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Beauty and the Beast – THE CRITERION COLLECTION #6 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

July 6, 2011 by  



Beautiful production and set design combined with magical cinematography and solid performances by Josette Day and Jean Marais.  A visual masterpiece by poet/playwright Jean Cocteau that has received two DVD releases in the past from the Criterion Collection, bu this 2011 release looks even better on Blu-ray!

Image courtesy of © Comite Cocteau 1946.  SNC (Groupe M6) 2002.  © 2011 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Beauty and the Beast – THE CRITERION COLLECTION #6

YEAR OF FILM: 1946

DURATION: 93 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: Black and White, Monaural, French with English Subtitles, 1:33:1 Aspect Ratio

COMPANY: Janus Films/THE CRITERION COLLECTION

RELEASE DATE: July 19, 2011

Based on a story by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont

Written and Directed by Jean Cocteau

Executive Producer: Andre Paulve

Music by Georges Auric

Cinematography by Henri Alekan

Edited by Claude Iberia

Production Design by Christian Berard, Lucien Carre

Set Decoration by Lucien Carre, Rene Moulaert

Costume Design by Antonio Castillo, Marcel Escoffier, Christian Berard

Starring:

Jean Marais as La Bete (The Beast)/The Prince/Avenant

Josette Day as Belle

Mila Parely as Felicie

Nane Germon as Adelaide

Michel Auclair as Ludovic

Raoul Marco as The Usurer

Marcel Andre as Belle’s Father

Jean Cocteau’s sublime adaptation of Mme. Leprince de Beaumont’s fairy-tale masterpiece—in which the pure love of a beautiful girl melts the heart of a feral but gentle beast—is a landmark of motion picture fantasy, with unforgettably romantic performances by Jean Marais and Josette Day. The spectacular visions of enchantment, desire, and death in Beauty and the Beast (La Belle et la Bête) have become timeless icons of cinematic wonder.

For many people the days, the mention of “Beauty and the Beast” is something animated by Disney or a TV series from the 1990′s but the story of “Beauty and the Beast” was born as a fairy tale back in the 1740′s by Madame Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and then revised in 1757 by French novelist Jeanne Marie Le Prince de Beaumont.

But in 1946, director Jean Cocteau (“The Testament of Orpheus”, “Orpheus”, “Les Enfants Terribles”) would take the popular story and adapt it into a live action film known as “La belle et la bete” (Beauty and the Beast) featuring cinematography by Henri Alekan and music by Georges Auric.

The Criterion Collection released “Beauty and the Beast” back in 1998 as #6 in their DVD collection.  The company then re-released the film on DVD in 2003 with a better remaster and more special features  (and years later as a non-Criterion Collection official release without any special features as part of Janus Film’s “Essential Art House” set)  and now a third Criterion Collection release on Blu-ray featuring everything that was on the 2003 special edition DVD but now featured in High Definition.

“Beauty and the Beast” revolves around a young woman named Belle (played by Josette Day) who cares for her father (played by Marcel Andre) and often mistreated by her sisters Felicie (played by Mila Prely) and Adelaide (played by Nane Germon) who want to be part of high society and leave all the housework to Belle.  Her brother Ludovic (played by Michel Auclair) is always scheming to make more money and his friend Avenant (played by Jean Marais) is constantly proposing to Belle for marriage which she continuously turns him down (because she wants to be near her father).

One day, Belle’s father gets lost in the forest and enters a magical castle which is like a fantasy (or nightmare) with hands serving food and holding the lights, statues are alive and eventually the father falls asleep.  When he leaves the castle, he picks a flower and then the beast appears.  The beast threatens to kill the father for theft but allows him to live if he offers one of this three daughters in his place and threatens that if he doesn’t make a decision, his family will pay with their lives.

Thus the father returns home and tells his daughter about their situation and not wanting to see her father suffer, Belle offers herself.  She then rides back to the castle to where the beast lives, not knowing if she will live or die.

As for her father, because his precious Belle has gone off in his place, he is guilt-ridden and starts to become more sick and because Ludovic signed a contract with a money lender allowing him to sue the family if they can’t pay their loan, it hurts the family to the point that the family loses all their possessions including their home.

As for Belle, she is scared of the beast but for the beast, he is enamored that this beautiful woman chose to live with him and tries to propose to her which she quickly turns him down.  But as each day passes, she starts to notice his good qualities and eventually starts to care for him.  But being alone in the castle by herself is not an easy life and when she sees her sick father through a magic mirror,  Belle wishes to return back home for a week.

In order to show how much he trusts her, the beast offers her two items.  A magic glove to transport from her bed at the castle to her bed at home and a special key that unlocks Diana’s pavilion, where the true riches of the beast are kept.

But what happens when Belle returns back home?

VIDEO:

For “Beauty and the Beast”, with the celebration of 100 years in French Cinema back in 1995, the Centre National de l’audiovisuel of Luxembourg in association with the CLT-UFA International began their restoration on “Beauty and the Beast”.  The restoration began with the original nitrate negative which suffered from age-related deterioration.  The negative was cleaned and many of its sprocket holes repaired, so the negative would roll evenly through the gate at 24 frames per second.  A wet-gate process was then used to fill in the scratches and removal of any fine dust.  The restorers then made fine-grain positive elements that became the main source for the new restoration negative.

It’s important to note that “Beauty and the Beast” was among the first DVD’s released by the Criterion Collection back in 1998.  Around 2003, several of their earlier titles received a re-release including a high-definition digital transfer and more special features.  This 2011 Blu-ray release is presented in 1:33:1 ala 1080p High Definition and was created with an HD digital transfer created on a Spirit Datacine from the 35 mm restoration duplicate negative.

According to the Criterion Collection, further restoration was done to manually remove thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter and flicker using MTI’s DRS system and Pixel Farm’s PFClean system, while Digital Vision’s DVNR system was used for small dirt, grain and noise reduction.

The picture quality of “Beauty and the Beast” looked very good for a film that is over 60-years-old on DVD but on Blu-ray, this third release definitely showcases much more detail and better contrast!  Blacks are nice and deep and grays and white also look great.  Granted, it’s not a pristine transfer as their is flickering, visible dust and scratches that can be seen and on Blu-ray, even the grain seems to be much more visible but where this third release outshadows the two previous DVD’s is its contrast and much better detail.

But most important about the film was its technical creativity and how its surreal and fantasy look was captured on film at the time.  Especially the use of slow motion, “Beauty and the Beast” manages to create the magical/fantasy world that much impact back in 1946 and as a viewer, who appreciates how things were done back in the day, you have to really appreciate the look and feel of the film.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

As for the audio, the audio is monaural and was created from an optical soundtrack print and restored at 24-bit using digital audio tools to reduce ticks, pops, hiss and other distortions.  Audio is Dolby Digital 1.0 but I preferred to hear the track coming on all channels via a selection on my home theater receiver for a more pronounced soundscape for the film’s audio.

There is much more clarity with the lossless monaural audio track compared to the original DVD releases.  Subtitles are in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Beauty and the Beast – THE CRITERION COLLECTION #6” on Blu-ray comes with the following special features:

  • Philip Glass Opera – Featuring a text introduction by Philip Glass, the viewer can also watch the entire film via an operatic version.  Philip Glass is known for taking cinema and then building music and the actual words from the film which are sung via opera.
  • Arthur Knight Commentary – Featuring the original 1991 audio commentary (from the Beauty and the Beast Criterion Collection LD) by film historian Arthur Knight. Knight talks about Cocteau, the difference between the screenplay and the fable, Cocteau’s production diary and the use of slow motion in the film, the first screening and more.
  • Sir Christopher Frayling Commentary – A second audio commentary featuring writer/cultural historian Sir Christopher Frayling recorded for the British Film Institute in 2001.  Frayling goes into furth depth about the era, Cocteau vs. Disney, the pacing of the film and more.
  • Screening at the Majestic – (26:48) A featurette about the making of “Beauty and the Beast” including interviews with director Henri Alekan, actress Mila Parely and actor Jean Marais.  Also, revisiting the location of where the film was shot.
  • Interview with Henri Alekan – (9:14) An interview with Director Henri Alekan to coincide with the restoration of “Beauty and the Beast” in 1995.
  • Secrets Professionnels: Tete a Tete – (8:48) Excerpts from the French television show “Secret Professionnels: Tete a Tete” featuring the trade of Hagop Arakelian, makeup artist on “Beauty and the Beast”.  Aired back on March 12, 1964.
  • Original Trailer – (4:01) Featuring the original theatrical trailer of “Beauty and the Beast”.
  • Restoration Trailer – (1:57) A movie trailer for the restored version of “Beauty and the Beast”.
  • Film Restoration – (4:05) A short featurette on the 1995 restoration of “Beauty and the Beast”.
  • Stills Gallery – Featuring stills by photographer G.R. Aldo, cinematographer for Orson Welle’s “Othello”, Luchino Visconti’s “Senso” and Vittorio De Sica’s “Umberto D.” and “Indiscretion of an American Wife”.

EXTRAS:

“Beauty and the Beast – THE CRITERION COLLECTION #6” comes with a 34-page booklet which includes the newly added “Dark Magic” by Geoffrey O’Brien”, “Once Upon a Time – French Poet Explains His Filming of a Fairy Tale” by Jean Cocteau”, “On the Making of Beauty and the Beast”, an excerpt by Francis Steegmuller from Cocteau: A Biography” and “Philip Glass on His Opera”.

Note: The original story “Beauty and the Beast” by Mme. Leprince de Beaumont which was included on the special edition DVD booklet is not included on this Blu-ray release.

A masterpiece from Poet-Playwright Jean Cocteau,  “Beauty and the Beast” (La belle et la bete) is definitely one of his most inspired films to help define French cinema at that time.  Sure, we have seen Hollywood create a magical world and characters with “Wizard of Oz” in 1936 but “Beauty and the Beast” is like a painting on a canvas.

Each scene, especially in the magical castle and world of the beast is captured in such beauty with its cinematography especially when Belle enters the castle for the first time and the use of slow motion, to the visual/dark surroundings of the statues that move, the hands and arms extending out to hold a candle or a drink. Production and set design were just as beautiful.  May it be the elaborate look of the home, from its curtains to its silver.  The beast’s palace is just brimming of upper class merchandise but a lonely, dark setting that he can’t even enjoy.

This film is not a happy film like its Disney counterpart.  I’m not quite sure if this film was adored by children back then but I can probably guess that children were more than likely scared of the film as the imagery shows a beast, with this raspy voice that will easy scare you or annoy you (ala the supercomputer in Jean-Luc Godard’s “Alphaville”). But nevertheless, actor Jean Marais has done a good job playing the beast, while main actress, Josette Day as Belle, what a beautiful young maiden did a very good job and made us believe in her fear but her growing compassion towards the beast.

Fascinating and visually creative for its time, “Beauty and the Beast” from the Criterion Collection is a wonderful celebration for Cocteau’s film and as the 2003 special edition DVD was quite unique when it was released, fans of the film and previous owners of the special edition DVD will enjoy the film with much better contrast on Blu-ray in 2011.  While there is nothing new added to the actual content on Blu-ray, there is an additional essay included on the Blu-ray booklet version.

While, there are several wonderful films from filmmaker Jean Cocteau that I would love to see on Blu-ray, “Beauty and the Beast” (Le Belle et La Bete) is one of his classics that showcases his style to surrealism and also emphasis in creating a magical world, especially through costume and design.

“Beauty and the Beast” is a Jean Cocteau film that is recommended on Blu-ray!






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