From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Jean Painlevé (November 20 1902 in Paris (France), died July 2 1989 in Paris (France) was a French director of more than two hundred science and nature films and an early champion of the genre. Advocating the credo "science is fiction," Painlevé scandalized the scientific world with a cinema designed to entertain as well as edify. He portrayed sea horses, vampire bats, skeleton shrimp, and fanworms as endowed with human traits — the erotic, the comical, and the savage — and in the process won over the circle of Surrealists and avant-gardists he befriended, among them the filmmakers Sergei Eisenstein, Jean Vigo, and Luis Buñuel.
Contact with Surrealism
Prévert and Boiffard were part of the Surrealist wave and brought Jean Painlevé in contact with the artists active in the movement. Painlevé started colaborating with the monthly revue "Surrealisme", directed by Ivan Goll. In 1924, the revue published an article by Painlevé titled "Exemple de surréalisme : le cinéma". In the article, which could be considered a declaration of principles, Painlevé preached the "recording of reality", which, added to the imagination of the screenwriter and cinema's techniques of slow motion, accelerated speed and the blur, can create "a surrealist esthetic". Most of Painlevé's subsequent designs on cinema are gathered in this article, where he affirmed "the superiority of reality", the "extraordinary inventiveness of Nature", over "the artifice" of traditional cinematographical scenes.
Painlevé cannot be considered part of the Surrealist movement and did not actually consider himself a surrealist. He did, however, share the surrealists’ interest in psycho-sexual stimulation and the ultimate weirdness of procreation.
Painlevé first came to the cinema as an actor, alongside Michel Simon, and also as assistant director in the René Sti unfinished film L'inconnue des six jours (The Unknown Woman of Six Days), 1926. (Later, he would appear as "chief ant handler" in Luis Buñuel's Un Chien Andalou, 1928). Soon, he was shooting his own films, starting with L'oeuf d'épinoche : de la fécondation à l'éclosion, 1927.
In order to shoot scenes underwater, Painlevé added his own ideas to the equipment available in his time. Understandably, he spent a lot of time submerged in water. In his 1935 essay, titled "Feet In The Water", Painlevé discussed wading, its instinctive, sensual pleasure and thwarted desire: "Wading around in water up to your ankles or navel, day and night, in all kinds of weather, even in areas where one is sure to find nothing, digging about everywhere for algae or octopus, getting hypnotised by a sinister pond where everything seems to promise marvels although nothing lives there. This is the ecstasy of any addict."
Overall Jean Painlevé directed more than two hundred science and nature films.
- Amours de la pieuvre (1965)... aka Love Life of the Octopus
- Comment naissent les méduses (1960)
- Les Danseuses de mer (1960)
- Les Alpes (1958)
- L'Astérie (1958)
- Les Oursins (1958)
- La Chirurgie correctrice (1948)
- Écriture de la danse (1948)
- Assassins d'eau douce (1947)... aka Fresh Water Assassins
- Notre planète la Terre (1947)
- Pasteur (1947)
- Jeux d'enfants (1946)
- Le Vampire (1945)... aka The Vampire
- Solutions françaises (1939)
- Images mathématiques de la quatrième dimension (1937)
- Voyage dans le ciel (1937)
- Barbe-Bleue (1936)... aka Bluebeard (USA)
- Microscopie à bord d'un bateau de pêche (1936)
- Corèthre (1935)
- L'Hippocampe (1934)... aka The Sea Horse (UK)
- Électrophorèse de nitrate d'argent (1932)
- Ruptures de fibres (1931)
- Bernard-l'hermite (1930)
- Les Crabes (1930)
- La Daphnie (1929)
- Hyas et stenorinques (1929)
- Oeufs d'épinoche (1929)... aka Stickelback Eggs (USA)
- Les Oursins (1929)... aka Sea Urchins (USA)
- La Pieuvre (1928)... aka Devilfish (USA)
- Acera ou le bal des sorcières (1972)