88 Underwater Eye: Margaret Cohen explores the Film Aquatic (JP)

Margaret Cohen joins John to discuss The Underwater Eye, which explores “How the Movie Camera Opened the Depths and Unleashed New Realms of Fantasy.” Margaret’s earlier prizewinning books include The Novel and the Sea  and The Sentimental Education of the Novel, but this project brings her places even her frequent surfing forays hadn’t yet reached. She charts the rise of “wet for wet” filming both in the ocean itself and in various surrogates, exploring the implications of entering a domain that humans can explore and come to know, but never master.

She and John discuss the rarity of professional divers in early 19th century (Henri Edwards 1843) and Natasha Adamowsky on the abiding fear of the depths. Conversation also pivots towards such SF classics as Stanislas Lem Solaris (1961), featuring a sentient underwater being which controls the planetary tides, though this wrinkle disappears in the 1971 Tarkovsky film. Margaret wittily labels the unintended consequences of human agency the “dialectic of the anthropocene.”

Mentioned in the episode

Sunset Boulevard

Millais’s Ophelia (1851-2) is a very early instance of depicting the ways that red fades underwater..

Ophelia 1851-2 Sir John Everett Millais, Bt 1829-1896 Presented by Sir Henry Tate 1894 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N01506

Philip Henry Gosse opened the first public aquarium in 1853. Seaside naturalism

Kim Stanley Robinson’s “climate fiction” includes New York 2140

1916 20,000 Leagues first great underwater filming project. Underwater scenes of a length and complexity not seen again until modern films like The Deep (1977).

Man Ray The Starfish is proof of high-art’s shared investment (also in Jean Painleve’s science and sexlife films) in the same oceanic aspects that thrilled popular filmmakers.

Esther William’s Jupiter’s Darling may be the apotheosis of bathing beauty breath-holding.

Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau

Sea Hunt with Lloyd Bridges as underwater beefcake.

Luc Besson, The Big Blue

Recallable Books/Films

Margaret praises Creature from the Black Lagoon 1954 which inspired Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, which was a “dry for wet” film, shot in studio rather than underwater.

John dredges up a SF novel about extraterrestrials who on landing seek out Earth’s oceanic depths: John Wyndham The Kraken Wakes (1953).

Read a transcript here.

Listen to the episode here.

Author: plotznik

I teach English (mainly the novel and Victorian literature) at Brandeis University, and live in Brookline.

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