• Sun 28 Mar 7:30PM

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The Sounds of Science

The films of Jean Painlevé set to a soundtrack by Yo La Tengo

Director • Films by Jean Painlevé, original score by Yo La Tengo

Country • France

Year • 2009

Duration • 30 min (excerpt)

Before David Attenborough and Jacques Cousteau – there was Jean Painlevé (1902-89).

Poetic pioneer of science films, Painlevé explored a twilight realm of vampire bats, seahorses, octopi, and liquid crystals. In collaboration with his life-partner, Genevieve Hamon, Painlevé made more than 200 science and nature films and was an early champion of the genre. He was also one of the first filmmakers to take his camera underwater. Surreal, otherworldly documents of marine life, these films transformed sea horses and mollusks into delicate dancers in their own floating ballets.

Possessing a remarkable eye for life’s eerie curiosities, Painleve’s art pivots on the premise that ‘science is fiction’. He created a landscape of bug-eyed wonderment marked by a playful sense of nature’s hidden poetry and scandalized the scientific world with a cinema designed to entertain as well as edify. In the process he won over the circle of Surrealists and avant-gardists and counted amongst his friends Antonin Artaud, Sergei Eisenstein, Jean Vigo, and Luis Bunuel. Painlev’s astonishing documentaries witness a genuinely ‘magic realism’, which continues to enchant audiences around the world.

The Sounds of Science pairs eight of his films with an alternative soundtrack by US art-rock band Yo La Tengo. Yo La Tengo’s place in rock history is unique – few bands in memory dare to experiment quite so widely with such casual audacity. From screeching art-rock and jangling pop songs to electronic soundscapes and hushed lullabies, their music explores the range of musical history without ever sounding less than modern. In 2001 the band was selected by the San Francisco International Film Festival committee to compose new music for the films of Jean Painlevé. Their alternately sombre and joyously moody music seemed like a natural fit for Painlevé’s dramatic underwater studies.

We’ll be showing a selection from that resulting eight-film collection before Last Hope.

“Long before the high-definition panoramas of Planet Earthbefore even the landmark wildlife documentaries of Richard Attenborough and Jacques Cousteau, a Frenchman named Jean Painlevé was making films that captured the natural world as it had never been seen before.”

–Los Angeles Times