|JEAN PAINLEVÉ AND HIS CAMERA|
This week's arts and culture column begins:
Jean Painlevé (1902-1989) was an early visionary in the genres of educational, science and nature films. A three-disc set from Criterion, available on Netflix, is called “Science is Fiction: 23 Films by Jean Painlevé.”
In an introduction to “Science is Fiction,” editor Marian McDougall wrote: “The joy of experiencing these films, short cinematic gems that renew a sense of the mystery and miracle of nature, is to unearth a still fertile root of cinema and the revelation that there are film hybrids yet to be realized.”
The films, she continued, include “anthropological accounts that unfold like fiction,” “painterly descriptions of technological processes,” “absurd juxtapositions,” “animated fables,” “city symphonies” and “mechanical ballets.”
Painlevé was the son of a French prime minister and a mother who died two months after his birth. Well-educated and well-loved, he was also an outlier and a daredevil. “My only friends at school were Jews and outcasts,” he later remarked.
He took his first photographs at the age of eight, using the bottom of a glass bottle as a lens. As an adult, he befriended the Surrealists, raced cars and lived sans benefit of marriage with Geneviève (“Ginette”) Hamon, his lifelong helpmeet and collaborator.
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