Monday, October 12, 2009

L'Hippocampe de Jean Painlevé (1934), Parts 1 & 2

Filming for L'Hippocampe begain in a Parisian basement, where Painleve and [Andre]Raymond [cameraman] set up a studio equipped with vast glass tanks draped in seaweed. The main protagonists of the film, pregnant male seahorses, had been brought in unceremoniously from the coast in rusting metal buckets. Once the seahorses with their stretched round bellies were installed in the miniature watery film set, Painleve settled down to eagerly await the moment of birth . . . . Painleve constructed a device mounted on his hat that administered a small electric shock to wake him up whenever he nodded off. Such extreme measures paid off, and Painleve finally got the footage he wanted.

The next scenes were shot in the Bay of Archachon on France's Atlantic coast, where Painleve crouched on the seabed a few meters down, armed with an enormous waterproof box, his camera peering out through a thick glass plate. Capturing wild seahorses on film for the first time was an arduous task. At that time, the only way Painleve could spend time underwater was to gulp air through a rubber tube tethered to a hand pump at the surface. . . . To make matters worse, his camera held only a few seconds of film requiring frequent trips to the surface to reload.

--Helen Scales, Poseidon's Steed

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