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Subaquatic Frames

2012 March 27
by Shared by Steve Rust

See the full version of Nicole Starosielksi’s essay “Subaquatic Frames” at FlowTV


This essay tracks the origins of the cinematic framing of undersea environments in order to draw attention to the historical specificity of this view...

Here, I chart how early popular underwater film envisioned the ocean, not as a place to escape earthly concerns, but as a territory to be exploited, an area of contestation and battle, and a zone imbricated in the interactions of white explorers with coastal islanders. The sea was not a site to be communed with, but one that was inhabited by racialized (and often dangerous) others. It was not until the 1960s that American film and television “whitewashed” the ocean, erasing indigenous peoples from the narratives and depicting it as a region beyond territorial concerns. It was at this point that the undersea environment became a safe place for a middle class American family to explore and to reconcile their internal differences.

With the transition to a domesticated ocean, undersea film and television sidelined the coastal politics and conflicts that had permeated many of the previous films. Underwater environments became a natural landscape that could be inhabited by an American family. They were no longer the domain of coastal peoples, but a “blank” without history. It is in the undersea film and television of the 1960s that the contemporary view of the ocean originated: a site where we could move beyond social differences and explore our interconnections with others via a shared gaze out onto the subaquatic world.

A longer version of this essay is forthcoming in Ecocinema Theory and Practice (Routledge, 2012). Thanks to Meredith Bak for comments on this version of the article.



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