We need more directors willing to take risks with films like Get Out.
Before Disney's 1991 film and long before the Beast started signing autographs in Orlando, Jean Cocteau filmed "Beauty and the Beast" in 1946, in France. It is one of the most magical of all films. Before the days of computer effects and modern creature makeup, here is a fantasy alive with trick shots and astonishing effects, giving us a Beast who is lonely like a man and misunderstood like an animal. Cocteau, a poet and surrealist, was not making a "children's film" but was adapting a classic French tale that he felt had a special message after the suffering of World War II: Anyone who has an unhappy childhood may grow up to be a Beast.
Those familiar with the 1991 cartoon will recognize some of the elements of the story, but certainly not the tone. Cocteau uses haunting images and bold Freudian symbols to suggest that emotions are at a boil in the subconscious of his characters. Consider the extraordinary shot where Belle waits at the dining table in the castle for the Beast's first entrance. He appears behind her and approaches silently. She senses his presence, and begins to react in a way that some viewers have described as fright, although it is clearly orgasmic. Before she has even seen him, she is aroused to her very depths, and a few seconds later, as she tells him she cannot marry--a Beast!--she toys with a knife that is more than a knife.
The Beast's dwelling is one of the strangest ever put on film--Xanadu crossed with Dali. Its entrance hall is lined with candelabra held by living human arms that extend from the walls. The statues are alive, and their eyes follow the progress of the characters (are they captives of the Beast, imprisoned by spells?). The gates and doors open themselves. As Belle first enters the Beast's domain, she seems to run dreamily a few feet above the floor. Later, her feet do not move at all, but she glides, as if drawn by a magnetic force. (This effect has been borrowed by Spike Lee.) She is disturbed to see smoke rising from the Beast's fingertips--a sign that he has killed. When he carries her into her bed chamber, she has common clothes on one side of the door and a queen's costume on the other.
Belle has come to the castle as a hostage. She lives at home with her father, two unkind sisters and a silly brother, whose handsome friend wants to marry her. But she cannot marry, for she must care for Poppa. His business is threatened, and he learns on a trip to a seaport that he has lost everything. On his way home, through a forest on a stormy night, he happens upon the Beast's castle, and is taken prisoner and told he must die. The Beast offers a deal: He can go home if he will return in three days, or he can send one of his daughters. The other sisters of course sniff and make excuses, and their father says he is old and nearly dead and will return himself. But Belle slips out and rides the Beast's white horse, which knows the way to the castle. And the Beast's first words tell her, "You are in no danger."