Jean Cocteau is perhaps best known for his classic fantasy film, La belle et la bete (Beauty and the Beast, 1946), based on the fairy tale by Madame Leprince de Beaumont. The multi-talented Cocteau was a painter, poet, and dramatist who is also remembered for his experiments in surrealist and avant-garde techniques.
Founded in the early 1920s, the Surrealist movement concerned itself with the connection between reality and fantasy, rationality and the unconscious. By harnessing and combining these opposing spheres, the Surrealists attempted to create a kind of "super-reality" characterized by disturbing, irrational, and dream-like images. While many employed shocking images in order to critique the status quo, Cocteau devoted himself to the aesthetic ramifications of the movement. In Le Sang d'un poete (The Blood of a Poet, 1932), Cocteau used special effects to create a disjointed, expressionistic commentary on the angst of the artist. Inspired by the myth of Orpheus, this short experimental film used dream-like images to suggest the sacrifices that the artist makes in the service of art.
In Beauty and the Beast, Cocteau created a more traditional, full-length narrative. Starring Jean Marais and Josette Day, this beautiful black-and-white film tells the story of a young woman who finds herself a prisoner of a strange man/beast in atonement for her father's theft of a rose from the Beast's garden. Beauty is frightened by the growling Beast and by the enchanted manor he inhabits. Bodiless human hands usher Beauty into the castle and magically serve her dinner, while lifeless statues periodically awaken to observe her actions. Cocteau used simple but clever mechanical effects to create these and other celebrated moments of cinematic fantasy. Ultimately, Beauty and the Beast come to love one another, and when the Beast is killed at the end of the film, he turns into a prince as he and Beauty fly into the sky in a romantic embrace. Jean Marais plays three characters here: the Beast, the Prince, and Beauty's original suitor (Avenant), who simultaneously changes into the Beast just as the Beast is transformed into the Prince.
In Orphée (Orpheus, 1950), Cocteau returned to the mythological theme of his first film, updating the story and creating a full-length narrative with a surreal bent. Set in modern-day France and once again starring Jean Marais, the film tells the story of Orpheus and his lover Eurydice as he follows her into the underworld following her death. Here and in other films, Cocteau employed a mirror motif to connote either a window into a distant place or a portal into another world. Continuing his obsession with the role of the artist, Cocteau rounded out his trilogy of Orpheus films in 1960 with Le Testament d'Orphée ( The Testament of Orpheus), in which he appeared as himself.
Beauty and the Beast earned Cocteau the Prix Louis Delluc as well as a number of prizes at the Cannes Film Festival. Cocteau was elected to the French Academy in 1955.
Le Sang d'un poete (The Blood of a Poet, 1932), La belle et la bête (Beauty and the Beast, 1946), L'Aigle à deux têtes (The Eagle Has Two Heads, 1947), Orphée (Orpheus, 1950), Le Testament d'Orphée (The Testament of Orpheus, 1960)
Cocteau, Jean. Beauty and the Beast: Diary of a Film. New
York: Dover, 1972. Evans, Arthur B. Jean Cocteau and His Films of Orphic
Identity. Philadelphia: Arts Alliance Press, 1977. Fraigneau, Andre. Cocteau on the Film: Conversations with Jean Cocteau. New York: Dover, 1972.
Katherine A. Fowkes
Cocteau's black-and-white, live-action fantasy remains the quintessential version.
Elsewhere, Sweden's Ingmar Bergman (b. 1918) was responsible for a number of surreal films, such as Det sjunde inseglet (The Seventh Seal, 1957), in which a knight returns from the Crusades and challenges Death to a chess game. In Italy, Federico Fellini (1920-1993) broke from the neorealist movement to produce his disjointed, dreamlike classics 8V2 (1963) and Giulietta degli spiriti (Juliet of the Spirits, 1965). And in Japan, Kenji Mizoguchi (1898-1956) produced the ghostly Ugetsu monogatari (1953).
Jean Cocteau creates a charming fantasy world with minimal means in La belle et la bete (Beauty and the Beast, 1946). everett collection. reproduced by permission.
Beginning in the late 1970s, Hollywood experienced a renewed interest in science fiction and fantasy, stoked in part by the films of George Lucas (b. 1944) and Steven Spielberg (b. 1946). Star Wars (1977) and E. T.: the Extraterrestrial (1982) were among the many popular films to whet movie-goers' appetites for a more upbeat type of science fiction than had been popular in the 1950s and 1960s. Star Wars drew inspiration from Kakushi-toride no san-akunin (The Hidden Fortress, 1958), directed by the well-known Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. The 1980s also saw a spate of medieval sword and sorcery films, spurred by the popularity of the role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons. While films such as Dragonslayer (1981) and Ladyhawke (1985) were not widely popular, they paved the way for the hugely successful Lord of the Rings trilogy, the first of which premiered in 2001. That same year, the runaway success of the Harry Potter children's books spawned the franchise for another film series about magic and heroism with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001).
In the 1990s, Ghost (1990) emerged as the most popular among a series of supernatural melodramas that eschewed horror for comic or dramatic stories. Even The
Sixth Sense (1999), which initially presented itself as horror/suspense, eventually revealed itself to be more of a melodrama in the tradition of Ghost (1990), Always (1989), and Truly Madly Deeply (1991). Many supernatural melodramas drew inspiration from earlier films. City of Angels (1998) was a mainstream remake of the art film Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire, 1987), directed by the German filmmaker Wim Wenders (b. 1945). The Preacher's Wife (1996), Michael (1996), and Meet Joe Black (1998) provided variations on a type of non-horror, supernatural film that had experienced popularity in the 1930s and 1940s—for example, The Bishop's Wife (1947), Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941), and Death Takes a Holiday (1934).
In the United States and elsewhere, it was computergenerated imagery (CGI) that most affected the look and feel of cinematic fantasy in the 1980s and 1990s. The technology didn't truly come of age until the underwater fantasy The Abyss (1989) and later Toy Story (1995), an "animated" film made completely with computer imagery. Also notable for their reliance on CGI were the highly successful Jurassic Park (1993), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), Forrest Gump (1994), and The Mask (1994). The Matrix (1999) introduced a striking new approach to the choreography of action and fight sequences. The Matrix was heavily influenced by martial arts specialists in Hong Kong and China, including John Woo (b. 1946) and the Vietnamese-born Tsui Hark (b. 1950), whose popular action/fantasies such as Suk san: Sun Suk san geen hap (Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain, 1983) have earned him comparison to Spielberg. The Matrix also drew inspiration from Japanese anime films such as Mamoru Oshii's (b. 1951) Ko kaku kidotai (Ghost in the Shell, 1995). One of the first anime films to make an impact on Hollywood was Katsushiro Otomo's (b. 1954) violent techno-fantasy, Akira (1988). And although Hayao Miyazaki's (b. 1941) Mononoke-hime (Princess Mononoke, 1997) and Sen to chihiro no kamikakushi (Spirited Away, 2001) have not been widely viewed in the United States, their boxoffice success in Japan has helped make anime fantasy a major movement in international cinema.
Much that has been written about fantasy focuses on it as a literary genre, but it can be equally applied to cinema. Although it is common to classify fantasy texts by themes and motifs or by the extent to which story-worlds and events deviate from realistic representations, Tzvetan Todorov concentrates on the response generated by the "fantastic" events in the story. In this light, fantasy must be considered not just one "mode," but three, since it creates a continuum stretching from "the marvelous'' to
''the uncanny,'' depending on the extent to which the characters and/or the reader experience feelings of awe and hesitation provoked by strange, improbable events. If the narrative's impossibility can be explained rationally or psychologically (as a dream, hallucinations), then the term ''uncanny'' is applied. The purely ''fantastic'' comes into play only during the hesitation and uncertainty experienced by the characters and/or the reader/viewer when faced with an impossible occurrence. By contrast, the term ''marvelous'' is applied to self-contained story worlds such as those of The Lord of the Rings or The Dark Crystal (1982), which do not ask the reader or viewer to question the reality of the story. (J. R. R. Tolkien called this ''subcreation,'' also referred to as ''High Fantasy.'')
The Wizard of Oz demonstrates all three modes operating within a single fantasy. Unlike films that propose an alternate, imaginary universe as the setting for the entire tale, The Wizard ofOz frames its fantasy world with the real world of Kansas, suggesting that Oz is only a fantasy of the imagination. In light of Todorov's definitions, we can see that upon first encountering Oz, both Dorothy and the audience are operating in a ''fantastic'' capacity. But wonder and disbelief eventually give way to ''marvelous'' acceptance, and Dorothy and the audience participate in the quest to find the wizard and ultimately kill the wicked witch. While Dorothy and the audience may continue to ''marvel'' at the strangeness of creatures and events in Oz, it is never suggested that Oz is not actually ''real'' until the end, when the dream explanation shifts our understanding of the events into the ''uncanny'' mode. Our prior willing suspension of disbelief only adds to the impact of the final scene, when the audience shares Dorothy's consternation at being told it was all ''only'' a dream.
As a psychological phenomenon, the term ''fantasy'' refers to our unconscious desires (dreams, daydreams, wishes). For this reason, Rosemary Jackson notes that fantasy stories are perhaps the type of fiction most amenable to psychoanalytic interpretations. Although Jackson applies her analysis only to fantasy literature, it can be easily extrapolated to film. Drawing on Todorov's definition, Jackson argues that the fantastic is inherently subversive. By raising questions about reality and by revealing repressed dreams or wishes, fantasy makes explicit what society rejects or refuses to acknowledge. Indeed, to the extent that it includes the surreal and experimental, fantasy is often explicitly subversive. The original surrealists thought art should be shocking and politically progressive, and they intentionally disrupted those cinematic conventions that help create coherence and meaning for the viewer. But most mainstream fantasy films take care to adhere to the conventions of classical cinematic storytelling while constructing coherent space, time, and narrative causality. Nevertheless, horror differs from fantasy in this respect: it is a form of mainstream fantasy whose formulaic content is often examined for its subversive potential and for symptoms of a culture's repressed desires.
While horror has received much critical attention, other types of fantasy are often rejected as being merely ''escapist''—a term generally associated with works of art that one is not supposed to take seriously. Most fantasy films are considered escapist because they temporarily transport viewers to impossible worlds and provide unrealistic solutions to problems. Even Jackson concedes that most fantasy is ''marvelous'' instead of truly ''fantastic,'' more a matter of wish fulfillment than of challenge. Indeed, referring to The Lord of the Rings trilogy from which the films were adapted, Jackson describes Tolkien's fantasy as inherently conservative and nostalgic. With its magic, fantastical beings and clear-cut delineations of good and evil, The Lord of the Rings presents a compelling fantasy mirrored to some extent in the Harry Potter films. Many would argue that Harry Potter, like The Lord ofthe Rings, uses imagination to uphold rather than to transcend traditional values. Both tend to reinforce a hierarchical world based in traditional notions of morality, gender, and heroism. Both rely on a sense of mystical destiny and grace that, while not explicitly religious in nature, exhibits the strong influence of a traditional Western and Christian perspective. Both series feature a reluctant and somewhat unlikely young hero, and both offer the audience an escape into a different world where difficult problems are solved through magic as well as old-fashioned courage and integrity. The Harry Potter films differ from The Lord of the Rings trilogy, however, in pitting the viewer's own sense of ''reality'' against the magical world of wizards and witches.
A psychoanalytic approach to fantasy must take into account not just the psychological underpinnings of the characters but the pleasure and appeal of the story for the viewer. The most successful fantasy films provide viewers with vicarious experiences that resonate with emotional, if not physical, reality. Both Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings demonstrate the appeal of fantasy as a vehicle for wish fulfillment through their glorification of magical (hence unrealistic) solutions to serious problems. The viewer lives vicariously through the characters of Frodo and Harry, who strive to overcome the forces of evil. The psychological appeal of fantasy helps to explain the frequency of the Oedipal scenario in these types of narratives. For example, Star Wars features a classic Oedipal struggle between Luke and his father. Superhero movies also construct appealing fantasy scenarios, often starring unlikely or reluctant male heroes reminiscent of Frodo and Harry. Superman (1978), Batman (1989), and Spider-Man (2002) were popular movies that featured ''ordinary'' protagonists whose unremarkable talents presumably resonate on some level with most viewers. This ordinary-ness is revealed as a mere facade, however, masking the true superhuman powers of the character—another attractive problemsolving solution for consumers of fantasy.
Similarly, many recent supernatural/ghost movies also deny the reality of death by magically bringing back beloved characters as ghosts, as in Ghost and Truly Madly Deeply. A psychoanalytic interpretation of such fantasies, however, yields a more subtle interpretation. Whether or not such films are wish-fulfillment fantasies matters less than whether or not wish-fulfillment fantasies are inherently conservative. There is certainly nothing subversive about a story in which a male character wishes to become more macho (as in Spider-Man), for such fantasies merely reinforce traditional Western ideas about masculinity, echoed in many of the fantasy films discussed here. But just because some fantasies are conservative does not necessarily mean that escapism is a worthless denial of reality and therefore of no cultural value. For example, recent melodramatic and comedy ghost films share a tendency to challenge traditional gender roles by creating passive and "emasculated" male characters (Ghost, Truly Madly Deeply, The Sixth Sense) who contrast sharply with the active male protagonists found in most Hollywood movies.
Regardless of whether or not these and other fantasy films are truly subversive or politically liberating, many fantasy movies provide an interlude in which viewers are invited to entertain forbidden desires and other heretofore unimagined possibilities. Thus, to draw on Jean Laplanche and Jean-Bertrand Pontalis's definition of fantasy as a psychological phenomenon, a fantasy film is thus literally the ''mise-en-scene of desire,'' the setting whereby impossible desires may play out to their logical conclusions.
seealso Children's Films; Genre; Horror Films; Science
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Katherine A. Fowkes
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