There is a moment where Jean Cocteau takes the neatly dressed television hostess into the house and obscures her in the dark. He borrows a tube of her lipstick, steps behind a sliding glass door, and sketches in rouge the profile of Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, poetry, and music. Just before he finishes the profile, he reaches down and signs his name backwards in cursive, so we, the audience, may see it as it’s supposed to be read, from left to right. He claims ownership. A moment later, he finishes the drawing with a hairline, and walks away from his impromptu creation. There is the drawing, and there is the room we see beyond it through the glass.
Cocteau was obsessed with mirrors and alternate realities. Many of his cinematic pieces invoked the use of literal mirrors as well as conceptual ones — open doorways with exact replicas of rooms in reversed order to appear as a mirror with an alternate world beyond. Many thought him obsessed not with mirrors, but with himself, an idea that he both perpetuated and refuted through his films, books, and music.
Most notably, there is the Testament of Orpheus, written, directed by, and starring Cocteau himself (as himself). Somewhat a take on Dante’s Inferno, Testament is Cocteau’s imagined travels through death and life and art. In 1962, Bosley Crowther wrote a review of the film for the New York Times, in which he stated that it was, “really just a glorified home movie that should appeal mainly to the poet’s admirers and friends.” Crowther goes on to say that the film is so self-referential with regard to the two previous “Orphic” films of the trilogy that to come to it “cold,” an audience would have little ability to understand it at all. Also put on trial are Cocteau’s looks, with Crowther stating that he is “no longer pretty,” which suggests that the poet’s sole value is that, whether or not he could be interpreted, he was at the very least elegant and easy on the eyes.
In fact, Cocteau’s looks seemed to bring him enemies even as he was embraced for them by the public, almost as though they were saying, “Thank god you have a singular and recognizable appearance; it comforts me to know that which I am hating.” His numerous public appearances in the company of artistic giants earned him only a socialite status while others in the group were still artists.