A visual masterpiece by poet/playwright Jean Cocteau!
Dennis A. Amith (kndy) | California | 03/02/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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", "Kes 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.
VIDEO & AUDIO:
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.
For "Beauty and the Beast", with the celebration of 100 years in French Cinema, 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.
"Beauty and the Beast" is presented in 1:33:1 and the new digital transfer was created from the 35mm restoration duplicate negative on a high-definition Spirit Datacine. The MTI Digital Restoration System removed thousands of instances of dirt, debris and scratches.
The picture quality of "Beauty and the Beast" looks very good for a film that is over 60-years-old. Blacks are nice and deep and grays and white also look great. Granted, it's not a pristine transfer as their is dust and scratches that can be seen but for the most part, the restoration makes it much better looking than any previous release of the film. But most important about the film was its technical creativity. From its surreal and fantasy look, especially the use of slow motion, "Beauty and the Beast" manages to create the magical/fantasy world.
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.
Subtitles are in English.
"Beauty and the Beast - THE CRITERION COLLECTION #6 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 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".
* 32-Page Booklet - Featuring "Once Upon a Time - French Poet Explains His Filming of a Fairy Tale" by Jean Cocteau", "Notes by Francis Steegmuller from Cocteau: A Biography" and the original story "Beauty and the Beast" by Mme. Leprince de Beaumont.
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 (the 2003 re-release) is a wonderful celebration for Cocteau's film. Overall, "Beauty and the Beast" (Le Belle et La Bete) is definitely recommended!"