Science Is Fiction

Science Is Fiction

The Films of Jean Painlevé

Edited by Andy Masaki Bellows, Marina McDougall and Brigitte Berg

With Brico Press

The first book on pioneering French filmmaker Jean Painlevé, the father of science cinema.





The first book on pioneering French filmmaker Jean Painlevé, the father of science cinema.

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.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262024723 224 pp. | 7 in x 9 in


$30.00 X ISBN: 9780262523189 224 pp. | 7 in x 9 in


Andy Masaki Bellows

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

Marina McDougall

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

Brigitte Berg

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


Brico Press.


  • Bellows and McDougall have recovered a valuable misplaced tool for thinking about our relation to the living world. The writings and films of Painlevé prove to be a sharp and precise tool indeed. Few thinkers about nature have demonstrated so clearly that science and poetry need not be in opposition.

    Mark Dion

    visual artist and coeditor of Concrete Jungle

  • Jean Painlevé's science films rank as great cinematic art. The scope of his imagination, skill, and originality is breathtaking. Hopefully this study will make him as well-known in North America as he is in Europe.

    William Sloan

    Circulating Film and Video Library, The Museum of Modern Art, New York

  • Thankfully, Bellows and McDougall have in this splendid book heroically rescued the extraordinary film and remarkable person of Jean Painlevé from the deep, murky waters of time.

    David Wilson

    Director, The Museum of Jurassic Technology