Friday, January 25, 2013

The Cinema of the Deep

In the second half of the 20th century, there was a period of steadily increasing discoveries in a realm which is still heretofore largely unexplored: the deep ocean.  It is a realm that covers the earth, yet may as well be as distant as the moon.  With pressures that would crush a man flat in seconds, it is surprising that this environment is actually host to an astounding amount of life.  Yet, as is a common figure to bring up, only about 2% of it has actually been explored.  What in the world does this have to do with the cinema?

I was recently watching an old film from the very beginning of motion pictures.  It was that of a dancer named Anna Belle swirling around fabric in the popular serpentine dance.  The camera speed was slightly fast, making her move in near slow motion.  This particular print was hand tinted and the colors began shifting from red to yellow, to pink.  At once the woman became lost in the fabric and I was immediately reminded of some kind of living thing, a silky abyssinian dweller that drifts through space, knowing no solid surfaces in all its life.

I realized that what I had been reminded of was a creature videotaped deep beneath an oil rig.  This thing has become known as the "Cascade Creature".

It sinks into frame, startling the viewer.  Drifting off into the void, it quickly returns and stays for a while to twist and undulate, revealing more of its baffling anatomy.  This got me thinking, really considering an almost absurd parallel.  Exploration of the deep sea is like the birth of film.  In the early days everything was new, there was almost no understanding of the full potential of the medium and people had only begun to scratch the surface.  So it is with exploring the depths.  On each and every dive, some new kind of animal or phenomena is uncovered.  In the deep sea, light is everything, many animals even emit it from themselves.  The same is said for the entirety of film, a medium which cannot function without light.  On expeditions into the abyss, the light from the submersible does not go very far, there is only a small enclosure.  Into this bubble of light, anything at all could fade in.  As the Cascade Creature did, doing an extended dance for the camera and then fading to black, so to speak.  Again, just as in the beginning of the movies, there was a huge excitement over the future of film and what that would bring.  In the deep ocean it is inconceivable what else lurks, waiting to be revealed.  Just recently the ever elusive giant squid has been filmed in its domain at last.  

Its shimmering appearance was more beautiful than what could have been imagined.  It is as if these marine biologists delving into the greatest reachable frontier on our world, are some form of new cinematic pioneers.  The sights they find and photograph, be they the alien terrain of the sea floor or the countless creatures that emerge, speak for themselves and put on a show the likes of which exists no where else on earth.  Their time in front of the camera is limited and they soon float away.  This region no longer seems aquatic, but like a theatrical limbo where an endless assortment of creatures have their entrances and exits, sometimes enhanced by glowing special effects.  I've been enthralled by the mysteries of the deep sea ever since I was a child and nothing quite staggers the imagination for sheer excitement of discovery and opportunity for new images to be captured than that.     


  1. This is a really cool analogy. Where can I find that clip of Anna Belle?

  2. awesome, first time ive seen this cascade jelly!. i wish that shot of the nautilus among the deep ocean bioluminescence would have made it into the film.