For the month of October

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For the month of October

Rosengeist
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Hello my lovelies!  Welcome to the film discussion!  Much like the book discussion, there will probably be a sort of monthly topic for each film and I'll post a schedule for that shortly.

I thought we'd start off this chat with one of the more well known and revered versions of this beloved tale on film.  Thats right, I'm talking about the often imitated, but never replicated, Jean Cocteau version.

What are your thoughts on this work?  Do you have any theories about it?  Did you like it the first time you saw it?  

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Re: For the month of October

Laevateinn102
Great, a film I can really get my claws into - what a lovely way to start off October!

I remember when I became aware of Cocteau's version - being a young college student and eager to try and find something that played to my strengths, I became aware of 'La Belle et la Bete' while taking a look at Disney's version. Needless to say - watching the film was one of the best decisions I've probably ever made.

Rosengeist wrote
What are your thoughts on this work?
I have way too many things to say about this film - some good, some bad, but this post would probably be longer than the collective works of H.P. Lovecraft if I named them all. I'll start with the good: the visuals in Cocteau's version are very pleasing to the eye - particularly in Beast's castle. I'm quite fond of the "servants" which hold the candelabras and the statues which watch Beauty as she dines. The acting is superb for the most part, especially Jean Marais's, considering that he played as both Aventant and the Beast. Josette Day is an excellent Beauty who captures the gentle personality of her Fairy Tale counterpart, but can also be sharp and cold in some scenes, especially when confronted with the Beast, covered in blood (and smoking).

But this film is not without it's flaws, and there are quite a few. The script and dialogue (at least in the subtitles) can be a bit clunky in some places and some plot points can make little to no sense at times, but my biggest bone to pick with this version is the ending. I was really disappointed with the reason for why Prince Ardent became the Beast, particularly the "my parents didn't believe in fairy tales" part. I've read somewhere that Cocteau made the ending unsatisfactory deliberately to show how no man could ever be like the Beast, but I'm not sure if it was a reliable piece of text or not.

Rosengeist wrote
Do you have any theories about it?
Not really. Cocteau's version, in my opinion, was quite faithful to the Beaumont version, which is a watered down version of Villevenue's original story, so there isn't really that much I can theorize about, sadly.

Rosengeist wrote
Did you like it the first time you saw it?
The short answer? Yes, I liked it.

Even though the dialogue can be a little off and the ending was a big let down, it didn't leave a dent in how much I like Cocteau's version. It's a wonderful tale and I've watched it many times since. It was my favorite retelling at one point... well... that is until I became aware of Juraj Herz's 'Panna a Netvor'. But that's another film for another day. ;)
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Re: For the month of October

MsMegan
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In reply to this post by Rosengeist
I discovered La Belle et La Bete during my first real research frenzy into Beauty and The Beast --I was probably fifteen or so. I remember being over the moon when I was able to get a copy on interlibrary loan. A friend of mine who had some VCRs daisychained made me a copy, along with the 1980s Shelley Duvall remake.

I desperately want to love this movie, but I find its sedateness and sparseness to be overwhelming. The cautious stiffness suits a fairy tale retelling, but I have to agree that the just-restrained sensuality of the Beast --especially when he's missing Belle, weeping into the furs on her bed -- clashes mightily with the sort of smug, pat ending that Prince Ardent gives us (I find the smugness or condescension of princes in batb retellings to be one of the things I am most annoyed by).

It has some great scenes --  the spooky dining room bits with arms in the table, Belle ordering the Beast out of her bedroom, and his sorrow at her loss....but... Blasphemy thought it might be... la Belle et la Bete just doesn't quite give me what I want. I'm too distanced from both characters to really get into their world.
read Beauty and The Beast online!
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Re: For the month of October

Nicole
My all time favorite scene from this film in when Beauty bursts through the front door in a swirl of silk and dashes up the stairs in slow motion before gliding down that long hall. It's so much fun to watch and has such a disjointed dream like quality to it. Only to be rivaled by the jump down by the two actors in the finale that's reversed so they're leaping into the air. The main gripe I have with the film is what I have a problem with in a lot of this story's adaptations, the Beast's character gets no backstory. The audience is aware of his desire to be human but nothing else about him really. Why does he love Beauty? Why does she care about him? Who are these people?? I suppose this also has something to do with the sort story they're adapting and the fact that these characters are basically archetypes of the kind hearted and beautiful heroine and the tortured hero in need of redemption but I'm always wishing for more meat on these characters every time.
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Re: For the month of October

Rosengeist
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In reply to this post by Laevateinn102
So, I had this theory today, and I'll just throw it out there and see what you all think.

Nobody seems to like the ending for this film, and as far as Cocteau as a director goes, it doesn't fit his style.  Cocteau was surreal and abstract and poetic, in most of his other works, he goes for tragic or comedic endings rather than passive happily ever afters.  It almost feels like the ending to another, less thoughtful film.

But it just struck me today that that might have been the only ending he could have given the film at the time.  He made it directly after World War 2 and the thing was cobbled together from whatever was on hand because there were so few resources left after the war.  The original film reels don't even match because they couldn't find enough of any one brand.

I can't help but feel Cocteau must have had the audience in mind who would be watching his film.  It was made for French adults, the opening plea of the film that asks the viewers to approach the story like children makes that abundantly clear.  His audience would have been made up of people who had just lived through the German occupation.  Some would have been soldiers, some would have committed violence or done terrible things to survive, but almost everyone would have been personally affected.  France was in a strange position in World War 2, on the one hand, it was joined with the Allies and birthed the French Resistance, but on the other hand, it had also been occupied and had collaborated with Nazi's in the Vichy regime.  They had come out far better than most other nations in Europe after the war, but at the same time, they had either been victims, bystanders, or perpetrators of that violence.  Even if you kill someone to save others, it doesn't tend to sit well on the psyche.

So you have this whole story that's a bit of escapism, but is fundamentally built around the idea of something base, and emotional and inhuman returning to a state of grace.  So if you have an audience who just went through this horrible tragedy and brutality, and you yourself went through it, and you're making this escapism out of the disparate bits of whatever scraps were left behind, it feels to me like it would be very difficult to put anything other than an absurdly bright happy ending on that film.  Almost as a way of saying "we've done bad things, but we could be good again."  I know that this is never how Cocteau framed his work, but at the same time, I also wonder if he may not have somehow done this without realizing it.

The ending is pretty awkward, at best it's amusingly kitsch, at its worst its insincere and somewhat insulting to women...but, on the other hand...what if the beast had stayed a beast?  What if he had simply died at the end instead of returning to life?  What if Avenant had appeared as a beast to Belle and the beast we had known the entire film turned into a dead prince?  What if Avenant just skewered the beast in the throat at the last minute and ran off with Belle?  Somehow, these all feel like worse endings to me, and I can imagine that if I were in a French audience at that time, if I were just a normal person who had made it through the war, I would desperately want to believe that somehow there was a way to go from inhuman and brutal to righteous and moral again.

Keep in mind this is all conjecture, and its really rough conjecture at that.  I actually have a lot of different theories on this film and what it means and all that and I have bits I love and bits I find really awkward.  Much like you Lavateinn102, I'm sure I could fill tomes if I just started running with it.  But yeah, it's a terrible ending, but maybe that badness made sense at the time.  If anyone knows anything that either confirms or completely blasts this theory, I'd love to hear it.  Or hey!  If you have your own theories on any part of the film, throw those out here too!

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Re: For the month of October

Stitchlingbelle
I think you're on to something here-- while I've read his statement that the ending is intentionally disappointing (it's in his afterword to the Hilary Knight version of the story), I can definitely see where his and his audience's desire for a happy ending would win out over his other ideas. I think his intention was to have his cake and eat it too: he gets to make a statement and still make the pat happy ending. As opposed to say, McKinley's Rose Daughter, with its happily-weird-ever-after. Or even McKinley's Beauty, where Beauty actually argues, tries to back out, and has a self-confidence revelation before she actually accepts her happy ending.

I'm also reminded of what I've read of Tolkien-- that he denied that WWI had any influence on his work. I'm sorry, but that experience is all over his writing. He just couldn't face it, and I wouldn't be surprised if quite a lot of that sort of thing went into La Belle et la Bete as well.

I've also read discussions linking the ending, and the whole Avenant-Ardent-Beast thing, to Cocteau's sexuality and societal views of the day, but I have no idea how accurate that might be.
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Re: For the month of October

Stitchlingbelle
In reply to this post by Rosengeist
Oh jeez, what do I think of this film? Let me count the ways...

It was the first version besides Disney's that I'd seen; I first saw it in French class in high school right after reading deB's version in class, and I couldn't read the subtitles from the back of the room. So what stuck with me originally were the visuals, the stiffness of the acting to modern eyes, and the atmosphere.

I got a copy of my own a few years ago and rewatch it quite frequently, and my original impressions haven't changed much, but a lot of the little moments mean a lot more to me than they did. Whenever I come across a new version in any medium these days, I tend to look for a revelation in it. I've read it all, I've seen it all; now I skip past the thousand similarities looking for something in this new version that gives me one more piece of the puzzle of the "platonic ideal" of the story in my head, if that makes sense.

In this film specifically, the scene where the Beast drinks water from her hands, and the scene where he accuses her of thinking of him as an animal, give me to think. On the one hand, I love the water scene because of the tenderness and ease between them-- but on the other hand, he's right. That's a gesture you make to an animal.

Or is it? Because honestly, the idea of someone pretty much licking and kissing my palms gets a little PG-13 if it's not meant as condescendingly as he assumed it was. People are always talking about how "sensual" this film is, but due to the cultural differences between the 40's and now, this is the only scene where I really feel it.

Either way, those scenes are definitely turning points in their relationship, and I love them. Beauty's coy line at the end might be the hint that she (or Cocteau) meant it both ways-- that bit about not minding fear with the Beast around. All I know is that those two scenes make me think.

And of course, the Pavilion of Diana drives me crazy with theories! =)
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Re: For the month of October

MsMegan
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Carter also played with the licking or kissing of palms in "The Courtship of Mister Lyon"... intentional reference, do you think?
read Beauty and The Beast online!
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Re: For the month of October

Laevateinn102
You have a point there, Megan, from the way that the Beast is described with having a "head of a lion" and a "mane and mighty paws", it could very well be that Carter took inspiration from Cocteau's, mostly due to Cocteau's Beast being leonine in appearance. I know that the George C. Scott version gives a nod to that scene as well, if my memory serves correctly (including lifting nearly the same dialogue from Cocteau's - making look more of an insult than a tribute, in my humble opinion).
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Re: For the month of October

MsMegan
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That George C Scott movie. I feel like the idea was for us not to like anyone in it. Though, really, in Belle's shoes, would any of us want to be nice to the freaky boar who kidnapped us? Maybe I'm showing a bias against strongminded females. Damn it, patriarchy, you made me this way!
read Beauty and The Beast online!
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Re: For the month of October

Laevateinn102
The only things I can give the Scott version credit for is that the acting was pretty decent and the dialogue isn't as clunky as Cocteau's (but, when compared to the likes of 'Kraska a Zvire' or 'Panna a Netvor', that's not really saying much).
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Re: For the month of October

Rosengeist
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In reply to this post by Stitchlingbelle
I know there is actually a published copy of the journal he was keeping when he made the film.  I've seen the thing, but never read it.  It's doubtful that it would back up my theory, but I really want to check it out if I ever get a chance.

For esoteric funsies.


Ditto on Tolkien.  You can't read that thing and NOT think "oh, ok, you were in the war".  While I don't think it's really fair to view the work as a straight reflection of its author (or vice versa), I also think that a work is inherently a product of not only the artist but the world that created it.  I don't know, I can personally say as a creator that I'm not always cognizant of what I've been putting into my work.  Being a great creator does not necessarily grant you any greater amount of self awareness than anyone else.
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Re: For the month of October

Rosengeist
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In reply to this post by MsMegan
Speaking of the George C. Scott version, has anyone else heard that Robin McKinely may have written Beauty as a response to how frustrated it made her?

Man...there are few things creepier to me than the whole "tag" scene where he sniffs her out.  I am all for judging works through the lens of when they were made, but I still feel like even for when it was made it was pretty sexist.
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Re: For the month of October

Laevateinn102
Rosengeist wrote
Man...there are few things creepier to me than the whole "tag" scene where he sniffs her out.  I am all for judging works through the lens of when they were made, but I still feel like even for when it was made it was pretty sexist.
Ugh. The tag scene. I know that it was probably meant to be endearing and funny, but the way Beauty acted was pretty out of character. At least with Cocteau we have a Beauty who's not afraid to stand up for herself, particularly around the likes of Avetant.
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Re: For the month of October

Stitchlingbelle
In reply to this post by Rosengeist
I have it, but it's been a while since I read it and I don't think it addressed this specifically. Other than the matter-of-fact procurement issues he faced, he talked very little about the war in it.
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Re: For the month of October

Rosengeist
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Blah, figures...:/  I mean, I didn't expect him to launch into a political tirade or anything, and he was respected before the war.  I'm sure that due to his reputation, he didn't have to deal with the same terror that so many other people had to.  Thanks for the clarification though.  :)
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Re: For the month of October

Valeriane
In reply to this post by Rosengeist
well then, Cocteau's movie...
A little bit of a canvas setting here. I'm French. And here in France, we have a long standing tradition of Christmas Movie/ Series which get rerun every year. Nowadays it's more Christmas related movies, but when I was a child, there was a lot of fairy tales movie, like Fantaghirò, Donkey SKin and, of course, Beauty and the Beast by Cocteau. So I both grown up with the movie and not really sinking into this until much later. I saw the complete version of the movie once adult, when my interest with fairy tales start growing back.
And watching it 20 years later explain so MUCH about my imagination.
Looking back, I don't understand why the movie didn't make a lasting impression on me (er beside the tomboy attitude, not liking princesses and wanting to be a wolf when I grow up), but adult-me LOVE the visual and the story.
Sure there is some moment in the movie I found... well... I'm not sure it's the right word, but it feel 'pushed'. As if Cocteau wanted us to understand the story in a certain way and no other. The ending felt 'pushed' for example. I admit I scratched my head at the transformation of the Beast and his mental transformation. It just... didn't seem to be the same character.
But on the other hand, I've been deceived by almost every Beast Turned Prince I saw in BatB adaptation..
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Re: For the month of October

Tevokkia
In reply to this post by Rosengeist
I just finished watching this film for the first time, and I really really wanted to like it ... but just couldn't manage.

Don't get me wrong ... some of the visuals were absolutely lovely, and the effects for the time were quite impressive, so there are plenty of elements of the film to like. Nicole mentioned the interesting slow-motion scene near the beginning, and I do have to admit that I enjoyed the dreamlike quality of it as well.

The writing, however, killed it for me.

The thing that struck the hardest was that Belle, who I expected to be the sweet heroine with the occasional fiery moment to prove she wasn't a wilting flower (because really, you can't be a wilting flower and still willingly head off to face down a beast), just came off as a nasty witch to me during most of her time in the castle and a doormat when she was home. There seemed to be a lot of venom directed toward the Beast, even after she professed to be growing fond of him, and I can't help but wonder why none of that fire ever got directed toward her (very fairy-tale cliche) sisters, who really could have used a kick in the butt on more than one occasion. I could probably write a novella on how much I didn't like any of the characters, but suffice it to say that I found it difficult to even feel sorry for the family as they sunk deeper into poverty.

I've seen reviews, and even mentions here about how sensual the film was supposed to be, and it's easy to pick out places where that seemed to be the intention. For the film's original audience, perhaps that sensuality would have translated better, but I generally found it to be melodramatic at best and silly at worst. There was a lot more pantomime than real chemistry to my eyes, and even though she said at the end that she had loved the Beast, and had loved Avenant, it's very difficult to understand how or why she loved either of them.