Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Golem: The Cocteau Connection

Golem-blogging, essay 16 of 21 

Jean Marais as Orpheus in Jean Cocteau's Orpheus (1950) will descend into
the underworld through a mirror.
The Cocteau Connection

Paul Wegener in The Student of
(1913) signs his mirror
reflection away to a devil-like figure.
Truthfully, I’ve found no Cocteau connection. At least, not yet. I’ve skimmed through the Jean Steegmuller biography of Cocteau and come up emptyhanded. I’ve done Google searches of +Cocteau and +Golem or +Cocteau and +Wegener. But nothing interesting googles up.

Yet there must be a connection. Surely, Cocteau was a Wegener fan when he was a young man. When Cocteau was 24 in 1913 and The Student of Prague was an international hit, Cocteau must have seen it. After all, he loved movies and fantasy. How could he have missed it? A hit movie about doppelgangers and mirrors? Perhaps these images went deep, only to re-emerge years later in fascinating variations in The Blood of a Poet (1930), Beauty and the Beast (1946), and Orpheus (1950). Could Cocteau’s art have its roots in Wegener’s fantasies?

Well trained by the monster movie books I’ve devoured, I’ve always only associated The Golem (1920) with Frankenstein (1931). Even though Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast has been one of my favorite films for nearly 40 years—just about as long as I’ve loved The Golem—I never thought about the two in conjunction before.

Astaroth in The Golem.
 But watching the creation scene in The Golem, with the smoke streaming from the mouth of the demon, I was suddenly struck by the similarities between Astaroth and the mysterious faces on the columns in the Beast’s castle—the faces that exhale smoke. The lighting is so similar, with the faces and the smoke juxtaposed against a plain black background.

In fact, the feel of both movies, the way that both celebrate primordial images that seem wrenched from the subconscious (the world of the fairy tale), is startlingly similar.

Weird characters exhaling smoke
in Cocteau's Beauty and the
I have a strong feeling that Cocteau loved the movies of Wegener when he was a young man. Sometime I’ll find the reference that will nail it, some diary reference where Cocteau confesses that watching a Wegener movie changed his life, suggesting some of the most potent imagery of his great films and convincing him that film was a medium that could capture deeply personal visions of mysterious other worlds.

Watch The Golem (1920):
Purchase through Kino International
or at Amazon,
rent through Netflix,
or sneak a peek at YouTube.

© 2011 Lee Price

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