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Orphic Trilogy (The Criterion Collection)

4.8 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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(Jun 27, 2000)
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The Criterion Collection
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Decadent, subversive, and bristling with artistic invention, the myth-born cinema of Jean Cocteau disturbs as much as it charms. Cocteau was the most versatile of artists in prewar Paris. Poet, novelist, playwright, painter, celebrity, and maker of cinema-his many talents converged in bold, dreamlike films that continue to enthrall audiences around the world. In The Blood of Poet, Orpheus, and Testament of Orpheus, Cocteau utilizes the Orphic myth to explore the complex relationships between the artist and his creations, reality and the imagination. The Criterion Collection is proud to present the DVD premiere of the Orphic Trilogy in a special limited-edition three-disc box set.

Blood of a Poet
"Poets . . . shed not only the red blood of their hearts but the white blood of their souls," proclaimed Jean Cocteau of his groundbreaking first film-an exploration of the plight of the artist, the power of metaphor and the relationship between art and dreams. One of cinema's great experiments, this first installment of the Orphic Trilogy stretches the medium to its limits in an effort to capture the poet's obsession with the struggle between the forces of life and death. Criterion is proud to present The Blood of a Poet (Le Sang d'un poète).

Jean Cocteau's 1940s update of the Orphic myth depicts Orpheus (Jean Marais), a famous poet scorned by the Left Bank youth, and his love for both his wife Eurydice (Marie Déa) and the mysterious Princess (Maria Casarès). Seeking inspiration, the poet follows the Princess from the world of the living to the land of the deceased through Cocteau's trademark "mirrored portal." As the myth unfolds, the director's visually poetic style pulls the audience into realms both real and imagined in this, the centerpiece to his Orphic Trilogy. Criterion is proud to present Orpheus (Orphée) in a gorgeous new digital transfer.

Testament of Orpheus
In his last film, legendary writer/artist/filmmaker Jean Cocteau portrays an 18th-century poet who travels through time on a quest for divine wisdom. In a mysterious wasteland, he meets several symbolic phantoms that bring about his death and resurrection. With an eclectic cast that includes Pablo Picasso, Jean-Pierre Leáud, Jean Marais and Yul Brynner, Testament of Orpheus (Le Testament de Orphée) brings full circle the journey Cocteau began in The Blood of a Poet, an exploration of the torturous relationship between the artist and his creations. Criterion is proud to present the last installment of the Orphic Trilogy in a new digital transfer.

The Blood of a Poet
"A realistic documentary of unreal situations" reads the introductory card of Jean Cocteau's debut film, which recalls the work of the silent surrealists (notably Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí's Un Chien Andalou and L'Âge d'Or). Cocteau uses dream imagery to explore poetry, artistic creation, memory, death, and rebirth in four separate fantasy sequences. In the first scene, an artist confronts his creations when they take on a life of their own. In the second, he dives through a mirror (a primitive but startling effect Cocteau refines for Orpheus) and into a skewed hall where every door reveals a fantastic dream scene. The third sequence finds a gang of boys turning a snowball fight into a cruel war, and in the last an audience gathers to witness a dead boy's resurrection amidst a strange card game. These descriptions do little to communicate the poetry of each segment, which rely on creative imagery to create meaning not in stories but in symbols and metaphors. Cocteau's realization is often stiff and stilted, the work of a visual artist transforming still images into an medium that moves through time, but it's never less than beautiful and evocative. Cocteau returned to many of the same themes in Orpheus and The Testament of Orpheus. --Sean Axmaker

A Parisian poet becomes seduced by the prospect of eternal fame in Jean Cocteau's jazzy 1949 update of the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus. The café set won't give successful Orpheus (Jean Marais) the time of day, so he obliges when the Princess of Death (Maria Casarés) orders him into her Rolls Royce with her injured young protégé. It isn't long before the poet realizes the commanding Princess is no ordinary benefactor of the arts; for one thing, she can travel through mirrors. The next day, Orpheus returns to his frantic wife Eurydice (Marie Déa) with the kindly chauffeur Heurtibise (François Périer), but remains distracted by the Princess and the cryptic messages from her car radio. The equally smitten Princess eventually takes Eurydice before her time, which results in an underworld trial about her actions. To get his wife back, Orpheus must promise to never to look at his wife, but his heart's not in it. This black-and-white film slyly explores the dark side of the creative urge with panache. Dreamy and mesmerizing, it depicts an underworld not too different from everyday life. With subtitles. --Diane Garrett

The Testament of Orpheus
It is the unique power of the cinema to allow a great many people to dream the same dream together and to present illusion to us as if it were strict reality. It is, in short, an admirable vehicle for poetry." Jean Cocteau, at age 70, thus ruminates on the life and purpose of the creative artist in a poetic essay. Cocteau himself stars as a time-traveling poet bopping helplessly through the ages until an experimental scientist grounds him in a kind of never-never land where he defends himself to the judges of Orpheus, dies, and is resurrected to complete his sentence: "condemned to live." Though the film opens with scenes from Orpheus, the series of symbolic encounters and surreal images more resembles The Blood of a Poet. What's different is his cinematic assurance and sly sense of humor: shot through with jokey gags and playful imagery, the film is less philosophical treatise than career summation by way of farewell party. He's invited fictional characters (most of the cast of Orpheus) and real-life friends (cameos range from Brigitte Bardot to Yul Brynner to Pablo Picasso) from his past and present to send him off to an uncertain future. The new Home Vision video and Criterion DVD releases feature the restored color sequence. Cocteau died in 1963, three years after completing the film. --Sean Axmaker

Special Features

  • The Three-Disc Box Set of Jean Cocteau's Orphic Trilogy Contains: The Blood of a Poet (1930, 50 min.), Orpheus (1949, 95 min.) & Testament of Orpheus (1959, 80 min.)
  • Disc One: The Blood of a Poet, new transfer of the film with digitally restored sound, collection of rare behind-the-scenes photos, Edgardo Cozarinsky's renowned documentary Jean Cocteau: Autoportrait d'un Inconnu (Autobiography of an Unknown) (1983, 66 min.), transcript of Cocteau's lecture given at a 1932 screening, and a 1946 essay on the film by Cocteau, a Cocteau bibliofilmography, new English title translation
  • Disc Two: Orpheus, new transfer of the film with digitally restored image and sound, Cocteau's essays on the film from 1950, new English title translation
  • Disc Three: Testament of Orpheus, new transfer of the film with digitally restored image and sound, Villa Santo Sospir, a 16mm color film by Cocteau featuring many of the locations used in Testament of Orpheus, a collection of Cocteau's writings on Testament of Orpheus, a Cocteau bibliofilmography, new English title translation

Product Details

  • Actors: Jean Cocteau, Claudine Auger, Charles Aznavour, Lucia Bosé, Yul Brynner
  • Directors: Jean Cocteau
  • Writers: Jean Cocteau
  • Producers: André Paulvé, François Truffaut, Jean Thuillier, Le Vicomte de Noailles
  • Format: Box set, Black & White, NTSC
  • Language: French (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 3
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Criterion
  • DVD Release Date: June 27, 2000
  • Run Time: 225 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: 0780023161
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #138,337 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Orphic Trilogy (The Criterion Collection)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Criterion notwithstanding, this collection of three movies directed by Jean Cocteau is no trilogy. Rather the three works represent three quite different views of the Poet-the prototypic artistic creator for Cocteau--at three different moments in his career. The first, Blood of a Poet (1930) released at the same time as L'Age d'Or of Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali-both pictures were financed by the wealthy patron of the arts, the Vicomte de Noailles-is the most "Orphic" of three, and like L'Age d'Or very much in the vein of French experimental films of the 1920s, with an abundance of symbolism and rejection of conventional narrative syntax. Less radically innovative than L'Age d'Or, Blood of a Poet is like a brilliant book of sketches, some of which work, some of which don't.
Cocteau made no films for over a decade, and only returned to the cinema during the Occupation with The Eternal Return, for which he wrote the screenplay. Although directed by Jean Delannoy, the film was clearly Cocteau's own creation, and marked both the beginning of a period of fertile cinematic collaboration with Jean Marais and a new phase in Cocteau's contributions to film. The masterpiece of this period is, of course, Orpheus (1949). Cocteau had begun in Blood of a Poet by radically breaking with realism. Now he set about showing how the images of modern life could be invested with a mythic power of their own.
In The Eternal Return, Cocteau had put the story of Tristan and Yseult into a modern setting, but without the least hint of irony. In updating the myth of Orpheus to post-World War II Paris, however, he adopted a very different strategy. The Thracian singer becomes a rich and famous writer (Jean Marais) who supplies exactly what the public looks for in literature.
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The Orphic trilogy is a cause for celebration becuase it is truly a treat for the artist in us all. We get to see a filmmaker's perspective of film from three totally different angles, one as a young man, trying and inventing new ways to use the camera (THE BLOOD OF A POET) to the mainstream artist trying to tell a middleground art versus convention story (ORPHEUS) to an old man, giving his last thoughts on celluoid as poetry (THE TESTAMENT OF ORPHEUS). Do not buy these DVD if you are not a fan of the surreal! Cocteau himself says these movies are dream worlds and he means it. If you have a hard time following imagery and symbols you will be easten alive by these movies. But if film is like fine wine to you, getting more complex with each sip, you are in for a treat.
Criterion as always does a marvelous job from top to bottom from packaging to supplemental work. The essays included are extrememly interesting as are the two additional films provided.
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Jean Cocteau's "Orphee," along with his earlier "La Belle et la Bete," must be ranked among the greatest of French films. This highly personal version of the myth of Orpheus remains a testament both to the the power of poetic imagery on film and to Cocteau's genius as a creator of such imagery. Cocteau's Orphee (Jean Marais) is a brusque, egocentric, dissatisfied soul who, to paraphrase Keats, is more than half in love with Death. As portrayed by Maria Casares, Death is far from the easeful presence Keats envisioned, but imperious, severe, and tres, tres chaud. Setting his fantasy in then-contemporary France (1949, to be exact), Cocteau dresses his angels of Death in leather and puts them on motorcycles, the roar of their engines as inexorable as a buzzsaw, and sends Orphee cryptic messages from the underworld via a car radio. "Orphee" is an unforgettable story of obsession and renunciation, the characters constantly going forward and backward through mirrors in a miasma of love, pain, and time lost and regained. Just as Orphee and Death act out their torrid passion, Eurydice (Marie Dea) carries on a sadder, more delicate version of the same story with Death's servant Heurtebise (Francois Perier). Meanwhile, the drunken poet Cegeste (Edouard Dermithe) finds himself a nearly mute witness to the drama, severed for eternity from the passions swirling around him. This three-disc set is worth owning for "Orphee" alone; the other two films are interesting, but not extraordinary. "The Blood of a Poet" (1930) feels like warmed-over Bunuel these days, while "The Testament of Orpheus" (1959), Cocteau's valedictory address to the cinema, is an intermittently interesting but overly talky apologia for Cocteau's life and career.Read more ›
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One does not have to be a poetry lover to love these works. Jean Cocteau's Orphic Trilogy on DVD is a thoughtful collection of some of the poets finest works. Along with the crystal clarity of the films, the new and improved English subtitles give us so much more than the eariler VHS versions. Possibly even more important than the films is the documentary, Jean Cocteau: Autobiography of an Unknown included as a bonus on the first disc, this alone is worth the price. I suggest that one watches the Autobiography before watching the films. If one understands the poet, one understands the poetry, hence one better understands oneself.
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