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Science is Fiction, the films of Jean Painlevé


He may not have been the very first person to take a camera underwater, but Jean Painlevé was definitely the first to bring the life aquatic to cinema. Painlevé made over 200 short films in his lifetime, the first in 1927 (nearly 30 years before Jacques Cousteau’s SILENT WORLD) and last week Criterion released 27 of them set to a score by Yo La Tengo on the DVD Science is Fiction.

Painlevé is credited with creating “scientific-poetic cinema,” in which “the superiority of reality” is blurred by cinema to create a “surrealist esthetic.” He was welcomed by the early Surrealists and even appeared in Bunuel and Dali’s UN CHIEN ANDALOU.

Among other extras, the Criterion release includes improved English translation, but the charming narration remains. For example, Painlevé describes a male octopus’ anatomy as “a special arm” and while the two octopi are mating, entangled in their 16 arms, he declares that “there’s no officially sanctioned position for doing that.”