Monday, 28 November 2011

In the swim - pools in movies, part one

'Where's the swimming pool? You must have a swimming pool.'

So says Veronica Lake to Joel McCrea in Preston Sturges' Hollywood satire, Sullivan's Travels (1941), inspiration for the Coen brothers' O Brother, Where Art Thou? Swimming pools appear in a variety of movies: private pools denote glamour, if not decadence - witness Billy Crudup perched on a rooftop above a pool in Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous (2000). 'I am a golden god!' he shouts to his fans before they urge him to jump. 'My last words... I'm on drugs!'

It doesn't take much to reduce that ultimate status symbol, the hidden swimming pool, however - a flick of the switch pitching James Stewart and Donna Reed into the water in It's a WonderfulLife (1946), while Peter Sellers floods the festivities in foam at The Party (1968). In the 1980s, swimming pools were also life-giving - to aliens in Cocoon (1985) and to gremlins in, erm, Gremlins (1984).

To mark the release of Jacques Deray's La Piscine (pictured) today on DVD and Blu-ray, over the next three days I'm going to examine more themes familiar to swimming pool films, starting with seduction and humiliation - dive in!

In George Cukor's The Philadelphia Story (1940), the swimming pool is the setting for Katharine Hepburn's night-time swim - in the musical version of Philip Barry's play, High Society (1956), Grace Kelly is the bathing beauty. The character, Tracy Lord, remembers the yacht she shared with her ex husband as 'yar' - an execrable word in both women's mouths.

For Juliette Binoche in Philip Kaufman's Kundera adaptation, The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988), public baths are a place of humiliation - much as they are for the young teenage heroine in French director Céline Sciamma's 2007 feature debut, Water Lilies, an unforgettable portrayal of the tensions within a team of pubescent swimmers.

In the same way Binoche rarely seems to escape Paris's Métro, so she is often shown in swimming pools; it's a place of isolation for her widowed character in Three Colours: Blue (1993), set to Zbigniew Preisner's magnificent score. Michael Haneke, however, makes it a setting for, by turns, menace and threat in Code Unknown (pictured, 2000) and Hidden (2005)...

Part two, featuring lust and terror, follows here

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