It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955,dir. Robert Gordon)
Jacques Cousteau (1967, via) wearing the aqualung, the first commercially successful SCUBA set, which he co-invented with Emile Gagnan
In the following excerpt from his 1954 book, The Silent World, Cousteau describes his first dive with the aqualung, which allowed him to swim underwater as freely as a fish for the first time (prior to the aqualung, standard deep sea diving dress looked like this):
“To swim fishlike, horizontally, was the logical method in a medium eight hundred times denser than air. To halt and hang attached to nothing, no lines or air pipe to the surface, was a dream. At night I had often had visions of flying by extending my arms as wings. Now I flew without wings. (Since that first aqualung flight, I have never had a dream of flying.)
I thought of the helmet diver arriving where I was on his ponderous boots and struggling to walk a few yards, obsessed with his umbilici and his head imprisoned in copper. On skin dives I had seen him leaning dangerously forward to make a step, clamped in heavier pressure at the ankles than the head, a cripple in an alien land. From this day forward we would swim across miles of country no man had known, free and level, with our flesh feeling what the fish scales know.
I experimented with all possible maneuvers of the aqualung -loops, somersaults, and barrel rolls. I stood upside down on one finger and burst out laughing, a shrill distorted laugh. Nothing I did altered the automatic rhythm of air. Delivered from gravity and buoyancy I flew around in space.”
Jacques Cousteau & his team descend into “the world of rapture” in The Silent World (1956, dir. Jacques-Yves Cousteau & Louis Malle) (the opening shot of the film, pictured above, can be seen on youtube here)
The Silent World, Cousteau’s first feature-length documentary, was groundbreaking in its use of full-color underwater cinematography.
Unfortunately, the film is now equally famous for the damage Cousteau & his divers inflicted on marine life during filming - they blow up a coral reef, kill hundreds of fish, leave no sea turtle unmolested (they are especially fond of hitching joyrides on the backs of the turtles, who struggle under the extra weight to reach the surface to breathe), and fatally injure a baby whale with their ship. The blood attracts several sharks, who promptly devour the whale. Enraged by this, the divers harpoon all the sharks, pull them up to the ship, & proceed to brutally hack them to death with axes. “The crew becomes angry with the sharks, and fight to avenge the baby whale,” narrates Cousteau - this time it’s personal.
Cousteau later became much more environmentally conscious & was a pioneer in the marine conservation movement - his behavior during the filming of The Silent World simply reflects the sensibilities of the time. Notably, most of the reviews published in major American newspapers upon its initial release in 1956 are full of praise & don’t even mention the above incidents as problematic.
via The Fabulous World of Jules Verne (1958, dir. Karel Zeman), an adventure film based on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Mysterious Island and other Verne tales:
“This is a live-action black and white movie — but it uses every camera trick and every form of animation known in 1958…Methods include stop-motion, paper cutout, drawing and painting animation, drawn foregrounds and backdrops, dissolves, miniatures and models, double exposure (probably in-camera and superimposition), still images, traveling and stationary mattes — they’re all here. There were at least eight people watching; someone yelled out at one point ‘There are at least seven different things going on in this scene!’ (I counted eight.) And all this before the invention of blue screens!
…There are lines drawn on sets, and even on people, to keep the original steel-engraving feel. The scenes of ships of the water have been treated with some sort of light, striped screen that makes the moving waves of real water take on the appearance of the engraved lines in a 19th century drawing of the sea. There’s a scene of a train coming down a track — the train is drawn; the wheels and the tracks are animated; the (real) engineer stands on an open platform in the engine’s cab and (real) people lean out of the (drawn) passenger car. (It’s so simple and powerful it takes your breath away.) Actors walk through back-projected sets; at the same time they’re walking behind animated full-sized paper cutouts of spinning flywheels and meshing gears, all this in front of a painted set in the middle-background. For maybe five seconds of screen time. There’s a scene of an animated shark attacking a real diver in a model set with painted water. We could go on…”
-excerpted from Locus magazine review (via)
Giant killer squid vs. John Wayne and Ray Milland in Reap the Wild Wind (1942, dir. Cecil B. DeMille)
Above: The underwater funeral procession scene from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1916, dir. Stuart Paton), the first fictional undersea film.
Below: Diagram for the Williamson photosphere, which was used to shoot the film. The camera & cameraman were placed in the photosphere and lowered into the sea, remaining connected to the surface via a watertight tube.
The Mysterious Island (1929, dir. Lucien Hubbard) (via), which was loosely based on Jules Verne’s 1874 novel of the same name.
In the film, ocean explorers discover an underwater city populated by a race of aquatic creatures.