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Paperback | $25.95 Trade | £17.95 | ISBN: 9780262523189 | 224 pp. | 7 x 9 in | August 2001

Science Is Fiction

The Films of Jean Painleve


One of the first to plunge underwater with a camera to bring the subaquatic world to the screen, maverick scientific documentary filmmaker Jean Painlevé (1902-1989) captured the throes of a male seahorse giving birth, the geometric choreography of crystal formation, and the mating habits of hermaphrodite mollusks. In a lifetime spanning nearly the history of cinema itself, Painlevé made over 200 films, including The Seahorse, Freshwater Assassins, The Vampire, and The Love Life of the Octopus. His lyrical and instructive animal behavior films set to avant-garde scores were much admired by Surrealist contemporaries such as Antonin Artaud, Luis Buñuel, and Jean Vigo.

Science Is Fiction includes Marina McDougall's historically informative "Hybrid Roots," Brigitte Berg's heavily illustrated biographical essay "Contradictory Forces," art critic Ralph Rugoff's "Fluid Mechanics," a Libération interview with Painlevé, stills from Painlevé's most celebrated films laid out in storyboard fashion, and a selection of Painlevé's writings appearing for the first time in English. The latter include "Neo-Zoological Drama," a playful romp on the behavior of Turbellaria, or flatworms; "Mysteries and Miracles of Nature," an idiosyncratic catalog of unusual animal behavior; and "Scientific Film," a discussion of science films that pays homage to Painlevé's fellow pioneers. The book also includes French film critic André Bazin's "Science Film: Accidental Beauty," a review of the 1947 International Association of Science Film festival, organized by Painlevé.

Copublished with Brico Press.

About the Editors

Andy Masaki Bellows, the publisher of Brico Press, works for City Lights Books, San Francisco.

Marina McDougall, a curator, initiated the first United States retrospective of Jean Painlevé’s films in 1991.

Brigitte Berg is the director of Les Documents Cinématographiques in Paris, an independent archive founded by Jean Painlevé in 1930.