvais Sang’ (1986) – Leos Carax
3/19/14 – ‘Irma Vep’ (1996) – Olivier Assayas
3/26/14 – ‘La graine et le mulet’ (2007) – Abdel Kechiche
4/02/14 – ‘Les enfants du paradis’ – (1945) – Marcel Carne
4/09/14 – ‘Les glaneurs et la glaneuse’ (2001) – Agnes Varda
4/16/14 – ‘Incendies’ (2010) – Denis Villeneuve
4/23/14 – ‘OSS 117: Caire, le nid d’espions’ (2006) – Michel Hazanavicius

Category: Features, Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Weekend Update, Feb. 24-27, 2011

Posted on: Feb 24th, 2011 By:

As I said at the start of the week, there are some tough choices this weekend, and a few additions not included in This Week to make it even harder. Whatever you choose, hope you have a ravishingly Retro good time!

Thursday Feb. 24

The Atlanta Opera presents the opening night of George Gershwin’s PORGY & BESS, a American folk opera about two lovers struggling to find happiness in Charleston’s Catfish Row. Find out more about the production at the Cobb Energy Centre which runs through March 6, in KOOL KAT OF THE WEEK spotlighting Costume Coordinator Joanna Schmink.

Good grief, CB’s an adolescent now, his little sister’s a goth, his ex-girlfriend’s in a mental hospital for setting too many fires, his friends are all drunk, and when his dog dies from rabies after killing a “little yellow bird,” he starts to question the existence of an afterlife.That’s the wacked-out premise of DOG SEES GOD: CONFESSIONS OF A TEENAGE BLOCKHEAD, a black comedy inspired by the popular PEANUTS comic strip and performed by the new Fabrefaction Theatre Company, which premieres today and runs through March 13.

ATLRetro will finally be joining the Last Of The Red Hot Truc-ers as Ghost Riders Car Club celebrates Vietnamese New Year with classic ’50s honkytonk and rockabilly for the last of their February Thursday night free gigs at Pho Truc in Clarkston. For a sneak peek, read Feb. 1 ’s KOOL KAT OF THE WEEK with guitarist Spike Fullerton. Listen to Tongo Hiti’s luxurious live lounge sounds, as well as some trippy takes on iconic pop songs, just about every Thursday night at Trader Vic’s. And Breeze Kings bring on the blues at Northside Tavern.

Friday Feb. 25

Get back to rock’s rockabilly, country and Western swing roots with Big Sandy & His Flyrite Boys, with special guests Caroline & the Ramblers and The Stumblers, at Star Bar. It’s a soulful night at Highland Inn Ballroom with The Soulphonics & Ruby Velle and George Hughley with Johnny & the Lakewood 5. The Nick Longo Band jazzes up Fernbank Museum of Natural History’s Martinis & IMAX. And go really retro with a futuristic twist at AnachroCon, a three-day steampunk convention, which kicks off today in grande style with The Gaslamp Gala, a concert extravaganza organized and presented by The Artifice Club‘s Dr. Q, at 7 PM. Performers include The Ghosts Project with Nathaniel Johnstone (Abney Park) and Play it with Moxie, a ballroom jazz band. Admission is included in your AnachroCon membership, with VIP seating available for $5.  All festivities are at the Holiday Inn Select Perimeter, 4386 Chamblee-Dunwoody Road.

Read the rest of this entry »

Category: Weekend Update | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This Week in Retro Atlanta, Feb. 21-27, 2011

Posted on: Feb 21st, 2011 By:

It’s a veritable luau feast for Retro activities in Atlanta this week, and ATLRetro has some tough decisions about what to do, especially on Saturday night.

Monday Feb. 21

Joe Gransden & his smokin’ 16-piece orchestra present another Big Band Night of jazz at Café 290, featuring Sinatra, Bennett, Basie and Joe’s originals.

Tuesday Feb. 22

The current incarnation of seminal progressive rockers The Church play their haunting melodies not just under the Milky Way but at Variety Playhouse. Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra are at Symphony Hall. Or if you live on the east side, swing dance to the Atlanta-New York Connection at the unlikely location of Northlake Mall’s Food Garden starting at 6 PM. Then head to Twain’s in Decatur for a Joe Gransden jazz jam session starting at 9 PM.

Wednesday Feb. 23

“If Elvis had been a woman, he probably would have sounded just like Kim Lenz,” says Rolling Stone. Decide for yourself when the scarlet-haired rockabilly queen brings her fiery voice to the Star Bar with her band The Jaguars. And if the night weren’t rockin’ enough, local faves Atomic Rockets and Junior, Dolan & Cash are also on the bill. Get ready to rumba, cha-cha and jitterbug at the weekly Swing Night at The Glenwood. Catch Joe Gransden every Wednesday night at 8:30 PM at Jerry Farber’s Side Door. Dance to ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s hits during Retro in the Metro Wednesdays presented by Godiva Vodka, at Pub 71 in Brookhaven, starting at 8 PM.

Read the rest of this entry »

Category: This Week in ATLRetro | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This Week in Retro Atlanta, Feb. 15-20, 2011

Posted on: Feb 14th, 2011 By:

OK, lovers, it’s back to the grind. It’s too late to check out ATLRetro’s top 3 picks for Valentine’s night, so let’s get right to the rest of the week.

Tuesday Feb. 15

Joe Gransden is back at Twain’s in Decatur for a jazz jam session starting at 9 PM. Or head back in time and over there to A NOVEMBER DAY: A WAR STORY, a timeless fable about friendship set against the backdrop of World War I, presented today by Thingumajig Theatre of West Yorskshire, England, today through Sun. at The Center for Puppetry Arts. Performers use hand, rod and shadow puppets, live music and a transforming set to tell the tale of a British soldier in WWI and his unexpected friendship with a stray dog. Suitable for ages 10 and up, with a teen and adult workshop on Sat. Feb. 19.

Wednesday Feb. 16

THE RED BALLOON takes flight at Theatre du Reve in 7 Stages’ Backstage Theater from Feb. 16-27. The stage adaptation uses puppetry and live original music to bring to life the classic 1956 French movie about a boy who befriends a shiny red balloon. Suitable for ages 4 and up.

Get ready to rumba, cha-cha and jitterbug at the weekly Swing Night at The Glenwood. Catch Joe Gransden every Wednesday night at 8:30 PM at Jerry Farber’s Side Door. Alice Cooper meets Kiss Southern-fried in Red Rocket Deluxe, headlining at Star Bar. Dance to ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s hits during Retro in the Metro Wednesdays presented by Godiva Vodka, at Pub 71 in Brookhaven, starting at 8 PM.

Read the rest of this entry »

Category: This Week in ATLRetro | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

© 2019 ATLRetro. All Rights Reserved. This blog is powered by Wordpress