For those of us entranced by the BBC’s deep dive into our alien ocean landscape, Blue Planet II, Astoria’s Museum of the Moving Image is offering a look back into the early history of undersea photography.
Back in the 1930s, celebrated scientist William Beebe (with the help of engineer Otis Barton) created the bathysphere, a reinforced steel globe designed to go deeper into the ocean than any man had ever gone before. Beebe’s goal was to observe deep-sea flora and fauna in situ; until then, water pressure had limited a manned diver to a maximum of some 525 feet beneath the waves. Beebe and Barton’s revised take on the ancient diving bell allowed the scientist to blow that previous limit out of the water, so to speak, with a record-setting half-mile dip. Beebe’s reporting for National Geographic and NBC Radio transmitted from inside the bathysphere made him an international celebrity. He would go on to tour the submersible at museums and, most notably, at the 1934 Chicago World’s Fair.
His tours were accompanied by a selection of short films shot from within the bathysphere and from his earlier days working with the Department of Tropical Research—made up of a crew of visual artists and ecologists—which he founded at the turn of the century. The department also doubled as a training ground for many cinematographers who went on to Hollywood success following their time with Beebe. Filmmaker Floyd Crosby would win an Oscar for his work on F.W. Murnau’s docu-fiction flick Tabu, while screenwriter Ruth Rose and cinematographer Ernest B. Schoedsack would bring their talents to bear on the original King Kong.
The museum will feature a selection of silent scientific and publicity shorts made by the DTR team, accompanied by the appropriately named electro-experimental artist High Water. Many of these films are being shown publicly for the first time in more than 75 years. Following the screening, a talk-back discussion on underwater filmmaking will include panelists Howard Rosenbaum and Fabien Cousteau, grandson of groundbreaking oceanographer Jacques Cousteau.
Why You Should Go: Only a filmgoer still wet behind the ears would want to skip this impressive anthology of early documentary science shorts, led by luminaries in the marine biology field.
Of the Deep: Films by the Department of Tropical Research
Museum of the Moving Image
36-01 35th Avenue, Astoria
Sunday, February 25