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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