I stumbled upon Jean Painlevé in the library of the University of the Arts London some three years ago. I must have borrowed the selected works DVD about ten times before becoming the proud owner of a copy late last year – so now one of my greatest sources of inspiration is here at my fingertips.
Painlevé was a French biologist, who, long before underwater film-maker Jacques-Yves Cousteau, took a film camera below the surface of the sea to capture footage of creatures never before seen outside of their natural environment. His films are incredibly playful and poetic, capturing perfectly the weirdness and fantasy of marine life. His willingness as a scientist to involve artistic and creative values in his work was basically unheard of and truly innovative. In fact, he formed strong ties with many Surrealist artists of the time, including Luis Buñuel and Jean Vigo.
From liquid crystals to sea urchins, Painlevé ’s own fascination with the subject beams through in every picture. Using music and narration, he imbues the enchanting creatures with human-like qualities – they dance, fight and flirt.
Science is Fiction is a collection of 23 of Painlevé’s greatest films put together by the British Film Institute, and I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.