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The Cinema of the Swimming Pool


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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5 The Artifice of Modernity: Alienation by the Pool Side in the Cinema of Michelangelo Antonioni

A long sequence of billboards and advertisements at the beginning of the film sets the tone for an exploration of alienation and artifice in Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1970 Zabriskie Point. These images, so plentiful as to screen out the real nature of Los Angeles, include garish calls for the spectator to ‘get away from it all’ and to enjoy a thousand products in a dizzying collage of consumer culture. Shortly thereafter the female protagonist Daria (Daria Halprin) introduces us to the Sunny Dunes Corporation. Daria is working as a secretary in the land development company even though it is not ‘really something that she digs to do’, as she explains to the manager Lee Allen (Rod Taylor). Allen’s colleagues are soon to be seen pensively studying a promotional film for a Sunny Dunes complex of homes to be built in the desert. The film features miniatures of the development together with Barbie-like dolls ‘acting’ the part of future residents. Sunny Dunes represents a move from the ‘borderline’ of the city to the old desert frontier, now safely behind the defensive lines of the white middle class. Here people will be able to live in isolation and full modernity. The epitome of this combination is the ‘private pool’, a symbol for the dream of being able to ‘enjoy life’ outside of the meddlesome public sphere. But the pools in the Sunny Dunes...

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