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Resampling Jean Cocteau at the Guggenheim

10/14/2010 07:58 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Jean Cocteau by Irving Penn
"Portrait of Jean Cocteau by Irving Penn"

As part of the Guggenheim's "Chaos and Classicism" exhibition, curator Charles Fabius had organized a theatrical performance Coup De Foudre, based on Jean Cocteau's film, The Blood of a Poet (1930). Paul Miller (DJ Spooky) had rescored the original film with his music to Melvin Van Peebles' spoken word accompaniment and choreographer Corey baker's (of Ballet Noir and Fela!) dance performance.

 Corey Baker - COUP DE FOUDRE/Performance Photos by Enid Alvarez
" Corey Baker - COUP DE FOUDRE/Performance Photos by Enid Alvarez"


"Jean Cocteau - The Blood of a Poet, Film still by Sacha Masour"

Cocteau had made this film with the support of Coco Chanel after having just come out of opium rehab. The film itself is a patchwork of metaphors, at times a puzzling reflection of the artist's exploration of art and dreams,"a descent into oneself," as Cocteau once put it. The artist enters his own psyche through the metaphoric device of a mirror, opening doors to his own subconscious imagination into childhood memories, dreams, sexual ambiguities and fears, which lead to exhaustion and a flirtation with death. Eventually the artist recovers and destroys the muse of his imaginations. Yet, this poetic film's premise remains open to speculation.

DJ Spooky -Paul Miller, Melvin Van Peebles, Corey Baker at Guggenheim, October 10, 2010
"DJ Spooky -Paul Miller, Melvin Van Peebles, Corey Baker at Guggenheim, October 10, 2010, photo: Kisa Lala"

While Melvin Van Peebles translated Cocteau's poems with a contemporary bent, Cory Baker added his own body movements as gestural vignettes to emphasize and reinterpret the actions of the film. Baker said after his performance, that he studied the main character, and in order to interpret the fluid movements of the film, he decided on making his gestures supple, less angry, approaching it with an actor's perspective, infusing the production with 'choreographic paragraphs' - as opposed to creating one long piece.

A still from Jean Cocteau's The Blood of a Poet. Photograph: Kobal Collection
"A still from Jean Cocteau's The Blood of a Poet. Photograph: Kobal Collection"

In the era of silent films, the actor's movements and gestures were naturally amplified. Cocteau having worked with Diaghliev and Ballet Russes, was a master of movement, and also, ahead of his times as a multi-disciplinary artist.

Paul Miller (aka DJ Spooky), just returned from the North Pole, offered his interpretation: "The film is actually a poem: Cocteau is thinking of the film set as a code made into poetry, made into an architectural, physical space," posited Mr. Miller, in a statement as equally opaque as the film.

Miller's score began with a live solo cello played by the Telos Ensemble, and an electronic mix, which he 'conducted' using his iPad. His wonderful score actively paced the film's non-narrative flow.

"Cocteau's film was post geographic," said Miller. As a DJ and musician, the era between the wars was a source of many inspirations - as disparate as Kurt Weill, Josephine Baker and Apollinaire. "The war had shattered everybody's sense of continuity, and jazz was the soundtrack," stated Miller.

The DJ also believes that his use of audio montage is in parallel to our 'collage, non-linear imagination.'

"Sampling" he says,"is playfulness with memory; no one remembers anything exactly the same way."

Whoever has the economics has the power to transform memory. The notion of regionalism, geography and limitation had passed: "For 21st century purposes anything goes." Miller said. "We are bombarded with masses of nothingness like a Bush speech." For Miller, it is about culling rhythm out of the chaos.

Corey Baker performs at COUP DE FOUDRE/Performance Photos by Enid Alvarez
"Corey Baker performs at COUP DE FOUDRE/Performance Photos by Enid Alvarez"

Chaos and Classicism: Art in France, Italy, and Germany, 1918-1936, Jean Cocteau, The Blood of a Poet (Le sang d'un poète), 1930 - 35 mm black-and-white film, with sound, 50 min. can be seen at the Guggenheim Museum, New York City. October 1, 2010-January 9, 2011
Text: Kiša Lala