Science on Film II

Date: 09/12/2016 12:51

Jean Painlevé, a French scientist, educator and filmmaker, is another big name in the world of science film. This maverick filmmaker continuously strived to show the value of cinema as a tool for science. The idea was seen as quite controversial at the time, as if the medium of film somehow undermined the credibility of science. He persisted though and became widely recognised for his contribution to both science and filmmaking. 

In his work, scientific observations turn poetic through the beauty of life portrayed and the instructive scientific narration that accompanies it. His works demonstrate deep understanding of the biology of subjects studied, as well as techniques for capturing details of particular species on film. He developed a technique of filming aquatic life and proceeded with extraordinary investigations of sea creatures. Painlevé was also involved with the surrealist and avant-garde circles in France and was influenced by these movements. One of his great collaborations was with George Franju in the production of Blood of the Beasts (1949), for which he wrote the narration. 

Painlevé’s work demonstrated his remarkable commitment to revealing the wonders of nature to the public and pointing their attention to the lyrical beauty of life. He would study in detail particular characteristics of the organism of his choice, focusing on crucial parts of its life cycle. In The Sea Horse (1935), we find ourselves immersed in an alien world surrounded by an unusual-looking cast, where everything is new and different - yet affinities with humanity can be found.

The Sea Horse combines not only a wealth of scientific knowledge with fascinating poetry of nature, but also elements of somewhat dream-like drama with hints of anthropomorphism (a precedent for the work of David Attenborough?).  At the same time, one could argue that his choice of subject to explore was also a form of social commentary, specifically the balance between seahorse males and females when it comes to parenting. His work questioned conventional family relations and pointed towards a more progressive gender politics.


The full version of The Sea Horse is available on Vimeo.

Green Porno (Isabella Rossellini & Jody Shapiro 2008) is a combination of science and absurd reenactments of mating rituals of a variety of species, starring Isabella Rossellini. Rossellini took on characters such as a mantis, a bedbug, a snail, an anchovy, and more, in order to enhance the knowledge of the sex lives of various animal species. All the films are environmentally inspired and no longer than two minutes. Excluding animation, it is a rather innovative way of storytelling. Rossellini reenactments and colourful costumes combine into a very funny, educational and enjoyably strange fusion of science, art and entertainment. The Green Porno series was followed by the equally witty Seduce Me series - both programmes commissioned by Sundance TV and directed, written by and starring Isabella Rossellini.


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