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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.33:1 Standard
  • French PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • Audio commentary by French film scholar James Williams
  • Jean Cocteau: Autobiography of an Unknown, a 1984 feature-length documentary
  • Video piece from 2008 featuring assistant director Claude Pinoteau on the special effects in the film
  • 40 Minutes with Jean Cocteau, an interview with the director from 1957
  • In Search of Jazz, a 1956 interview with Cocteau on the use of jazz in the film
  • La villa Santo-Sospir, a 16 mm color Cocteau film from 1951
  • Gallery of images by French film portrait photographer Roger Corbeau
  • Raw newsreel footage
  • Theatrical trailer

Orpheus

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Jean Cocteau
Starring: Jean Marais
1950 | 95 Minutes | Licensor: SNC

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #68
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: August 30, 2011
Review Date: October 2, 2011

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SYNOPSIS

This 1950 update of the Orphic myth by Jean Cocteau depicts a famous poet (Jean Marais) scorned by the Left Bank youth, and his love for both his wife Eurydice (Marie Dťa) and a mysterious princess (Maria CasarŤs). Seeking inspiration, the poet follows the princess from the world of the living to the land of the dead through Cocteau's famous mirrored portal. Orpheus represents the legendary Cocteau at the height of his abilities for peerless visual poetry and dreamlike storytelling.

Forum members rate this film 8.6/10

 

Discuss the film and Blu-ray here   


PICTURE

After losing the rights to the other two films in Cocteauís Orphic Trilogy Criterion releases the second film, Orpheus, on its own on Blu-ray in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this dual-layer disc in a new 1080p/24hz high-definition transfer.

The Blu-rayís transfer offers a drastic improvement over Criterionís previous DVD, which wasnít awful but certainly open to improvement. The image we get here is a far sharper and cleaner one, with barely any marks or other forms of damage, and crisp, clean details. Film grain is visible and remains natural but never calls attention to itself. Contrast looks great with distinct gray levels and fairly inky blacks.

In all a sharp, pleasant presentation, and itís a real shame Criterion lost the rights to the other two films in the trilogy (The Blood of a Poet and Testament of Orpheus) as I would have loved to see those upgraded as wellóit feels highly unlikely weíll see those from anyone else anytime soon.

8/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The lossless linear PCM mono track is certainly cleaner and sharper than the previous DVD editionís but thatís about it. Itís still a fairly flat track with no fidelity or any real power. But itís clear and presents no distracting problems.

6/10

SUPPLEMENTS

The previous DVD for Orpheus, which was only available in a box set released by Criterion, technically contained no supplements, though the other two films in the set (again The Blood of a Poet and Testament of Orpheus) each had their own supplements. Figuring they will probably never get the rights to the films again, or at the very least any time soon, Criterion has carried over most of the supplements from those two discs to this single release and then added more.

New to this edition is the take-it-or-leave-it audio commentary by French-film scholar James S. Williams. Itís not a terrible track but I found it entirely underwhelming and probably wouldnít have missed it if they didnít bother including it. It suffers primarily from feeling a bit ďscriptedĒ and he really lacks much passion when he speaks. In the track he covers a lot about Cocteauís life, how it shows up in the film, makes references to his other works, looks at framing and editing, themes within the film, the homoeroticism present, the many film tricks, the original Orphic legend, and he of course talks about the production, the actors, and filming locations. Unfortunately thereís a surprising amount of dead space and he falls into the trap of just telling us what is happening on screen. Though some information is fine and insightful the track suffers because itís not at all surprising and really follows the same path as most scholarly tracks. Itíll come down to most viewers. My suggestion is to just listen to a bit and if it does nothing for you just leave it be.

Carried over from the now out-of-print DVD for The Blood of a Poet is the 67-minute 1984 documentary Jean Cocteau: Autobiography of an Unknown by Edgardo Cozarinsky. I remember being initially surprised by the documentary when I saw it and it still proves a fascinating film. Itís a very personal film about the director, put together from interviews with the artist/poet/director before his death, as he talks about his work, his life, his loves, and friends, the latter of which included many famous artists and composers. Surprisingly thereís not a lot about his film workóor I was at least expecting moreóbut itís a great documentary and Iím happy to see Criterion was able to carry this over. Unfortunately it doesnít look to have been restored but itís still a decent presentation.

Another new addition is a 17-minute interview from a French television program In Search of Jazz recorded in 1956. Here Cocteau is questioned about his use of Jazz music in Orpheus and how rare it was (at the time) for this type of music to appear in films. Cocteau explains the traits of the music that made it a perfect fit, its use of beats, and so on. As with most interviews with the director, who is always an engaging and energetic interviewee, itís an entertaining piece.

Next is a 13-minute interview with assistant director Claude Pinoteau from 2008, found under Jean Cocteau and His Tricks, filmed in 2008. Here he explains how some of the effects were done (reverse shots, rear-projection, duplicated sets for some mirror effects, and so on.) Some of this is probably obvious, though no less magical on screen, but hearing someone talk about these effects first hand, also explaining how they were planned out with the cinematographer, proves no less fascinating.

40-Minutes With Jean Cocteau is a 40-minute interview with the director, though technically the interview really only runs 20 to 25 minutes when you take out the introduction and endless clips from his films. At any rate, when we do get to Cocteauís interview, recorded in 1959, Cocteau talks about his audience, primarily the young, The Blood of a Poetís release, the reasons he hadnít made another film since Orpheus (he would go on to make Testament of Orpheus later) and his artwork that he has done in his villa and elsewhere. Another engaging segment, though you can probably skip through the film clips that show up.

Ported over from the previous DVD for The Testament of Orpheus is Cocteauís only colour 16mm film, La villa Santo-Sospir, a film he made simply just so could make an ďamateurĒ 16mm film. It primarily covers the artwork he made to decorate his villa, giving a tour of the house. The artwork is fascinating and ranges from the rather simple to the elaborate. He then of course canít help himself and adds some of his film tricks, primarily in the conclusion where he manages to bring flowers back to life. Another interesting film though unfortunately the film is obviously upscaled from standard definition.

The supplements then conclude with a collection of stills from the film made up mostly of production photos with a few advertising photos. We then get a theatrical trailer and then almost 2-minutes worth of silent footage of the Saint-Cyr Military Academy ruins, which was used for the location of The Zone. The footage was shot in 1950

The booklet then includes an essay on the film by Mark Polizzotti. Criterion then reprints Cocteauís notes on the film, which appeared in the insert for the original DVD edition of Orpheus, though theyíre expanded upon here. The booklet then concludes with an essay by James S. Williams about Cocteauís short La villa Santo-Sospir.

Supplements that didnít make it over from the Orphic Trilogy box set are the stills gallery for The Blood of a Poet, filmographies for Cocteau, and then his notes on Blood of a Poet and Testament of Orpheus.

Forgetting the commentary, which didnít do much for me, the supplements here are all rather enjoyable and worth the time going through, all of them offering a unique look at the film and the director.

8/10

CLOSING

Itís unfortunate Criterion lost the rights to the other two films in Cocteauís Orphic trilogy as this reissue for Orpheus, the second film in the trilogy, is a splendid upgrade, outdoing the original in every way, and Iím sure we would have been treated to similar upgrades with the other films. As it is Criterion at least tries to make up for the lack of the other films by at least carrying over the supplements found on their respective DVDs from the box set and then delivering a stunning black and white transfer. Hereís hoping Criterion might be able to regain the other films one day.


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