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Blood of a Poet (Jean Cocteau) 1933
Jean Cocteau, who would later go on to direct such classics as Testament of Orpheus and Beauty and the Beast began with this short (50min.) non-narrative film. Blood of a Poet explores the figurative and literal blood and sweat that goes into creating a work of art. The film starts with an image of a tall chimney as it starts collapsing (an image that will now probably be impossible to separate from the World Trade Center collapsing) and then shifts to view an artist that is painting a portrait. This artist becomes, for a while, the protagonist, and we follow him as as he literally becomes one with his art (the portrait's mouth attaches itself to his hand), then falls into the world on the other side of the mirror (where he sees such things as an opium den and a child being whipped and ordered to take flight), and as he eventually shoots himself in the head to receive "eternal glory", and is immortalized in the form of a statue.
The film then moves to a schoolyard setting where the statue of the artist is sitting, as a snowball fight erupts. The children's fight literally leaves the statue deconstructed, and one young child is knocked out and left bloody afterwards. Next, the schoolyard reveals itself not as reality, but as a stage, with noble spectators that applaud the display. A poet and a woman begin to play cards. The woman tells the poet "If you do not have the Ace of Hearts, then you are lost." The poet, realizing he doesn't have it, pickpockets it from the unconscious boy. Then the boy's guardian angel appears, covers the boy, and takes back his Ace. The poet, without the Ace, has indeed lost, so he opts to kill himself. The crowd applauds his sacrifice. The woman reveals herself to be Death, and wanders off talking of the mortal desire for immortality. We then see the chimney from the film's start collapse completely, suggesting the artist's dilemma lasted only a few seconds.
The film is exceptionally vivid. The imagery used here is still stunning despite its low-tech nature. The film's implication that the artist must exploit his childhood and experience for inspiration (signified as the Ace of Hearts is stolen), that the artist must view the world as a distortion (viewable through all the bizarre images on display), and that both artistic integrity and fame come at a great price (signified by the multiple suicides in the name of "glory") are all never explicitly stated, but are deeply felt here. The film is as good as any that I've seen at evoking the inner state of the director's mind. It is exceptional in its evocation of the artist's dilemma, and anyone with an analytical mind would find plenty to digest here.