Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Space Oddities: La Belle et la Bête

When most individuals think of the story 'Beauty and The Beast', they often remember the animated film by Disney. However, Jean Cocteau's 'La Belle et la Bête' (1946) is just as admirable as the Disney version with its elaborate costume, surreal sets, and a more adult-aimed plot. Jean Cocteau's film has a stronger focus on the negative impact of greed and envy while the Disney version seems to focus on the love story and added musical element. There is no doubt that 'La Belle et la Bête' was not aimed towards children like the Disney version was.

Fig. 1 La Belle et la Bête (1946)
'La Belle et la Bête' definitely feels more eerie and ominous than Disney's take on the fairytale. There are no doll-eyed candlesticks, tea pots and clocks dancing around and singing. Instead, doors open on their own, we hear whispers from inanimate objects, arms jut out of the walls holding up candelabrums, and statues creepily watch Beauty at all times. There is a sense that no matter where she goes, someone is watching. Beast himself is more menacing, he "comes across as a dapper, renaissance version of a werewolf in a Universal Horror film...he'll be on his haunches drinking water from Beauty's hands, but the next he'll be growling some surprisingly chivalrous dialogue" (Macnab, 2014).

While Disney's 'Beauty and the Beast' tells a decent chunk of the story through song lyrics, there isn't a massive amount of dialogue in Jean Cocteau's version which is in French. Although this story varies from what most people remember from Disney's take on the fairytale, it is easy to follow even if immersion is somewhat disrupted by subtitles (if you don't speak French at least). The costumes, sets and props in this film easily recaptures attention due to the immense amount of detail that went into the designs.

Jean Cocteau worked with fashion illustrator and designer Christian Bérnard to help imagine and create the look for this film. The contrast between average life where Beauty's family lives and the lavish surroundings in Beasts castle were apparent and captivating. The costumes worn by both Beauty and Beast "are exquisite affairs, glittering and imaginative, lacking only the glow of colour," (Crowther, 1947) paired with atmospheric effects such as fog/smoke, swirling curtains, haunting furniture and other details exaggerate the feeling of fantasy.

Fig. 2
Although the visual design of this film are impressive, there are also subtle details in the movement add a lot to the film's dreamy atmosphere. For example, when Beauty first enters Beasts castle she glides down the hall of human arms holding candelabrums with her cloak twisting and flowing around her. She "seems to run dreamily a few feet above the floor. Later, her feet do not move at all, but she glides, as if drawn by some magnetic force," (Ebert, 1999) while the curtains from the windows twist and wrap around her. This effectively makes the viewer feel like they're in a dream, it is as unreal and alien to audience as it is to Beauty. This waltzing flow is prominent throughout the film, even when Beauty and Beast go for walks together outside of the castle.

Fig. 3
It is likely that Christian Bérnard's work influenced this use of fabric to enhance the world within the film. Whether it be props, costume, or effects such the simple movement of curtains it is obvious that the flow of the material altered the mood of the scene. The music, which was somewhat reminiscent of the Harry Potter music score,  also helped to give this 'La Belle et la Bête' a truly magical feel as it was paired with elaborate dress, surreal environments, dreamy effects, and flowing gestures. All of these elements transports the audience to a fantastical world that has a familiar story while presenting different (and more mature) ideas and imagery than the animated Disney musical.

Crowther, B. (1947) La Belle et la Bete (1946) At: http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9B03EFD71E3EEE3BBC4C51DFB467838C659EDE Accessed on: 27/10/2015
Ebert, R. (1999) Beauty and the Beast At: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-beauty-and-the-beast-1946 Accessed on: 27/10/2015
Macnab, G. (2014) La Belle Et La Bete: Film review- Cocteau's Forties fantasy is still a thing of real beauty At: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/reviews/la-belle-et-la-bete-film-review-cocteaus-forties-fantasy-is-still-a-thing-of-real-beauty-9035506.html Accessed on: 27/10/2015

Illustration List:
Figure 1. La Belle et la Bête (1946) [Poster] At: http://40.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_ljsf06IXMc1qj5qvfo1_1280.jpg Accessed on: 27/10/2015
Figure 2. [Screenshot] At: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-p-kqgbVvFJo/VTnN_pHFOJI/AAAAAAAAGaI/Bg8MH5QWguc/s1600/still%2B-%2BBeauty%2Band%2Bthe%2BBeast%2B%3A%2BLa%2BBelle%2Bet%2Bla%2BBe%CC%82te%2B(1946).png Accessed on: 27/10/2015
Figure 3. [Screenshot] At: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-NVGqoZNK_lg/VWvPtUeBzOI/AAAAAAAAFec/OuNeOFrkNQc/s1600/la-belle-et-la-bete%2Bb.jpg Accessed on: 27/10/2015

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