A generous and inventive spirit, Jean Painlevé made over 200 films spanning six decades. The vast majority of these were concerned with the natural world, combining technical innovation with an eye for the surreal to shed light on species that many viewers would not have encountered before. A trailblazer for the likes of Cousteau and Attenborough, his impressive legacy is being celebrated at Ikon in his first solo UK exhibition, and to help bring some of his work to life the Archives Jean Painlevé, Flatpack and Ikon have teamed up with two of Birmingham’s most exciting musical forces to present this one-of-a-kind matinee performance.
Opening proceedings we have two of the director’s early works: Le Vampire (1945), a portrait of the vampire bat read by some as an allegory on Nazism; and Fresh Water Assassins (1947), starring a teeming cast of pondlife in macroscopic close-up. Both films will be accompanied by Sid Peacock and Surge, a homegrown jazz orchestra recently described as “an astonishing musical thunderstorm”. They will perform arrangements of the film’s original jazz scores, including work by Duke Ellington, Gene Krupa and Louis Armstrong.
After the interval we can see a more ethereal side to Painlevé with 1978 short Acera or The Witches’ Dance, a mollusc ballet filmed on the Brittany coast with regular collaborator Genevieve Hamon. The original score for the film was written by Pierre Jansen and today for the first time in many years it will be performed live by Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, celebrating 30 years as a leading chamber ensemble. The presentation will be introduced by Marie Jager from the Jean Painlevé Archives and pianist Colette Zirah Jansen. The widow of the score’s composer, Mme Jansen played piano on the film’s original recording in 1977.
Image credit: Jean Painlevé’s Acera or The Witches’ Dance (1978). Film still © Archives Jean Painlevé, Paris. Courtesy Archives Jean Painlevé, Paris.