Monday, July 20, 2009

The Undersea World of Jean Painlevé

Happy Earth Day! There are a few ways that you can celebrate while expanding your cinematic vocabulary. One might be to immerse yourself in the work of Jean Painlevé, a member of the Surrealist movement whose fascination with nature, combined with his aesthetic interests, led him to compose a Surrealist "zoological" tract and to serve as "chief ant wranger" on Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali's short film manifesto, Un Chien andalou. Painlevé made hundreds of what might be called nature documentaries, driven by an eye for beauty and a committed search for the unusual. Yesterday, the Criterion Collection released Science Is Fiction, a three-disc collection that brings together 23 of Jean Painlevé's films, along with more than two hours of interviews that he did for TV not long before his death, in 1989, at the age of 96, as well as new soundtrack music recorded by Yo La Tengo. For a taste, check out Painlevé's 1945 short Le Vampire (above), which combines his own film of sealife and vampire bats with footage from F. W. Murnau's great Dracula adaptation Nosferatu, intending an anti-Nazi political message. Below, we see what happens when somebody mates his hypnotically lyrical 1934 sea horse ballet L'Hippocampe with a soundtrack derived from the experimental British band Current 93. Feel free to switch the sound off when the guy starts babbling about spit:

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