20 November: Jean Painlevé was born in Paris to Paul Painlevé and Julie Marie Marguerite Petit de Villeneuve, nicknamed Gaète who died on December 31st that same year from an infection following childbirth. Paul Painlevé was born into a family of lithographers and ink makers. He became a renowned mathematician (the “Painlevé Property”, “Painlevé transcendants”) and, from 1906 onwards, a statesman, serving twice as Prime Minister of France.
As a child, Jean Painlevé spent his summers at Ker Ster, a rented house in Le Pouldu on the Southern coast of Brittany, with his maternal grandmother and cousin Pierre Naville (the future writer and editor of the journal La Revolution Surréaliste). During these holidays Jean Painlevé developed a lifelong love for the sea and started taking pictures, first with a crude self-made 4 x 4cm box whose lens was made with the bottom of a glass bottle.
Paul Painlevé offered his son a Kodak No. 0 Brownie camera, the first mass-produced compact camera with a film roll. This would strongly reinforce the son's passion for photography : "I was always taking pictures. I photographed anything and everything which seemed curious to me. It's like kids today who fool around with computers to see how they work. What was surprising at the time was the 'latent image' : you could keep an imprinted image lying dormant and wake it up later. That's still an extraordinary thing” ("Jean Painlevé reveals the Invisible", Libération, 15-16/11/1986).
Jean Painlevé and Georges Altman, a schoolmate at the Louis Le Grand lycée, created an affiliate union of the "Socialist Revolutionary Students", an anarchist organisation established in the previous century. Jean Painlevé designed and crafted the membership cards and pamphlets.
Medical studies at the Sorbonne University, alongside Jacques-André Boiffard who would later on become Man Ray's assistant. Both abandoned their medical studies two years later. Boiffard joined the Surrealist movement and Jean Painlevé enrolled in Paul Wintrebert's zoology class where he befriended Maryvonne Hamon. While on a student residency in Roscoff, Brittany, Painlevé met and fell in love with Geneviève Hamon (1905-1987), the youngest of the three Hamon sisters who would become his lifelong partner.
Painlevé socialized with the composers, writers and artists who gathered in the cafes and nightclubs of Montparnasse, such as Max Jacob, Robert Desnos, the Prévert brothers, Fernand Léger, Man Ray, Soutine... Painlevé set up his film studio at Geneviève Hamon's family home in Port Blanc close to Roscoff in Brittany. Her parents, Augustin and Henriette, were anarchist militants, writers and the official translators of George Bernard Shaw. Their sprawling house, located in a pious catholic region, was nick-named by the neighbors “Ty an Diaoul” (in Breton, “The Devil’s House”). Jacques-André Boiffard, the Préverts, Eli Lotar (who would for a short time become Painlevé's cameraman), Edgar Varèse, Alexander Calder and other fellow companions of the avant-garde made frequent visits to Ty an Diaoul.
Passionate about music and jazz, Painlevé accompanied Kiki, Man Ray’s muse, on the piano at the ‘Jockey, dancing bohémien’ in Montparnasse.
In October, Yvan Goll published the first and only issue of the journal Surrealisme with Painlevé’s essay ‘Neo-Zoological Drama’, Goll's “Manifesto for Surrealism”, an unpublished letter by Guillaume Apollinaire and contributions by Pierre Reverdy, René Crevel, Robert Delaunay. Shot 'Methuselah or the Eternal Bourgeois', five film sequences to be used as a backdrop for Yvan Goll's play. Anonymously gave Louis Aragon a series of doodles and drawings made by French cabinet members on blotting paper, quasi-automatic drawings that were published alongside an article by Aragon in the issue number 6 of André Breton’s journal La Révolution Surréaliste.
In March, 'Methuselah or the Eternal Bourgeois' was screened with live music composed by Maxime Jacob as backdrop to the performance of Yvan Goll's play at the Theatre Michel in Paris. Painlevé also performed in the play as the son of Methuselah and Antonin Artaud as a catholic priest, in costumes and masks in the Dada spirit. First films shot in Port Blanc : 'The Octopus', 'The Sea Urchins', 'The Hermit Crab'.
Screening his first film at the Academie des Sciences, 'The Stickleback's Egg', based on the research of his teacher Paul Wintrebert and the Chinese researcher Yung Ko Ching and entirely shot in micro-cinema with time-lapse techniques. Supplied Man Ray with a clip of a starfish for use in the latter's film 'L'Étoile de mer' and participated with Germaine Dulac and Fernand Léger in the cine club movement. Began a friendship with avant-garde musician Luigi Russolo, creator of the 'Rumorophone' whom he met at the Studio 28 in Montmartre. 'The Octopus' was screened at the opening of the Studio Diamant (Place St Augustin, Paris). First films shown in Madrid. Befriended Luis Buñuel.
Meeting with Sergei Eisenstein in Paris. Until May 1929, the Studio Diamant released 'The Daphnia', 'The Hermit Crab', and 'Hyas and Stenorhynchus'. In October, the Studio des Ursulines released 'The Sea Urchins'. Began the shooting of 'Crabs and Shrimps' and 'Skeleton Shrimps and Spider Crabs'.
Release of 'Crabs and Shrimps' at L’Œil de Paris. Finished 'Skeleton Shrimps and Spiders Crabs'. Invited Sergei Eisenstein to visit Brittany. From June to July, the gallery Manuel Freres organized a series of lectures on cinema in which Painlevé, Louis Lumière, Jean Cocteau, Germaine Dulac participated. 'The Octopus' presented on July 10th in New York, at the Playhouse on 8th Avenue. 'Hyas and Stenorhynchus' presented in Brussels at the second International Congress of Independent Cinema. Program included works by Hans Richter, Man Ray, Jean Vigo, Henri Storck and Fernand Léger. For the opening of the Cinema des Miracles (Rue Réaumur, Paris), a screening attended among others by Fernand Léger, Pablo Picasso, Jacques Lipchitz and Henri Laurens, Painlevé presented 'Skeleton Shrimps and Spider Crabs'. Created two not-for-profit organizations, the Association for the Photographic and Cinematographic Documentation in Sciences (ADPCS) and the Institute for Science Cinema (ICS).
Rented a studio in Montparnasse, 12 rue Armand Moisant, in the cellar of the French Postal Services building where he shot most of a silent version of 'The Seahorse'. Met Jean Vigo through the film club circuit in Nice and immediately formed a strong bond with him. Stroke up a lifelong friendship with Philippe Halsman, who was granted exile in France following Paul Painlevé's intervention. Attended a performance of the 'Calder Circus' by American sculptor Alexander Calder, whom he was introduced to through Edgar Varèse.
Joined the AEAR, the Association of Revolutionary Writers and Artists, an association of artists and writers mobilized against war and fascism. Its members included Jean Vigo, Man Ray, André Gide, Max Ernst, Claude Cahun, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Luis Bunuel, André Kertész, Germaine Krull, Eli Lotar, Roger Parry among others.
Presented his photographs in a two-person exhibition titled ‘Microphotographies’, with Laure Albin-Guillot’s work, at the Galerie de la Pléiade in Paris in April. On the 29th of October, death of Paul Painlevé. National funeral at the Panthéon in Paris.
On October 5th, Jean Vigo died from tuberculosis. Release of sound version of 'The Seahorse' by Pathé Consortium in mainstream French theaters, with a soundtrack by Darius Milhaud.
Traveled to Austria as a member of a commission set up by the World Committee against War and Fascism, investigating the fate of political prisoners and the bombings of working class housing districts. Creation of a militant group with Gaston Bergery, the 'Front Commun'. In June, show of photographs in the exhibition ‘Documents de la vie sociale’ at the Galerie de la Pléiade, organized by the members of the Association of Revolutionary Writers and Artists.
With Yves Le Prieur, a French naval officer and inventor, founded « Le Club des sous l’eau » (the Underwater Club), an amateur diving and underwater photography club. Philippe Halsman's camera recorded the club’s gatherings and galas in Parisian swimming pools.
In January, participation in the 'International Exhibition of Contemporary Photography' at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, alongside Florence Henri, André Kertész, Edward Steichen or Maurice Tabard.
In May, launched a range of jewellery and printed fabrics (jHp®). These were sold in Paris and other major cities throughout France in “L’Hippocampe” stores. United States censorship of The Seahorse', scenes of “copulation” and "male evicting its young" considered “indecent”.
Invited to produce, in collaboration with various scientists, several films on mathematics, astrology and physics for the 'International Exhibition on Arts and Technics applied to Modern Life' at the Palais de Chaillot, Conceived, for the section devoted to biology, a large-scale sculptural installation entitled ‘The Spiral of Evolution’, produced with the help of Geneviève Hamon and sculptor René Bertrand.
Together with Joris Ivens, attempt to screen Sergei Eisenstein's 'Battleship Potemkin', but the film was deemed subversive and the screenings were systematically interrupted by the police. When the laws governing foreigners living in France had become increasingly restrictive, Painlevé created a nonprofit organisation, AARF (Association of the Friends of the French Republic), whose aim was to help these people - many of whom were fleeing fascism - to obtain work visas.
Shooting the images for the 'The Vampire' and 'French Solutions'. Enlisted in the artillery in Dijon before joining the resistance and going into hiding in the south of France.
Appointed head of the Cinematheque Française in the 'Free Zone', by Henri Langlois.
In August, appointed Director of French Cinema in the temporary government by the Committee for the Liberation of French Cinema.
In May, dismissed by a decree signed de Gaulle who replaced him with a civil servant. Painlevé finished 'The Vampire', adding a soundtrack, as well as 'French Solutions'.
Nomination to the board of the Cinematheque Française and appointed President of the French Federation of Cine Clubs.
Setting up a film studio at the Marine Biology Station in Roscoff in Brittany. In March, first public screenings of 'Freshwater Assassins', begun in the early 1930s, at the World Festival of Film and Fine Arts in Brussels.
In June, invited by the French TV to show, for the first time to the general public, views through the microscope of a drop of water. The experiment is repeated in London the same year with a live BBC broadcast “Under the microscope”. Active participation in the creation of the World Union of Documentarists with, among others, filmmakers Joris Ivens, Henri Storck, Paul Rotha and MoMA's film curator Iris Barry.
Joined the “Groupe des Trente” in defense of the short film with Chris Marker, Alain Resnais, Pierre Kast and Georges Rouquier. Shot his first scientific film in color, 'Sea Urchins' and 'Calder’s 1927 Great Circus', documenting Alexander Calder performing the miniature circus the artist created in 1927 in Paris. For these two films, Painlevé trained a young cameraman, Claude Beausoleil.
Recommended Claude Beausoleil to Jean-Luc Godard to whom he lent his 'Cameflex' camera and custom-made leather harness for the famous traveling shot down the Champs-Elysées in ‘Breathless’. Claude Beausoleil would continue working for Godard throughout the 1960s.
Intensive work with Geneviève Hamon on a series of both research films and shorts for the general public in Roscoff : : 'Sea Ballerinas', 'How some Jellyfish are Born', 'Halammohydra' ‘Shrimp stories’ ‘The Love Life of the Octopus’ 'Acera or the Witches' Dance', ‘Lobsters’. Teaching film at the newly created ‘Experimental University of Vincennes’, founded by Hélène Cixous in 1969 as a direct response to the events of May 1968. Other faculty members included Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Lacan, Alain Badiou, Michel Foucault.
Developping plans for an animated feature in 3D, 'The Triumph of Death' based on the eponymous painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. The project was abandoned because of the prohibitive cost of the technology, still in its infancy.
Finished 'The Pigeons in the Square' shot in Parisian parks with the help of a film crew, his last public film.
Shooting a new film on the traditional feminine hairstyles from various regions of Africa, conceived with the help of a Malian anthropologist. The project was abandoned due to Painlevé's declining mobility and inability to oversee the treatment of the subject in the final film.
Geneviève Hamon died on February 28th in Port Blanc where she is buried in the Marine Cemetery.
Painlevé died on July 2nd in Paris where he is buried in the Montparnasse Cemetery.