Recently, an article popped up on the interwebs which outlined a list of foreign films Martin Scorsese recommended a young filmmaker watch. At first glance I thought it looked like a pretty good list. (If you’re curious, the list is at the bottom of this post). Being a bit of a geek for this type of thing, I immediately created a spreadsheet with each title in the hopes that I might be able to watch or rewatch a few, if not all, of these gems. The first of the list I picked up is the French classic fantasty, Beauty and the Beast, from 1946.
This is a lovely, whimsical but dark film which reminded me quite a bit of The Wizard of Oz in its tone. Jean Marais’s Beast, while probably more frightening at the time of the film’s release, does read a bit cheesy with a modern viewing, but after a few minutes I no longer noticed. In fact, his low, growling voice reminded me a bit of Christian Bale’s Batman. Josette Day is lovely as Belle. She’s stunningly beautiful, and I also enjoyed her lavishly romantic haute couture gowns.
This film is a great example of early special effects. I found them to be quite enchanting, and I recognized many that have inspired modern films. It’s worth mentioning that a scene from the HBO miniseries Angels in America had an homage which included the candelabras held by arms and the “living statues.” ‘
According to IMDB, Jean Cocteau, the filmmaker, became ill during filming and had to be hospitalized and briefly replaced on set by René Clément. Cocteau is known for a great deal of additional artistic work including the films Orphée and Les Enfants Terribles.
In the 1990s, the American composer Phillip Glass began composing a trilogy of operas which were inspired by Jean Cocteau’s films and novels. For Beauty and the Beast, Glass composed an opera which coincided with the film itself. This allowed for the opera to be performed by live musicians and performers with the film playing in the background. The Criterion Collection version of the DVD (which is what the library has in its catalog) includes an option to view the film with its original soundtrack or with Glass’ opera as the audio track. Personally, I enjoyed both soundtrack options.
Romantic, enchanting, and a landmark example of early fantasy cinema, Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast holds up well nearly 70 years later. ~Enjoy.