La Belle et la Bête: part III

Part I and and Part II of my La Belle et la Bête posts may be found


Part III

In Cocteau’s Words

We need look no further than the director’s account for insights into how La Belle et la Bête was brought to the screen. Cocteau’s Diary of a film was published in 1950, in a translation by Ronald Duncan. It’s far from what we might expect today, when ‘the making of’ generally amounts to a puff-piece tacked onto a dvd as a promotional exercise.

Above: the cast on location at Moulin de Touvois á Rochecorbon in Touraine, the small ‘manor’ that Cocteau chose  for the exteriors of Beauty’s home. From left to right, Josette Day, Marcel André, Nane Germon, Michel Auclair, Jean Marais and Mila Parely.

Cocteau’s diary is an evocative, no-holds-barred account of the sometimes agonising process of dragging his vision into the world. He praises his actors, though complains bitterly when any of the production team let him down. The makeup man particularly draws his wrath, though he’s critical of his cameraman too. The technicians and electricians, by contrast, win his praise, and one senses that Cocteau admired the craftsmanship of those who carried out rough work with skill and speed.

Above: Cocteau with his crew for La Belle et la Bête

The tone in the diary is frequently one of self-pity, and Cocteau dwells at interminable length on his various illnesses, which in all fairness appear to have been legion during the shooting schedule. (His disorders include chronic eczema, jaundice, gum disease and a carbuncle on his neck.) Given the time he spent in clinics and hospitals, it’s a wonder the film was completed at all. Nor was he alone in having health problems. Jean Marais too suffered from a particularly nasty carbuncle on his inner thigh, which impeded his work and needed lancing and subsequent bed-rest. Mila Parely, who was playing Beauty’s sister Félicie, fell from Aramis, the horse that both Beauty and Avenant ride in the film. The accident hospitalised her and thereafter left the actress in discomfort for much of her shooting.

Above: Beauty, played by Josette Day, attends her sister Félicie, played by Mila Parely

In the aftermath of the war, making any film in what had until recently been an occupied country was always going to be fraught with difficulties, let alone a period film requiring hard-to-find resources of textiles for the luxurious costumes. Film stock was hard to come by and of variable quality. The laboratory scratched the negatives, compromising hard-won footage while denying any culpability. Not enough bed-linen could be found for the scenes of the laundry being hung out to dry at Rochecorbon. Bad weather hampered the location work, or made shots difficult to match. Nevertheless the key members of the production team were inventive and resourceful, and as a director Cocteau was at his most creative when having to improvise with limited means. Even by todays standards, the film looks ravishing. To close this three-part post on La Belle et la Bête, here are some extracts from Cocteau’s diary.

Cocteau on Christian Bérard and costume:

Sunday the 26th August, 1945

“Watching Christian Bérard at work is an extraordinary sight. At Paquin’s, surrounded by tulle and ostrich feathers, smeared with charcoal, covered with perspiration and spots, his beard on fire, his shirt hanging out, he gives to luxury a profound significance.”

Above: the vain sisters Félicie and Adélaide, elaborately costumed by Bérard. Cocteau was particularly pleased with Mila Parely’s ornately dressed wig.

Below: Nane Germon as Adélaide, more soberly attired.

“Between his small ink-stained hands, the costumes cease to be mere props and take on the arrogant actuality of fashion. He makes us realize that a period dress is not merely a costume but a fashion which belonged to a period and changed with it. People dressed by Bérard look as though they lived at a place, in a definite period, and not as though they were going to a fancy dress ball.”

Above: Christian Bérard

“I saw the dresses this morning in the farmyard at Rochercorbon where I am shooting. They were hanging in the sun, side by side, like Bluebeard’s wives, only lifeless. They lacked their souls, and the soul of a dress is a body.”

Cocteau on the set for Beauty’s bedroom:

Saturday the 15th December 1945

“I’ve never seen a set either in the theatre or in films to appeal as much to me as this one of Beauty’s room where I am working now. The studio hands like it too. Even the waitresses from the restaurant come and see it and are thrilled to pieces.

I’d like to hear this room described by Edgar Allen Poe; for it is, as it were, isolated in space with the remnants of the forest set on one side, and the beginnings of the stream set on the other. With the result that bushes can be seen through its walls of net, suggesting a whole incomprehensible landscape behind it. Its carpet is of grass and its furniture in the magnificent bad taste of Gustave Doré.”

“Have placed the living statues in niches on both sides of the door and given them a little box hedge and hung the candelabra which are held by plastered arms outside behind transparent walls. It looks magnificent in the pale beams of the arc even though they do hurt my eyes.”

Cocteau on Rochecorbon:

Sunday the 6th August 1945

“We very nearly didn’t bother to get out of the car. Then all at once I recognized, down to the smallest detail, the exact setting that I had become resigned to having to build. The man who lived there looked exactly like the merchant in the story, and his son said to me: ‘If you had come yesterday you would have heard your own voice. I was playing your poetry records over to my father.’ On top of this the iron rings for tethering the horses are made in the shape of some fabulous beast. Here are the windows for the wicked sisters, doors and staircase, wash-house, orchard, stables, dog-kennel, watering cans, tomatoes ripening on the windowsills, vegetables, firewood, the spring, the chicken-run, the ladders! Everything is already there, and what’s more, the interior is as good as the exterior, and this hidden quality shines through the walls.”

Above: on location at Rochecorbon

Cocteau on the ‘living statues’:

Friday the 30th November 1945

“The kids who play the stone heads are incredibly patient. For they’ve got the most uncomfortable positions, having to kneel behind the set with their shoulders fixed in a sort of armour of plastic and resting their hair which is all gummed and be-powdered against the pillar with the arc lamps full in their faces. The effect is so intensely magical that I wonder if the camera can possibly get it. These heads are alive, they look, they breathe smoke from their nostrils, they turn following the artists who are unaware they are being watched. Perhaps as objects which surround us behave, taking advantage of the fact we believe them to be immobile.”

Saturday the 22nd December

“I suffered so much from my inflammation and toothache on the night before last that I couldn’t control myself any more, and went all to pieces and was quite unable to direct properly. The living statues fainted in their plaster shells. They were carried into the air where they came to and insisted on being made up again; whereupon they returned and fainted a second time. I got back to the Hôtel du Louvre in the morning only to find that I’d been shifted to a miserable room next to a telephone booth where people shout all the time. Can’t sleep a wink.”

Above: Apotheosis. Beauty and her Beast-transformed-into-a-Prince, ascend like Olympian consorts on billowing clouds.

Cocteau at the conclusion of his work:

Saturday the 1st June, 1946

“Decided to quit as soon as the film was finished. And it was yesterday I showed it for the first time to the studio technicians at Joinville.

Its announcement, written on a blackboard, caused quite a stir at Saint-Maurice. They had filled up quite a theatre with benches and chairs. Lacombe had even postponed his shooting so that his unit and artists could attend.

At 6.30 Marlene Dietrich was seated beside me. I tried to say a few words, but the accumulation of all those minutes which had led to this one moment quite paralysed me and I was almost incapable of speech. I sat watching the film, holding Marlene’s hand, crushing it without noticing what I was doing. The film unwound and sparkled like a far-off star – something apart and insensible to me. For it had killed me. It now rejected me and lived its own life. And the only thing I could see in it were the memories of the suffering which were attached to every foot. I couldn’t believe the others would even be able to follow its story. I felt they too would become involved in these activities of my imagination.

But the reception of the audience of technicians was quite unforgettable. And that was my reward. Whatever happens, I shall never get such a touching reception as I did from this little village whose industry is the canning of dreams.”

Part I and Part II of my La Belle et la Bête posts may be found


9 thoughts on “La Belle et la Bête: part III

  1. Pingback: La Belle et la Bête: part II | Clive Hicks-Jenkins' Artlog:

  2. The “velvet doublet” was actually suiting material, likely wool or a wool blend. It doesn’t photograph as velvet would, and in the scene where he is in the hallway, without his collar, and with dirt/dust all over his clothes, it definitely doesn’t appear to be velvet. Dirt and dust wouldn’t cling to velvet in that way. The only part of his costume that was velvet was the short cape, with the diamond edging in the interior shots. It was definitely velvet. (I’ve photographed costumes for over forty years.)

    The black studio was, according to Cocteau in “Diary of a Film,” nothing more than a vast, unheated barn which three separate productions had to share. The street noise and other productions necessitated them to film at night.

    If you watch the film where Beauty is moving through the castle in her Castillo designed negligee (Cocteau credits him solely for this costume (p 39 of Diary of a Film), with the other costume designs by Berard and executed at Paquin with a collaboration of Marcel Escoffier (theatrical and film credited costume designer), and when the Beast is finally transformed into the Prince, realize the temperature (it was winter) was hovering between 22 and 26 degrees Fahreneit. You can see Marais’ breath in the final sequences as he talks with Belle before carrying her off. The actors stood near the arc lights between scenes to try to keep warm.

    Curiously, Berard is listed in the credits of the film as “Illustre Par Christian Berard.” This is as a result of his not being in any film union. Cocteau indicates this on page 20 of Diary of a Film. Berard had previously done stage work (costumes and sets) primarily. Castillo, head designer at Paquin at the time, likely insisted both the House of Paquin, and himself, to be listed in the credits as a condition of using their facilities.

    With the scarcity of fabric at the end of the Nazi occupation, and the fact that without the aid of Paquin, there would have been no film would be made (putting union members Marcel Escoffier, Lucien Carre, and Rene Moulert, along with all the union technicians, actors, etc, out of work), the union likely allowed him to be listed under “Costumes by Marcel Escoffier and Antonio Castillo.” Castillo went on to costume several other film productions after leaving Paquin’s.

    Also of note is that, being couture items, there was quite probably only one of each costume made. Berard’s attention to the costumes is noted in Cocteau’s “Diary.”

    It’s an interesting that, following the death of Jean Marais (the last surviving cast member) in the late 1990’s, Pierre Cardin, who had been a tailor at Paquin’s at the time the costumes were made, began to claim he had “designed costumes and masks for” La Belle et la Bete. His biographer, Richard Morais, called him out on it.

    Cardin may have tailored some of the costumes, certainly, but did not design them, as evidenced by there being no mention whatsoever in Diary of a Film by Cocteau of Cardin at all, plus the signed production sketch and other sketches by Christian Berard. In addition, in every interview regarding the film, Jean Cocteau credits Berard.

    Also, Jean Marais, in his autobiography, “Histoires de ma Vie” credits a theatrical wig maker named Pontet with the beast mask (there were actually two sets made of the 3 piece appliance).

    Your caption, “Beauty, played by Josette Day, attends her sister Adélaide, played by Mila Parely” is incorrect. Mila Parely portrayed the taller sister, Félicie. Nane Germon portrayed Adelaide, the “little sister.” Other than that minor correction, you have one of the best blogs on “La Belle et la Bete” that I’ve seen on the web. Congratulations.

    And yes, I AM gathering materials to write a book on “La Belle et la Bete!” Did you know, for instance, that, concurrent with the filming of “La Belle et la Bete,” Christian Berard, who had done sketches and design drawings for most of the couture industry, and was published consistently in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar from 1935-1949 (when he died), was also named artistic director of “Theatre de la Mode” ??? He had to leave the B&B Production for a time to help set up the London premiere of “Theatre de la Mode,” after it’s overwhelming support in Paris.

    The couture industry was in shambles, down about half of what it was before the war. They were hanging on, but just barely. After the liberation of Paris, they held an emergency meeting, and decided, in lieu of a full-blown and totally unaffordable fashion tour with models, etc, to let the world know they’d survived by doing a fashion season in miniature, to which the public would pay an admission fee. They appointed Berard as Artistic Director. In its run in 1945 and 1946, the worldwide tours garnered enough in revenue to keep the industry’s thousands of employees going, aided the population at large with emergency funding, and showed off five designs from each designer to the world in unique settings. The sets were designed by Berard and Cocteau, among many other notables, and who better than Berard to have headed this up. He knew all the fashion designers, theatrical set designers, and technicians, the milliners, the shoe designers, the jewelers. Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar helped to publicize it. He got all these different entities to work together.

    In the 1960’s, the 1946 tour mannequins and their couture gowns, were discovered in the basement of a French department store in San Francisco. The sets were re-created from photos, and the nine groupings of mannequins and their couture are housed at the Maryhill Museum in Washington State. Three sets are exhibited per year, and are rotated, with the remainder available for display at museums throughout the world. You can see it on their website. Just Google “Theatre de la Mode +Maryhill Museum” and you’ll find it.

    • Hello Carl.

      My goodness, you are a fount of information. Thank you so much for sharing such a rich resource of knowledge here. It’s much appreciated. You’re correct about the incorrect caption, though in my defence I was using the cast list from the English translation by Ronald Duncan of Cocteau’s Diary of a Film, which lists Parely as Adélaide and Germon as Félicie. (My copy listed as Copyright 1950, by Roy Publishers, A.N., New York.) I’ve now corrected the post.

      I make no claims to being a film or even a costume historian, though I am passionate about both. In a long career in the theatre before I became a painter, I was – in chronological order – first a chorerographer, later a stage director and choreographer, and latterly, a stage designer too. I concur with your observations about the Beast’s costume. I’ve just revisited the scene in the hall, and the jacket doesn’t look at all like velvet.

      The three posts were intended as a tribute to a film I love, so it’s good to read that you think I made a reasonable fist of it. I’ve always said that if there were to be a single film placed in my coffin to keep me happy, then it would have to be La Belle et la Bête. I saw it first when I was fourteen, and I emerged from the gloom of the cinema changed by the experience. It’s the formative cinematic experience of my life, engraved on my heart. I plan no book – at least not one about the making of the film, and so the field is yours. I await what you produce with anticipation. I’ll certainly be watching for it.

      My very best

  3. Good Morning, Well presented review of a more than beautifully crafted film by Cocteau and his crew, a set piece that reminded me of illuminated manuscripts pages. That is as if Cocteau tore a page from a period work in a manuscript. Perhaps I saw the film as a look into a very complex mind of man who looked backward in time and designed a setting, scenes, costumes, lighting, camera technique, so much more of a unusual artist. I read the book of Cocteau’s diary he seemed wrapped up in his love of Marais and the world of film.

    Have you watched the film of Werner Fassbinder? The Fox? A book or two on his life and particularly his childhood – parents – tended to create a child with ability to draw a work of art through cinema. His end of course was upsetting, could he not live with his choice of work and love? Where in the course of his life did he become disillusioned as if haunted by some ghosts that constantly plagued him?

    In some ways Cocteau and Fassbinder were similar in art different presentation and effects – periods – characters drawn into a story on film – extraordinary men. The work produced in film by Cocteau and Fassbinder amazed me. So many years ago and now looking at the review of yours on Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast, I agree with your view of the Disney film and quite dislike the trailers offered, and the movie too technical and expensive.

    The director and producer of the film by the Disney Corporation made a big mistake in selecting Luke Evans as Gaston, Evans stole the film from the actor playing the Beast. Luke Evans is a future actor who will get more parts I hope, since he is one artist actor who views his work beyond the money or the work, he becomes his character, understands how to offer the most elegant side of the persona.

    Oh well, this is not the type of writing or insight your bloggers or you feel rates reading. I am old and watching death before me of my husband, beauty in death? atk

    • God morning, Annette. Many thanks for your kind words about my celebration of this masterwork. You’ve raised so many issues that I’d like to respond to, and I shall, But it cannot be today as I’m against a deadline and must work non-stop to meet it. I will return later to discuss further. I like the connection you’ve made to Fassbinder.

    • Still tinkering with it. Every time I think I’m done I find another exciting image to include. Found a fantastic shot of Marais and his dog to add to the second post. (Apparently the dog served as an inspiration to Marais and the wigmaker creating the Beast’s mask.)

    • Thank you Jacqui. This has been a bit of a marathon of research and compilation, but I wanted to express my appreciation for a film that helped shape my creative life. All these people are as familiar to me as long-time friends, and this seemed the very least I could do to thank them for what they made.

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