The Underwater Eye: How the Movie Camera Opened the Depths and Unleashed New Realms of Fantasy

2022
Author(s)
Publisher
Princeton Press

In The Underwater Eye, Margaret Cohen tells the fascinating story of how the development of modern diving equipment and movie camera technology has allowed documentary and narrative filmmakers to take human vision into the depths, creating new imagery of the seas and the underwater realm, and expanding the scope of popular imagination. Innovating on the most challenging film set on earth, filmmakers have tapped the emotional power of the underwater environment to forge new visions of horror, tragedy, adventure, beauty, and surrealism, entertaining the public and shaping its perception of ocean reality.

Examining works by filmmakers ranging from J. E. Williamson, inventor of the first undersea film technology in 1914, to Wes Anderson, who filmed the underwater scenes of his 2004 The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou entirely in a pool, The Underwater Eye traces how the radically alien qualities of underwater optics have shaped liquid fantasies for more than a century. Richly illustrated, the book explores documentaries by Jacques Cousteau, Louis Malle, and Hans Hass, art films by Man Ray and Jean Vigo, and popular movies and television shows such as 20,000 Leagues Under the SeaCreature from the Black LagoonSea Hunt, the Bond films, JawsThe Abyss, and Titanic. In exploring the cultural impact of underwater filmmaking, the book also asks compelling questions about the role film plays in engaging the public with the remote ocean, a frontline of climate change.

About the Author

Margaret Cohen’s most recent book, The Underwater Eye: How the Movie Camera Opened the Depths and Unleashed New Realms of Fantasy, will appear in April 2022 with Princeton University Press. Her The Novel and the Sea (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010) was awarded the Louis R. Gottschalk Prize from the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies and the George and Barbara Perkins Prize from the International Society for the Study of the Narrative. She is also the author of Profane Illumination: Walter Benjamin and the Paris of Surrealist Revolution (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993) and The Sentimental Education of the Novel (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999), which received the Modern Language Association's Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione prize in French and Francophone literature. 

In addition, Margaret Cohen co-edited two collections of scholarship on the European novel: The Literary Channel: The Inter-National Invention of the Novel with Carolyn Dever (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002), and Spectacles of Realism: Body, Gender, Genre with Christopher Prendergast (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995). She edited and translated Sophie Cottin's best-selling novel of 1799, Claire d'Albe (New York: Modern Language Association, 2003), and has edited a new critical edition of Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary that appeared with W.W. Norton in 2004. In 2019, her co-edited The Aesthetics of the Undersea appeared (Routledge). She is general editor of A Cultural History of the Seas (London: Bloomsbury, 2021), and she is volume editor of A Cultural History of the Seas in the Age of Empire, the fifth volume of this six volume set spanning from antiquity to the present.