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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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3 ‘The Anatomy of Atavism’: American Urban Modernity, Gothic Trauma and Haunted Spaces in Cat People (1942)

Cat People (Jacques Tourneur, 1942) opens with an epigraph, an extract from a fictional psychoanalytic text credited to the film’s oily, patient-seducing psychoanalyst Dr Judd:

Even as fog continues to lie in the valleys, so does ancient sin cling to the low places, the depressions in the world consciousness. ‘The Anatomy of Atavism – Dr Louis Judd’

This suggestion that specific cultures are atavistic, ‘depressions in the world consciousness’, fades out to the film’s main character, the Serbian émigré and fashion illustrator Irena Dubrovna (Simone Simon), in modern New York. Atavism is Irena’s problem, and the film configures it as a form of traumatic memory. Haunted by the Gothic history of her home village, she is obsessively fearful that she has inherited a strain of monstrosity which causes village women to transform into panthers when sexually aroused. Throughout the film, other characters, particularly Irena’s oblivious American husband Oliver (Kent Smith), counsel her to forget. ‘I’ve fled from the past’, she confides to him, from ‘evil things’ he ‘could never know or understand’. He advises her that this history is ‘nothing to do with you, really. You’re Irena […] you’re here in America […] you’re so normal you’re even in love with me […] Oliver Reed […] a good, plain Americano.’ But Irena will fail to become either ‘normal’ or American.

Appropriately, this is a film made by European...

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