Underwater Eye: Margaret Cohen Explores the Film Aquatic


Margaret Cohen joins John to discuss The Underwater Eye, which explores "How the Movie Camera Opened the Depths and Unleashed New Realms of Fantasy." Margaret's earlier prizewinning books include The Novel and the Sea and The Sentimental Education of the Novel, but this project brings her places even her frequent surfing forays hadn't yet reached. She charts the rise of "wet for wet" filming both in the ocean itself and in various surrogates, exploring the implications of entering a domain that humans can explore and come to know, but never master.

She and John discuss the rarity of professional divers in early 19th century (Henri Edwards 1843) and Natasha Adamowsky on the abiding fear of the depths. Conversation also pivots towards such SF classics as Stanislas Lem Solaris (1961), featuring a sentient underwater being which controls the planetary tides, though this wrinkle disappears in the 1971 Tarkovsky film. Margaret wittily labels the unintended consequences of human agency the "dialectic of the anthropocene."

Mentioned in the episode

Recallable Books/Films

Margaret chose Creature from the Black Lagoon 1954 which inspired Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water (a "dry for wet" film, shot in studio rather than underwater) and was in its turn inspired by Gabriel Figueora, cinematographer of The Pearl.

John favored a SF novel about space aliens who on landing seek out the oceanic depths, John Wyndham The Kraken Wakes (1953)

Read a transcript here.

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Elizabeth Ferry and John Plotz

Free-ranging discussion of books from the past that cast a sideways light on today's world. Recall This Book is hosted by Elizabeth Ferry, Professor of Anthropology at Brandeis University and John Plotz, Barbara Mandel Professor of the Humanities at Brandeis University and co-founder of the Brandeis Educational Justice Initiative.

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