Monday, July 5, 2010

Coctelian

On this day in 1889, Jean Cocteau was born. "The most versatile artist of the 20th century," he was a playwright, filmmaker, poet, novelist, artist, designer, librettist, and more. He was deeply involved in the Parisian art scene from about 1910 to 1960, meeting, influencing, arguing with, befriending the most important artists and performers of his time. He did so much that it's hard to get a grip on his career and his personality; this New York Times article is a valiant effort.

Cocteau's house in Milly-la-Forêt has just been restored and opened to the public as a museum; see this excellent article on Paris-Update.com.

I first encountered Cocteau's work when I saw La belle et la bête as a teenager, on the big screen at a revival house. I was friends with a boy named Danny who went to my church, and after Mass one day, Danny's father cornered me and my parents and said "We're going to go see Cocteau's La belle et la bête this afternoon... you mean to say you've never seen it? Oh, you MUST. You HAVE to." And so I entered Cocteau's world of aesthetic beauty, of striking images, of adaptations of old myths and fairy tales...

It was only this year, though, that I read any of Cocteau's plays; but once I did, I was captivated--despite not always thinking that the English translations I read were much good. That's why I am about to begin the process of translating his 1925 drama Orphée. (First, though, I have to obtain the rights to translate it--this could get interesting.) Orphée is notoriously difficult to translate, because it is full of puns that are deeply woven into the fabric of the script. Nonetheless, I love a challenge, and I am already thinking of solutions to make these puns work in English...

Now, another thing I learned recently is that the adjectival form of the name "Cocteau" is "Coctelian." (Adjectives can be funny, can't they? Like "Shaw" becomes "Shavian.") And I LOVE this, too, because it makes a perfect multilingual pun: the word for "cocktail" in Spanish is "coctel."

And Cocteau's plays, Coctelian dramas, are indeed crazy cocktails, mixing up ancient myths and modern avant-garde techniques and some motifs that seem to come completely out of left field, such as the horse in Orphée. That's why I like them so much, and why I am eager to keep exploring Cocteau's artistic creations... and trying to understand the indefatigable, elusive, complex man who made them.

6 comments:

Dr.J said...

I watched Cocteau for the first time as a teenager too, hope you get through with the translation.
Have you seen "Orfeo negro"?
Don´t call me pedantic, but in spanish you have to write cóctel because it ends in a consonant different from n or s, we really never write that (except academics) and use cocktail like that, the plural is cócteles. Unfortunately the expression cóctel-molotov is well known because of ETA.

Marissa said...

Yes, I've seen Orfeo Negro on the big screen, too! It was one of my grandfather's favorite movies, evidently.

吳婷婷 said...
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Dr.J said...
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Dr.J said...

Sorry I forgot to comment that the film Orpheus (1950) was performed by the spanish actress Maria Casares (although French like to consider her as a compatriot, quite like Picasso). Maria Casares (1922-1996) daughter of Santiago Casares, a minister of the spanish Republic, went into exile in 1939; she was the lover of Albert Camus, many of whose plays she interpreted.

婷珊 said...
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