I was flipping through Jean Cocteau by Patrick Mauries recently and came across this photo of the character Death in his film, Orphée, based on the myth of Orpheus, a poet so in love with Death he follows her into the underworld.
Here we have Death (María Casarès) [photo by Roger Corbeau/Ministère de la Culture/AFDPP].
I was reminded of Thomas Jerome Newton in his homeland costume, and applied a black and white filter:
Not exact by any means, and I don’t know whether Nic Roeg or Bowie had any ideas about Newton’s alien garb. Costume designer May Routh says she wanted the water tubes but conceived them as more like lace; the special effects team interpreted the design differently, making the tubing more substantial.
We know that Bowie was interested in Cocteau’s surrealistic imagery. Heroes‘s “Beauty and the Beast” is a nod to the Cocteau film La Belle et la Bête, starring Jean Marais, who also played the lead role in Orphée.
Cocteau and Marais were lovers; Cocteau said of his young man:
“It does not depend only on sensual grace. It flows from the child still at the heart of the mature man. That is the true source of the expressive beauty of his eye, of the way he looks at you, imposes his physical presence.”
Cocteau could as well be describing Bowie.
Cocteau was a sensualist, a painter of murals for churches, and fascinated by angels, who typically were modelled as beautiful boys, like this one, the Angel of the Annunciation at Notre Dame de France in London, England, photographed by Victoria Emily Jones. See her essay and photographic tour of Notre Dame de France in London, England by clicking the link.
What came to mind: the “Look Back in Anger” video.
It goes beyond angels, however. One minute into the video, Bowie rises quickly from his bed, in much the same way that the poet’s wife is commanded to rise from hers at the minute mark in this snippet from Cocteau’s Orphée.
When Bowie rubs his hand across the painting, his skin takes on a grotesque appearance as if his face is now a painted facade disturbed. Now, in another film of Cocteau’s, La sang d’un Poète (The Blood of the Poet), a sculptor has a similar fright. First he does some sketches, but the mouth starts to move. He tries to rub it out, but it transfers itself to his hand. He tries to rid himself of it by pressing it to the mouth of a statue (movie stills).
The statue entices him to break through a mirror to a different dimension and gives him a gun to kill himself. Instead he returns to his reality, and smashes the sculpture.
Smashing through mirrors is common to several Cocteau’s films. Go back to the Orphée snip and view the last frames.
Tormented Bowie places his angel painting in front of a mirror so he will not have to see what has become of his face, but can’t resist studying his new ugliness. He doesn’t manage to break his mirror or spell and ends up crawling under his bed, instead.
When the artist of Blood of a Poet is on the other side of the mirror, he encounters some strange scenes (movie stills , like this one, featuring a transvestite, Barbette, who Cocteau later wrote about:
That oppish bullseye and strange haired figure is vaguely reminiscent of the set and weird woman of “Strangers When We Meet.”
Here’s another image from Orphée. Flanked by two biker angels, the Poet and Death stroll through the Underworld:
Could this have been an inspiration for the Village of Ormen of “Blackstar”?
Finally there is one more odd Cocteauian echo for today:the similarity to this photograph of Jean Marais dressed by Chanel for Cocteau’s Oedipe Roi:
to this one from Outside:
I don’t know what to make of this.