Cocteau, Fosse, Blood of a Poet, and All That Jazz

    In Blood of a Poet [Le Sang d'un poète], Cocteau films the ordeal the poet must undertake so that his art will be realized, and accepted by others. He had originally planned to make an animated cartoon entitled La Vie d'un poète or La Naissance de poésie, but changed to the present title since the central image is blood, which the poet must expend to create the work of art and have it reach a public. In the course of the 1930 episodic film, the poet-sculptor-painter brings a statue to life, attains brief notoriety, but eventually loses control over his creation, a statue turned into a woman, in a card game, and as a result shoots himself, much to the enjoyment and applause of the audience, who thus make his death his crowning achievement. The woman returns to her statue form and the film ends with a smokestack, which began to collapse at the start of the film, now crumbling completely to the ground. Thus, the entire film takes place in the short objective time that it takes a chimney to fall, but in an infinite subjective time of the poet's life. Likewise, Bob Fosse's 1979 film All That Jazz is the life story of writer-director-filmmaker-choreographer Joe Gideon, which takes place in between conversations with Angélique, his Angel of Death-poetic inspiration-subconscience, and culminates with a smashing performance, accompanied by a black male dancer and two female dancers disguised as arteries and veins, in front of all the acquaintances of his life, past and present. In essence, he has orchestrated his whole life to this death number. During his career, his critics accused him of using razzle-dazzle to hide the lack of serious drama or talent, much as Cocteau has been snubbed for being a "petit maïtre." At first it was Fosse's use of the beautiful woman as the personification of death which reminded me of Cocteau's text of the angel of death in the 1950 film Orpheus [Orphée], but upon repeated viewing, I see more intertextuality in Blood of a Poet, especially the death scene episode, which gives light on Fosse's concern with performance, blood, death, and the role of the audience. This article will study the use of audience in Cocteau's film, Fosse's film, and in Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy, with concluding remarks to help us experience these works more intensely.

                                                                1. Blood of a Poet

    The image of blood represents the inside or subconscious level of the poet and it should not make us uneasy, nor deter us from seeing the whole work. In Difficulty of Being [La Difficulté de l'être], Cocteau advises that, "you cannot enjoy the ports of call, if you don't know the river"(53). In the poem in Opéra, "The Bad Students" ["Les mauvais élèves"], the poet believes that dreams are rooted in the veins and arteries and one has to bleed to bring them out in the open:

By the veins, the arteries Is to the dream rooted...It is a light blood,the blood of sleepers
Which by the mouth leaves from the roots of the neck. (26)
Par les veines, les artères, Est au rêve enraciné...

C'est une encre légère le sang des dormeurs
Qui par la bouche sort des racines du cou.

    Cocteau's blood is his ink and he must be ready to die in order for his work to survive. In "The red package" ["Le paquet rouge"], he reluctantly acknowledges that, "My blood has become ink. I had to stop this coagulation at any price" (Opéra 85). ["Mon sang est devenu de l'encre. Il fallait empêcher cette dégoûtation à tot prix." In "Plain-Chant," he compares his ink to the blood of a swan who accepts death: The ink that I use is the blue blood of a swan, Who dies when he is supposed to to be more alive. (154)
L'encre dont je me sers est le sang bleu d'un cygne, Qui meurt quand il faut pour être plus vivant.
    In Blood of a Poet, Cocteau's blood related images in 4 seemingly unrelated episodes lead to the finale where the poet must shot himself. In the first episode, "The Wounded Hand or the Scars of the Poet," the scar is a mouth-wound that attaches itself to the poet's hand after he tries to rub the mouth off the portrait he is painting. The mouth-wound wants air and the poet will oblige when he presses it on a statue of a woman making it come alive. The second episode, "Do the Walls Have Ears?" takes place in a corridor of the "Hôtel des folies-dramatiques," or in his mind, where the poet is a key-hole peeper, and after witnessing an execution, flying lesson, opium den, and an hermaphrodite, shoots himself, but at this point the blood turns into a red cloth, because the suicide is dreamt and not real. The camera then faded from the woman-statue to a courtyard statue and the start of the third episode, The Snowball Battle," which is a dramatization of the initial episode of Les Enfants terribles, the 1929 novel where Dargelos, an older admired youth, hits the younger boy with a snowball, which instills a love for beauty and transforms the boy into a poet. The image of the youth lying on the ground with blood bubbling from his mouth is gruesome and the camera shows the results of the wound by fading immediately to the fourth episode,, "The Stolen Card or the Profanation of the Host." The boy is still lying in the snow, but now a card table is over him, and the poet, who is a man now, is playing cards with a woman who resembles the statue he created in the first episode. The poet steals the ace of hearts needed to win the game from the dead boy's vest, but is prevented from using it by the child's guardian angel, who is black, dressed like a bee, and limps. The poet can no longer bear the look of the woman and shoots himself. As the blood spurts from his mouth, the audience sitting in the loges, transformed from the windows of the third episode, begins to applaud, thus proving one of Cocteau's favorite themes, that the artist must bleed and die to get a rise out of the public. In this non-chronological film, we see the poet's first wound, the snowball, enabled him to become a poet, and his last wound, the suicide, made it possible for his work to gain immortality. Right before the smoke stack end, the woman returns to statue form and floats off the screen into eternity.

                                                                2. All That Jazz

    Fosse's All That Jazz has a similar death finale "Bye Bye Life" loosely adapted from the Everly Brothers' "Bye Bye Love," and while the film has a linear story, Joe Gideon's trials as he writes and choreographs a play entitled N.Y. to L.A., edits a film called The Stand-Up, mismanages his relationship[s with his wife, daughter, and girlfriend, has a heart attack, undergoes an operation, and eventually dies, the film, with Fosse's use of cross-fades, where voices of one scene are faded to images of another, bombards us with flashbacks, interweaving plots, and an on-going conversation-interview with his angel of death Angélique who questions him on life, love, art, and women, who flirts with him, and eventually plays the role of nurse as she prepares him for his death number. Cocteau's mouth-wound calling for air, which is the work's desire to leave the artist, is heard in Joe Gideon's chronic cough during his morning ritual, and necessary artistic preparation period, where he soothes his bloodshot eyes, showers, takes dexedrin, and then turns to us and announces, "It's Showtime folks." The blood image manifests itself in the "heart operation-insurance discussion" scene, a cross-cut sequence where alternately we see doctors cut Joe to repair his heart, and the producers at the conference table who carve Joe up discussing possibilities to kill his show and therefore profit 1/2 million dollars from the insurance company. In the finale, as the operating room amphitheatre becomes the showroom for his death number, he is dressed in black, makes his entrance on top of an elevating column, accompanied by O'Connor Flood, a famous black song and dance man of the diegetic film (played by Ben Vareen), and two women, dressed as arteries and veins, they sing and dance to the tune "Bye Bye Life" in a more upbeat heartbeat sounding score, in front of an audience of all the acquaintances of his life: his wife Audry, his girlfriend Kate, daughter Michelle, producers, rival choreographers, mother, groupies, strippers of the past, etc., who give him a burst of applause and approval that he never received from his other work. In Blood of a Poet, the poet's death is followed by a fade-out of the white statue on a black background, floating [on a conveyor really] off the scene into space. In All That Jazz, Joe Gideon finishes his number and then advances in a dark tunnel, on a conveyor, towards Angélique, who is dressed in a white bridal gown. Like Cocteau's use of the isolated white image on a dark backgound, we have the illusion of floating in space. As their eyes meet in the supernatural zone, hospital attendants zip up his real life body in a cellophane bag, accompanied by Ethel Merman's "There's No Business Like Show Business." He is ready to become famous.

                                                                    3. The Audiences

    The necessity of death performances to be recognized shows the concern for audience approval that these two artists shared. Cocteau places importance on the alienation, preparations, sufferings, and risks of the artist for the audience. In the play Orpheus, there is the image of the tightrope walker who practices all day so as not to break his neck during the evening performances. In the first episode of Blood of a Poet, the poet is alone, without a public. He even horrifies his friend with the mouth-wound in his hand. In the second episode, the poet becomes a spectator himself playing the role of voyeur. In the third part, the director gives us an active role as he has Dargelos throw the snowball directly at the camera. In the fourth episode, Cocteau, in the post-face scenario of the film, reminds us that it is not the death of the child that the audience applauds, but the poet who kills himself. The poet must give all his blood, red of the heart, and white of the soul, to obtain the least approval.

    In order to live, poets must often have to die, and, to spend, not only red blood of the heart, but this white blood of the soul that they pour out and which permits us to follow their trace. Applause is only obtained at this price. Poets must give everything to obtain the least suffrage. (115)

[Les poètes pour vivre, doivent souvent mourir, et dépenser, non seulement le sang rouge du coeur, mais ce sang blanc de l'âme qu'ils répandent et qui permet de les suivre à la trace. Les applaudissements ne s'obtiennent qu'à ce prix. Les poètes doivent donner tout, afin d'obtenir le moindre suffrage.] In Past Tense, Cocteau tells us that he values each new text he experiences to the extent that the artist's soul went through it. Joe Gideon explains his view of the tightrope walker in the beginning of Jazz to Angélique: -To be on the wire is life.
-It's very theatrical, Joe. Is that original?
-I wish it were.
    Fosse expands Cocteau's text of the poet who risks his life and dies for his work in order to orchestratye the theme of the role of the audience in almost all facets of the artist's life, and all us ordinary people's lives too, perhaps, and builds on Cocteau's artistic narration in Blood of a Poet with the use of cuts, flashbacks, and cross-fades. Tish Dance comments on Fosse's use of cross-fades on the stage. "The cross-fade of lights between scenes takes the audience's attention from scene to scene as in a film dissolve. You watch one scene and hear people talking somewhere else, thereby receiving two stories at the same time" (25). The cinema-stage, with its ability to jump in time and space, can give more than two stories at the same time, and therefore show the multiple audiences with multiple motives in the person's life. When Joe Gideon says "Showtime" after his morning murine-drug-shower ritual, he sets the stage for the film's central text.

    In the opening audition sequence to the song "On Broadway," Joe is a spectator who auditions and evaluates the dancers, with his back to the seating area. There are cuts to the producers and writers in the audience looking at the audition from a financial point, cuts to Audry Paris, ther star of the show and Joe's former wife, and their daughter Michelle who view the dancers from a professional stance, and finally to the auditioners themselves as they change to audience status and wait for Joe's decision. The next sequence is the screening room where he and his associates are editing his film, The Stand-up. Through the use of cross-fades we see a variety of audiences: the editors who moan and groan about their never-ending work on one little scene serve as audience to the comedian's monologue on death in the film; contrasted with the comedian's diegetic audience in the film itself who scream with laughter; and voice fades to Joe Gideon with his mind half on his work and half on answering Angélique's questions on life and death. as Joe leaves, opening the screening room door, there is a match to him opening the door to his apartment to Victoria, a substandard dancer by Broadway standards, who auditions privately for him in his bed. a cross-fade of Joe ogling her breasts to burlesque music transforms us in time to a burlesque hall whose audience of old men ogle strippers and ridicule a between acts dancer, teenage Joe Gideon, with semen on his pants from the strippers provocation. At least this is one of the few audiences in the film with no ulterior motives, who know exactly what they want to see. Back on the set of Joe's play, the producers react positively to the songwriters piece, "N.Y. to L.A.," thinking it will be a commercial success, but remain silent and dumbfounded later on when they hear Joe's hot choreographed version of the song. His former wife, a connoisseur spectator,, however, must praise it saying, "I don't know about the audiences, but it's your best work, you son of a bitch." After the first complete screening of the film, Joe plays spectator to Kate Dagger, his girlfriend, and Michelle as they do a song and dance routine in his apartment in honor of his "flop." In the first read-through of the plat script N.Y. to L.A., the crew, even as they read, becomes Joe's audience as we see images of uproarious laughter with no sound. Audry, however, remains professionally insensitive and shows no approval, to which Joe cannot bear to look, much like the poet in Blood of a Poet to his playing partner, before he does himself in. A close-up of Joe's hand breaking a pencil, grabbing his wrists, and stomping out a cigarette punctuate the tension. Audry's audience reaction dissolves to Angélique who removes her veil, a sign of physical danger to Joe, who next appears in the hospital. There, in the amphitheatre, Dr. Balinger, the cardiologist, plays actor to his subordinates. In Joe's room, on the TV, we see Leslie Perry, in her role as movie critic-spectator, panning Joe's film. She induces Joe's heart attack when she comments only one scene in the film, where, she says, Gideon had the good sense to let comedian Davis Neuman on his own. We, unlike the diegetic audience of the film, see the irony in her remarks, knowing it is the most edited scene of the film. During the operation, Joe has become his own audience-director-actor at the same time during the "Hospital Illusion" sequence of four musical numbers by Audry, Kate, and Michelle. The spectator theme shifts to us near the endwhen we hear, not see, the comic's routine in The Stand-up of death's stages of anger, denial, bargaining, depression, and acceptance along with his audience laughter, coupled with the images of Joe who realistically undergoes the same stages as he wanders through the hospital. Then, in the finale, we have all the audiences in his life witnessing his farewell.

                                            4. The Dionysian Audience

    The audience, then, has both positive and negative influences on the artists, producing both their joy and their ruin. Nietzsche in The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music, theorizes on the development of art and the role of spectators. The development of the art world, and each work of art, is bound in the duplexity of Apollo and Dionysus: Apollo who is the shaper of the dream and the imagination, the wisdom of appearance, the artist; Dionysus who represents the non-plastic art of music, drunkeness, the extasy of song and dance, the work of art (25-26). Nietzsche claims that music's spirit gave birth to tragedy, that the Greeks feel their primordial joy of existence due to the tragic fact that they must die. They take delight in the tragic mystery because it perpetuates a desire to understand, and to go beyond understanding. The mystery in the delight of tragedy is first felt in the delight in music, especially dissonance in music (183), which plays on our feelings and not intelligence. Music makes us want to hear and go beyond the hearing. Music then gives birth to tragedy which keeps us from destroying eternity (127-130). The Greek chorus celebrates the Dionysian tragedy at the festivals, being an active participant in the tragedies and an extension, a mirror image of Dionysus, as well as the entire audience (67-69).

    The chorus is really the ideal spectator. Thus, the play, actors and spectators are active and not only observe the tragedy, but  perform it and are transformed by Apollo's force, which gives them the power to construct the play, and Dionysus's energy, which gives them the passion to experience and perform it (183-185). Nietzsche acccuses Socratic optimism, with its emphasis on reason and knowledge as virtue, of driving this meaning of chorus and music out of tragedy (111) and creating an audience of non-performing socrato-critics (172-173). He prefers the critical barbarians and aesthetic hearers of Dionysus who give birth to new myths and preserve the powers of imagination and creation.

    Cocteau also speaks of art bound up in the interaction of opposing forces. In Opium, a journal he kept while undergoing a cure from addiction in 1928, he claims that art springs from the marriage of masculine and feminine elements that exist in all of us.

Art is born from the sexual union of the male and female elements of which are present in all of us, more balanced in the artist than in other men. It results from a sort of incest, a love of the self, woth the self, of parthenogenesis. It is what makes marriage so dangerous with artists, for whom it represents a pleonasm, a monstruous effort towards the normal (137-138).

[L'art naït du coït entre l'élément mâle et l'élément femelle qui nous composent tous, plus équilibré chez l'artiste que chez les autres hommes. Il résulte d'une sorte d'inceste, d'amour de soi, avec soi, de parthéogénèse. C'est ce qui rend le mariagesi dangéreux chez les artistes, pour lesquels il représente un pléonasme, un effort de monstre vers le norme.]

Cocteau also refers to Apollo-Dionysus to describe these elements. In the second episode of Blood of a Poet, in the third peep-hole, the hero sees the Hermaphrodite who can be the image of the poet who attempts to integrate conscious, male, reasonable Apollonian side with his female, unconscious, drunken Dionysian side. At this time in the film, or his life, the poet cannot bear his unconscious frenzied world anymore, and after the faked suicide complains, "I've had enough!" [J'en ai assez!]. In the poem "Mutilated Prayer," [Prière mutilé], the artist prays to be delivered from a state of delirium in a similar manner: I've had enough of actrices and actors...
O my God, I am not made for delirium;
Apollo holds me badly, call me I'm running...(Opéra 22-23)

[J'en ai assez des actrices et des acteurs...
O mon Dieu je ne suis pas fait pour le délire;
Apollon me tient mal, appelez-moi... j'accours...]

    The protagonist of the film is likewise only an actor since he has just played the role of a suicide victim. He is only an observer here, and since he cannot accept his Dionysian side, the work of art is not ready to be born. It is only his real death and real blood which will make the audience take part in the ritual. You've got to be for real to please a good audience. Cocteau does integrate George Auric's music in the film, especially the frenzied drum music which accompanies the poet's sensual pleasure with the mouth-wound in the first episode. Cocteau also shows his wish for an engaged audience in the preface of the American version of the film when he tries to stir our curiosity by saying that the Parisian and London audiences have been in a frenzy over what the movie means. He furthers his remarks on audience in the same preface. "When an expression of art collides with the brain of a layman and produces an empty round, it is yet a question as to which of the two is at fault." Cocteau is torn by this question because he does not blame the audience if it does not react favorably, the critical audience yes, but not the general public.

Cocteau and Fosse search for an audience who want to become an extension of the Greek chorus in the performance of the dithyramb, a frenzied and impassioned choric hymn and dance in honor of Dionysus. Nietzsche notes that:

the dithyramb is essentially different from every other variety of choric song. The virgins, who with laurel twigs... solemnly proceed to the temple of Apollo and sing a processional hymn, remain what they are and return to their civic names: the dithyrambic chorus is a chorus of transformed beings, whose civic past and social rank are totally forgotten; they have become timeless servants of their god that live aloof from all the spheres of society (67-68). To Cocteau's text, Fosse adds more music and introduces dance. The Dionysian conflict is most evident in the big number of Jooe Gideon's play. The song's initial title, "N.Y. to L.A." is first sung by Paul, the songwriter, accompanied solely by piano. The words, "Take off with us, take off with us, we're warming up so take off with us. New York to L.A. (ell-aye-aye-aye), we're goin all the way aye aye" induce the producers' approval with comments such as "peppy, catchy, bouncy... maybe a commercial spot for an airline. Gideon likes the song and says he'll see what he can do with it.What he does with it is to change the song to a Dionysian dithyramb entitled "Air Rotica" in a three part crescendo. First, the singers-dancers posing as the wildest airline crew you'll ever see, present the song with all kinds of sexual inuendos. The producers, however, applaud this sequence. In the second movement, the stage is filled with smoke strips and, in silhouettes do a slow ballet as they advertise "Air Rotica "flying not only coast to coast, but anywhere your desires and fantasies want to take you." The producers sigh, one of them lamenting the loss of the family audience. Then, in the climax, the music becomes hotter, the drums beat faster, and the dance becomes wilder and sexier. Gideon, standing in for an actor, ends the piece with Air Rotica's motto, "We take you everywhere, we get you nowhere," whose words are sealed by the dancers' white Dantesque faces against the black background. There is no applause now as the producers cannot think of an audience who will accept it, save a Dionysian one, like Gideon's wife Audry.

    To conclude, Cocteau and Fosse are in quest of an ideal audience, not the self-interested commercial, critical and pleasure seeking spectators who profit financially, or who are vicious consumers viewing death as spectacle, egging it on, so to say, but perhaps an Apollo-Dionysian chorus of critical barbarians and aethetic hearers who become transformed and actually celebrate the poet's rituals of death and life. Michael Riffaterre compares Cocteau's smoke stack crumbling at the beginning and end of the film to the time it takes to open and close a book. The movie in between takes place in a few seconds of objective time, with the viewers or dreamers' subjective imaginary experience giving it its duration (636). Joe Gideon ascends to his last audience with Angélique in the finale by means of a mechanical lifting column. Cocteau and Fosse's columns are literary works that crumble, then, unless there is an audience to open the books and transform them into texts. Gideon's "Showtime" and Cocteau's "Chimney Time" are not superficial meaningless, objective performances, but a more subjective complex time and experience of life. Cocteau's film is not just the birth and death of the poet, but a view of what is in his living texts before 1930, including Les Enfants terribles, Orpheus, "The Angel Heurtebise, and Opium, etc., and Fosse's Jazz takes in his breathing works of Cabaret, Chicago, Lenny, Star 80, etc. As Cocteau is the clown who lives in Port Royal (a phrase he used to describe Picasso serious work with a non-serious air), All That Jazz is not exaggerated showmanship, but that kind of jazz which is animated, lively, and an art form which celebrates life. Without Cocteau's text, I thought that All That Jazz were our feeble attempts to combat death. With the French intertext, we see and hear Fosse's desire of death as a means of rebirth and eternity. The Dionysian spirit transforms death into an object of desire and rebirth, and as a newer poet Sting, who straddles Cocteau and Fosse in a current music video, chants hopefully, "We'll be together tonight."

(for Dennis whose death and life helped me with this conclusion)

                                                                    Works Cited

Cocteau, Jean. La Difficulté de l'être. Monaco: Rocher, 1953.
---. Opéra: suivi de Plain-Chant. Paris: Stock, 1959.
---. Opium
---, dir. Le Sang d'un poète 1930.
---. Le Sang d'un poète. Monaco: Rocher, 1957.
---. Past Tense
Dance, Tish. "Fosse's Cross-Fade: Big Deal's Cinematic Style." Theatre Crafts. Aug.-Sept. (1984): 25.
Fosse, Bob, dir. All That Jazz. 1979.
Nietzsche, Frederick. The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music.
Riffaterre, Michael. "Syllepsis."