TamTam Books News

Tuesday, January 28, 2003:

SCIENCE IS FICTION: The Films of Jean Painlevé by Andy Masaki Bellows and Marina McDougall with Brigitte Berg

Science is Fiction: The Films of Jean Painleve, edited by Andy Masaki Bellows and Marina McDougall with Brigitte Berg, exposes the reader to the odd and beautiful films of Jean Painlevé (1902-1989), who was both an artist and a scientist. These professions do not often mix, but in Painlevé's case, his scientific side made his film work stronger and stranger. He was the first to photograph sea creatures underwater, and he was also involved with surrealist artists like André Breton, Antonin Artaud, and film giant Georges Franju, in addition to his racecar driving pursuits. The images in his films are a combination of classroom science instruction and dance.

Painlevé was focused on aesthetics as well as scientific commentary in his films. According to this book, his two masterpieces are L'Hippocampe ("The Seahorse") and Le Vampire ("The Vampire"). L'Hippocampe (1934) is about the mating process between the male and female seahorse: The viewer sees a female laying eggs into the abdomen of a male, where he fertilizes them. To Painlevé, this represented the perfect relationship between the sexes. On a darker note, Le Vampire (1945) is a film that lends a political flavor to the behavior of vampire bats. The film stills displayed in the book are quite creepy. In one scene, as a bat falls asleep, it extends one of its wings in a Nazi-like salute.

Painlevé didn't believe that there was a separation between science and art. Throughout his life he founded a series of movie clubs as well as film schools. This lavishly designed book by designer Jean Wilcox is a perfect complement to the aesthetics of Painlevé. It is a book fetishist's dream date. Very rarely in this business does one see such a perfect combination of content, text, and design. Imagine the film viewer who went to see one of Painlevé's films expecting a dry documentary, but instead encountering a strange and poetic way of looking at the world.

Tosh // 10:39 PM

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