Orpheus on Screen:

Open and Closed Forms
  • Linda C. Ehrlich
Part of the Religion/Culture/Critique book series (RCCR)


In his Mythologies, Roland Barthes wrote: “Myth doesn’t deny things; on the contrary its function is to talk about them. It purifies them, gives them a natural and eternal justification.”1 The cinema—itself a spinner of myths— offers us adaptations of the myth of Orpheus through such distinctive cinematic interpretations as Jean Cocteau’s Orphée (1950), Marcel Camus’s Orfeu negro (Black Orpheus, 1958), Carlos Diegues’s Orfeu (2000), and Sidney Lumet’s The Fugitive Kind (1960), based on the Tennessee Williams play Orpheus Descending. Through these adaptations, Orpheus—that harmonizer of opposites and trickster of death—travels through the centuries and across borders. Since the actual recitation of a myth can be considered important, even necessary, to its vitality, we can imagine the cinematic adaptations of the story of Orpheus as a modern means of this recitation.


Bell Tower Film Festival Narrative Discourse Abandoned Object Journey Motif 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Roland Barthes, Mythologies Annette Lavers, trans. (New York: Hill and Wang, 1972), 137.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    Judith E. Bernstock, Under the Spell of Orpheus: The Persistence of a Myth in Twentieth Century Art (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1991), 179.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    Elizabeth Sewall, The Orphic Voice, Poetry and Natural History (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1961), 4.Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    Dudley Andrew, “The Well-Worn Muse: Adaptation in Film History and Theory,” in Narrative Strategies: Original Essays in Film and Prose Fiction Sydney M. Conger and Janice R. Welsh, eds. (Macomb, IL: Western Illinois University Press, 1980), 16.Google Scholar
  5. 9.
    Morty Schiff, “Jean Cocteau: Poet of the Cinema,” Cineaste 20.3 (1994): 60.Google Scholar
  6. 11.
    Jared Banks, “Cinematic Adaptation: Orfeu Negro da Conceicao,” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature 23.3 (September 1996): 799.Google Scholar
  7. 13.
    Barbara Browning, Samba: Resistance in Motion (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995), 47–58.Google Scholar
  8. 14.
    Marty Roth, “Carnival, Creativity, and the Sublimation of Drunkenness,” Mosaic 30.2 (June 1997): 8.Google Scholar
  9. 15.
    Robert Stam, Tropical Multiculturalism: A Comparative History of Race in Brazilian Cinema and Culture (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997), 175.Google Scholar
  10. 17.
    Randal Johnson and Robert Stam, eds., Brazilian Cinema (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), 65. This statement was originally published in Movimento 2 (May 1962), the journal of the National Students’ Union.Google Scholar
  11. 21.
    Dudley Andrew, “The Passion of Identification in the Late Films of Kenji Mizoguchi,” in Film in the Aura of Art Dudley Andrew, ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), 173–75.Google Scholar
  12. 22.
    Arthur Thornhill, “The Spirit World of Noh,” in Noh and Kyogen: An Interpretive Guide (Honolulu: Center for Japanese Studies, 1989), 17.Google Scholar
  13. 24.
    Kunio Komparu, The Noh Theatre: Principles and Perspectives (New York: Weatherhill/Tankosha, 1983), 42.Google Scholar
  14. 27.
    Robin Wood, Hitchcock’s Films (New York: Castle Books, 1969), 79.Google Scholar
  15. 31.
    Marvin D’Lugo, The Films of Carlos Saura: The Practice of Seeing (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991), 216–218.Google Scholar
  16. 32.
    S. Brent Plate, “Religion/Literature/Film: Toward a Religious Visuality of Film,” Literature and Theology 12.1 (March 1998): 29.Google Scholar
  17. 34.
    Robert A. Segal, Theorizing about Myth (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1999), 129.Google Scholar
  18. 37.
    Note, for example, the chapter by Inez Hedges in Breaking the Frame: Film Language and the Experience of Limits (Inez Hedges, ed. [Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1991]) entitled “Truffaut and Cocteau: Representations of Orpheus,” which includes a discussion of Truffaut’s film La chamber verte (The Green Room 1978). Other films that could be included are: Rick Schmidt’s independent film American Orpheus (1992) and Marcel Hanoun’s French film La nuit Claire (1978).Google Scholar
  19. 39.
    Kim Newman, “Rubber Reality,” Sight and Sound 9.6 (June 1999): 8.Google Scholar
  20. 40.
    Mircea Eliade, Images and Symbols: Studies in Religious Symbolism (Princeton: Princeton University Press), 18.Google Scholar
  21. 41.
    Yves Bonnefoy, Asian Mythologies (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 4.Google Scholar
  22. 46.
    Paul Monaco, “Film as Myth and National Folklore,” in The Power of Myth in Literature and Film (Tallahassee: University Press of Florida, 1980), 37.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© S. Brent Plate 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Linda C. Ehrlich

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations