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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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17 Cartographies of Desire: Swimming Pools and the Queer Gaze

I have chosen to analyse four films featuring swimming pools which interrogate popular notions of masculinity associated with machismo.1 Two of these films, Ausente (Marco Berger 2011) and Tensión Sexual, Volume 1: Volátil (Marco Berger and Marcelo Monaco, 2012), are from Argentina; O fantasma (João Pedro Rodrigues 2000) is from Portugal; and Do Começo ao Fim (Aluizio Abranches 2009) is from Brazil.

In these films, the sensuous gaze that some characters cast upon male bodies equals that of the camera’s eye, initiating a form of cinematic cartography in which the topography that composes the male body is delicately detailed, creating a ‘map’ that shows the areas which in much mainstream cinema are obscured. Viewers are so accustomed to the silhouettes, curves and bulges of the male body being avoided in favour of a gaze which objectifies the female body that they do not even notice gaps in the map. An exploration of each part of the female body, a full cartography, is privileged in much mainstream mise-en-scène, which simultaneously naturalizes the absence of a sensitive and eroticized exploration of the male body. Queer cinema, by contrast, erodes the idea of an essence of things to demonstrate that popular conceptions of ‘the natural’ are social and cultural constructions.

Swimming pools are one of the few places where this cartography of desire for the male form can be displayed...

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