Science Is Fiction
The plangent wah-wah of vintage Duke Ellington accompanies the gyrations of seahorses in the opening images of Jean Painlevé's The Vampire (1945), giving viewers a sense of nature-appreciative well-being in the mold of so many other "real life" films. That superior distance is undermined, however, when a crippled, harelipped vampire bat makes its appearance -- dragging its body about like Lon Chaney Sr. in some uncensored Tod Browning nightmare -- and completely collapses as the bat begins feeding on a much larger, unaccountably immobile guinea pig. The image wouldn't be so horrific if we didn't relate to bat and pig as conscious creatures like ourselves -- one of the points of the excellent program of short films screening at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley this Tuesday, inaugurating a series titled "Science Is Fiction." Our anthropomorphism is mocked in Bert Haanstra's and Arne Sucksdorff's Zoo (1962), with a hidden camera observing visitors to the Amsterdam Zoo, and destroyed by Georges Franju's The Blood of the Beasts (1949), as whistling, coffee-swilling butchers matter-of-factly slaughter a horse, a bull, and lambs whose limbs keep wiggling after decapitation. Franju, whose later work (e.g., Eyes Without a Face) is presaged by this early documentary, introduces his film and breaks into it periodically with charming street-scene footage of urban-rural interface, all the better to set off the bloodletting from which our society springs. The program also includes Painlevé's The Seahorse (1934), a Claymation Blue Beard (1938) he worked on, and an 1898 Separation of the Siamese Twins -- all in all a good starting point for rethinking animal-human relations -- from the animals' perspective.
"Science Is Fiction" screens Tuesday, July 18, at 7:30 p.m. at the Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft (at Bowditch), Berkeley. Admission is $7; call (510) 642-1124 or go to www.bampfa.berkeley.edu.