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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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6 The Pools of The Swimmer (1968): Exurbia, Topography, Decay

The Swimmer ‘might well be called The Alumnus,’ one reviewer joked upon the film’s release in May 1968. ‘It says to an older group what The Graduate is saying to a younger.’1 As Burt Lancaster’s character dives into one luxurious swimming pool after another, he is implicated as something of a ‘Mr Robinson’ – a spokesperson for, and a casualty of, a compromised older generation. The Swimmer was directed by Frank Perry and was based on a short story by John Cheever, published in 1964. Its protagonist is the middle-aged Ned Merrill, who resides in wooded, suburban Connecticut.2 One day he decides to ‘swim the county’ on his way home, running cross-country, stopping to swim a length in each of his friends’ pools. As he heads back towards his wife and daughters, Ned is increasingly niggled by feelings of unease: his sense of time and place is disrupted, and friends behave strangely towards him, making allusions to a less-than-perfect family life. Disturbed and physically exhausted, Ned finally returns to discover his house empty and dilapidated, with his family evidently long since departed.


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