Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Jean Painlevé - Acera ou le bal des sorcières (1972)

Jean Painlevé (1902-1989) was a French filmmaker and photographer whose photographs of crustaceans were published by Georges Bataille in the surrealist magazine 'Documents' - the magazine that inspired this blog.

Painlevé's 1972 documentary on the erotic life of hermaphrodite mollusks, closely echoes Georges Bataille's views, amongst others his concept of the 'formless'.

"A dictionary would begin as of the moment when it no longer provided the meanings of words but their tasks. In this way formless is not only an adjective having such and such a meaning, but a term serving to declassify, requiring in general that every thing should have a form. What it designates does not, in any sense whatever, possess rights, and everywhere gets crushed like a spider or an earthworm. For academics to be satisfied, it would be necessary, in effect, for the universe to take on a form. The whole of philosophy has no other aim; it is a question of fitting what exists into a frock-coat, a mathematical frock-coat. To affirm on the contrary that the universe resembles nothing at all and is only formless, amounts to saying that the universe is something akin to a spider or a gob of spittle." Georges Bataille: "Informe." Documents 7 (December 1929), p. 382.

Visually, the mollusks - what revolting, slimy creatures they are, resembling ugly sexual organs - seem to fall somewhere between a spider and a gob of spittle. Painlevé consistently stresses the hermaphroditic nature of the mollusks; and that hermaphrodite nature is not a class in itself but serves to declassify their sexuality. Furthermore, Painlevé underlines the synesthetic sensorium of the mollusks, which merges touch, taste and smell into a declassified experience.

Similarly, Pierre Jansen's excellent soundtrack seems to emanate from some avant-garde Twilight Zone, simultaneously declassifying modern classical composition and Free Jazz.

The communal mating (mollusk threesomes and fivesomes) are portrayed as orgies, blind fusions of of declassified mollusk bodies "... which oppose no further resistance to the frenzied proliferation of life" (sourced here).

Even the title of the documentary (translated: "Acera or the dance of the witches") points towards Michelet's book on witches and witchcraft, "La Sorcière", and thus towards an essay Bataille wrote about Michelet's book in his "La littérature et le mal" ("Literature and evil").

Here is a nice article from the Senses Of Cinema website on Painlevé's "Les Danseuses De La Mer" (link).

Here is an article from the New York Times on Painlevé (link).


. said...

I am a mathematical physicist at the University of Rochester. I found recently that the work of Paul Painleve describes certain spirals in mechanics. To my amazement I find that his *son* Jean Painleve took some photographs of seashells which are also spirals! Can you send me a link to these photographs of Paul Painleve to see if in fact the two are related?

My email: sgrajeev@gmail.com
My blog: htp://sgrajeev.com
My webpage: http://www.pas.rochester.edu/~rajeev
My paper on Painleve Spirals:http://arxiv.org/pdf/0801.0238

valter said...

Thanks for the interesting information regarding Paul Painlevé. I don't have those photographs you describe, I'm sorry.