The Big New Adventure

I’ve loved Jean Cocteau’s 1946 film of La Belle et la Bête since first I saw it. Loved it, been thrilled, haunted and in thrall to it. I never tire of watching it, sometimes quipping that it’s the film to throw in my coffin to keep me company in the afterlife I don’t believe in.

Above: preparatory drawing for an illustration

For the longest time I’d been wondering how best to honour and homage the film. To begin with I toyed with the idea of making a series of paintings, but then together with Joe Pearson at Design for Today – who published Hansel & Gretel last year – hatched a plan to produce an illustrated book in collaboration with the poet Olivia McCannon, who I’d been longing to work with. Joe, Olivia and I are in agreement that neither a straight adaptation of the screenplay nor a picture book version of the film could do justice to our ambitions. We’ve opted instead for what we’re referring to as a reinvention of Cocteau’s masterpiece characterised less as a translation, than a ‘dream’ of the film.

Above: my portrait of La Bête, the first image made for the book

I’ve filled drawing books with preparatory material. Characters and places have been exhaustively explored in order to find versions that will work to best advantage in illustrations. Iconic visual aspects of Cocteau’s Beauty and her Beast In their Christian Bérard costumes have been pored over, their shapes, textures and design characteristics examined, simplified and reconfigured so as to work graphically on the page. I’ve built maquettes and three-dimensional model sets to help with my compositions.

Above: maquettes under construction

With the groundwork done, I begin the real work of construction. There’s no dummy yet, but I estimate forty illustrations. Time to get busy!

Above: Jean Cocteau’s handwriting in the film’s opening credits

10 thoughts on “The Big New Adventure

  1. Dear Clive, DELIGHTED for the three of you and looking forward to all the creativity to come, extra welcome in these ‘barren’ times…

    A Dream Within a Dream – E. A Poe
    Take this kiss upon the brow!
    And, in parting from you now,
    Thus much let me avow —
    You are not wrong, who deem
    That my days have been a dream;
    Yet if hope has flown away
    In a night, or in a day,
    In a vision, or in none,
    Is it therefore the less gone?
    All that we see or seem
    Is but a dream within a dream.

    Love as ever and always
    Bern x

  2. Clive, It has been too long (it’s Sean in Philadelphia). I am so glad to see you return to this tale. I cannot think of a more appropriate time in history to examine its themes. Cocteau began another film, Blood of the Poet, with the line, “every poem is a coat of arms; it must be deciphered.” That is a line that has stuck with me as I remember that film with its dada-ist imagery. In a way, your preparatory sketch reminded me of this coat of arms, with various visual elements drawings us into this fierce tragedy in the face of love. All that is encompassed is to be revealed in the language of visual poetry. I’m looking forward to where this visual journey takes you.

    • Hello Sean in Philadelphia! Lovely to hear from you. Glad that you’re keeping safe in these strange times.

      I’ve always collaborated best with poets, and I have a brilliant one undertaking this adventure with me, our first together. I treasure not just her snippets of text as they emerge, but the wonderful discussions we have about the ideas we’re moving toward. She’s an inspiration to me, just as Cocteau and his team are.

      I won’t pretend that it’s not a big challenge, taking something brilliant, lyric and iconic made in one form, and homaging it in another. But then I have always loved a challenge.

  3. This will be my favorite work from Clive; I can already see it in the sketches and colors–and in Clive’s descriptions of his process. Sending Clive happiest trans-Atlantic vibes for weeks or months of inspired work.

  4. Dear Clive:
    I still have not been able to watch the film. It has been waiting for a while on my incoming tray. I told you I did not like Jean Marais, but after your piece on Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête here at the Artlog, I ordered the film…
    Now, I have time again; too much time. And I shall watch it in order to prepare for your version of the story.
    Every time there is a new book with your vision of a tale, the tale gets better and better. I know I am going to love it. It shall be a worth the wait. Like it always is.
    Love from Madrid

    • Dearest Maria.

      Please don’t force yourself to watch something you won’t enjoy. The experience of watching Testament of Orpheus and La Belle et la Bête in a double bill at about age thirteen years of age, was an experience that marked me for life. Both were hugely significant in my creative development, but it’s the latter film that nests in my heart. I imagine my response to it was the result of many things particular to my frame of mind at first exposure. But while I love it, I don’t believe I would have had it in me to make a response to it before now. Working on several books over the past few years, and particularly on Hansel & Gretel for Design for Today, has brought me to the right place to undertake the challenge. I have wonderful collaborators in Joe and Olivia. This feels the right moment for the adventure.

      You are much in our minds. Peter and I send our love. XXX

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