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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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King Edward VII Professor of English Literature, University of Cambridge


There have been swimming pools in cinema for as long as there’s been a cinema, of one kind or another, for them to be in. Like the boxing ring, the swimming pool is an arena at once brim-full of extravagant motion, of purposeful human endeavour (even when the purpose is play), and always already enframed, set apart, so that the energy on display pushes against or consciously exploits an evident limit. Both these arenas were tailor-made for one of early cinema’s defining genres, the actuality: no need for the camera to move in order to capture all the relevant action. It’s exhilarating, nonetheless, to discover from the essays in this collection just how various and how inventive are the uses to which a concrete basin full of water has been put ever since cinema reinvented itself as a narrative art in the second decade of the twentieth century: more uses, even, than those to which a roped-in canvas square has been put, although we are still more likely to speak of a ‘boxing film’ than we are of a ‘swimming pool film’, because the one tends to concern a process, the other a punctual event, or series of events.

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