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The Cinema of the Swimming Pool


Edited By Christopher Brown and Pam Hirsch

The swimming pool frequently appears in film not merely as a setting but as a dynamic site where social, political, cultural and aesthetic forces converge. What is it about this space that has so fascinated filmmakers and what kinds of cinematic investigations does it encourage? This collection features essays by an eclectic, international range of film researchers. Amongst the works analysed are classics such as The Cameraman (1928), The Philadelphia Story (1940) and La Piscine (1969); cult hits such as The Swimmer (1968) and Deep End (1970); and more recent representations of the pool in Water Lilies (2007), Sea Point Days (2009) and Ausente (2011). The pool is considered as a realm where artifice meets nature, where public meets private, where sexualities morph and blend; and as a space that reconfigures the relationship between architecture and narrative, in which themes of pollution, spectacle and reflexivity find unique expression. Approaching the swimming pool from a wide range of methodological perspectives, the essays in this collection stake a claim for the enduring significance of this exciting cinematic space.
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1 The Municipal Plunge: Silent Cinema and the Social Life of Swimming Pools

In Buster Keaton’s feature film The Cameraman (co-directed with Edward Sedgwick, 1928), Keaton’s character goes on a date with Sally, a secretary at MGM’s newsreel division, at the Municipal Plunge. The pool, filmed on location at the Venice Plunge in Los Angeles, differs in style and ambience from the majority of pools on display in Hollywood movies and from star publicity of the era. It’s a far cry, for instance, from the private swimming pool in the grounds of Keaton’s Tuscan-style villa in Beverley Hills: an oval pool reached by solemn stone steps, which would later be used to signify the height of Hollywood glamour in A Star Is Born (William A. Wellman, 1937).1 The pool that Buster and Sally visit is impressively grand, to be sure, but it is also hectic, inescapably public and, this being slapstick, packed with potential obstacles (Figure 1.1). For Buster, these obstacles range from the overcrowded changing rooms, where finding space to undress becomes a test of acrobatic skill, to the groups of hyper-masculine young men jockeying for Sally’s attention. The scene culminates in an impromptu display of ‘real fancy diving’ off the highest board in the pool. After performing a spectacular belly flop into the water, Buster emerges some moments later gasping for breath and minus his bathing suit (Figure 1.2).

In a sense, Keaton gets off lightly. In his earlier two-reeler Hard...

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