“A view into the future” – Jean Painlevé’s Studio with Underwater Stars, Regards, 1935

Regards, April 25, 1935, back cover

le studio aux vedettes sous-marines. Visite chez Jean Painlevé.
Jean Painlevé ou subversion dans la science… by Léo Sauvage.

Léo Sauvage visited Jean Painlevé’s Institute of Scientific Cinema, 12 rue Armand-Moisant, Paris, in 1935. The Institute does not look like a traditional academic building, in fact it’s near a movie theatre, outside are empty bottles, and garbage cans. The Institute is in the basement. Down the stairs and in the basement is laundry belonging to the owner of the building and Painlevé’s menagerie, machine shop, and studio:

…The filming room offers a spectacle as colorful as it is diverse. There is something bohemian about Jean Painlevé’s Institute, something fresh, youthful, spirited, bustling, and unconventional that challenges the mummified science of the Academy in the most insolent way. The walls are white, covered with buttons, switches, levers, meters. How do they know what’s what? And of these countless, inextricable wires that go in every direction, come back, entangle and separate, which goes to a projector, which to a camera, which to a socket? The shelves against the opposite wall typify the clutter and lack of space. They house the most diverse objects: cameras, lenses, microscopes, files, specimens, including the container that holds what Painlevé will present to us as his most prized possession: “the most beautiful infusorian flagellums in the world,” as well as the handbag of the person Painlevé will introduce as his principal scientific collaborator — Geneviève Hamon.

Miss Hamon, in the corner, is in her domain. She presides over the microscope table. This table, cluttered with lamps and electrical apparatus of all sorts, sits beside a barrel that has been covered with a plank and faces a large sink, a few empty aquariums, a broom, and a garbage pail. I turn my attention away from the garbage pail and look into a microscope, where Miss Hamon has prepared something for us. Lights illuminate a backdrop of color, and at that very moment the specimen on the glass slide comes to life before my very eyes. I think of the Musée Grévin, where those willing to pay the price of a ticket are entertained by the play of light, mirrors, and a phonograph record. I peer once again into the microscope, realizing why Jean Painlevé takes such pleasure in his work.

Regards, April 25, 1935, pp. 8-9

I am stopped in my tracks, stunned, before a new apparatus for filming in slow motion that has recently emerged from Master Raymond’s atelier. Painlevé explains how everything is made out of old things, refurbished and transformed. Thus one of the elements in the camera is a mechanism from a clock, bought somewhere at a discount. But it has been modified, a system of spare cogs adapted to it, allowing the recording speed to be changed at will. The camera is completely automatic.

Painlevé plugs it in, chooses the cog that he will place in the clock mechanism. Every twenty-five seconds, the light turns on, the shutter activates, and the film advances…

“These animals are mobile, capricious, and completely unconcerned with the way you wish to film them. So you must simply yield to them, bow to their whims. And then, be patient. I waited three days and three nights, taking turns with Raymond, for the seahorse to give birth. He was in no hurry. By the time he was finally ready, we had gotten skinny!”

We climbed back up the cellar stairs. We passed the garbage cans, the suspicious concierge, and the movie theater’s sexy posters. We were on the rue Armand-Moisant, in front of no. 12. Neither dusty Institute nor hyped American box. Better than all that: a view into the future.

Translation by Jeanine Herman. Andy Masaki Bellows, Marina McDougall, Brigitte Berg editors. Translation By Jeanine Herman. Science is Fiction: The Films of Jean Painlevé. San Francsico: Brico Press and Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000 pp. 124-128

Regards, Sauvage, Léo. “Jean Painlevé or the subversion in science: the studio of Underwater Stars.” April 25, 1935
Regards, April 25, 1935, back cover

By 1935 Jean Painlevé had completed more than 10 films including:

The Octopus (La Pieuvre), 1927, 35mm.
The Daphnia (La Daphnie), 1928, 35mm.
The Sea Urchin (L’Oursin), 1928, 35mm.
The Hermit Crab (Le Bernard-L’Ermite), 1929, 35mm.
Hyas and Stenorhynchus (Hyas et sténorinques), 1928, 35mm.
Crabs and Shrimps (Crabes et Crevettes), 1929, 35mm.
Calder’s Mobiles (Les Mobiles de Calder), 1930, 35mm.
Caprella and Pantopoda (Caprelles et pantopodes), 1930, 35mm,
The Seahorse (L’Hippocampe), 1933, 35mm.

Sources: Jean Painlevé Archives, Les Documents Cinématographiques, and Andy Masaki Bellows, Marina McDougall, Brigitte Berg editors. Translation By Jeanine Herman. Science is Fiction: The Films of Jean Painlevé. San Francsico: Brico Press and Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000.

Regards, April 25, 1935, pp. 8-9, and back cover (front cover features a photomontage by John Heartfield)

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