I have been working on the book Blood 'N' Bubbles, The History of Diving in the Movies, over the course of the last 30 years. I have watched and notated over 1,000 movies and written 700 pages of the book. The book gives an overview of Blood And Bubble Movies and includes an extensive directory of films. I am very close to finishing (but more movies come out). I guess I need a couple of weeks alone with my computer in the Jules Verne Inn, to make it all happen.
What follows are the first two pages of the book. Have removed the footnotes. Feel free to send you comments.
BLOOD AND BUBBLES, THE HISTORY OF DIVING IN THE MOVIES
There is popcorn on your shirt, all over the floor -- and even in your date’s hair. You have missed your mouth with the last three shots, even though it is open so wide it looks like NASA’s wind tunnel.
Who cares? The scuba diver is tussling with a creature at the bottom of the Amazon River. It’s a ‘loser-drown’ battle; now is not the time to worry about a handful or two of misplaced buttered kernels.
Saturday afternoon at the movies; it is a time to shut off the reality switch and live the adventures of the celluloid set. And when Hollywood decides to create an escape-from-the-real world environment scuba diving is one of the more popular vehicles for doing just that.
Underwater scenes in adventure motion-pictures began in the pioneer days of filmmaking. It all started in 1914, when film photographer John Ernest Williamson in a drive for realism decided to point his hand-cranked camera under the surface of a Nassau bay to film Thirty Leagues Under the Sea, a documentary about life underwater. J.Ernest Williamson was the principal actor while his brother George worked the camera.
How was it done? Williamson modified a catamaran and placed a glass bell between and beneath its pontoons. It was through this slightly submerged porthole that he was able to photograph divers among the props that had been placed on on the Bahamian sea bottom. The actual filming apparatus was designed by the men’s father, Captain Charles Williamson.
This silent film, complete with the world’s first “ aquaset” was an instant hit. Audiences loved the thrills and the danger that supposedly comes whenever one is underwater.
Two years latter the Williamson Brothers helped producer Stuart Paton with his version of the original Jules Verne classic, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Again the Williamsons used the Bahamas to film underwater, this time in fictional vein.
The studio moguls learned the lesson well. Underwater scenes began to appear in more and more movies. Swimmers, free divers, hard hatters and mermaids were shown facing danger upon danger. Underwater actors had to fight everything from crazed octopi to killer sharks in the silent-era productions.
Of course, in those days, sequences shot with actors actually being under water were about as rare as finding a Spanish doubloon in a public swimming pool. For the most part, directors ignored Williamson’s in-water methods and instead stayed on land to create the actors’ sub-sea scenes. There were two favoured ways of filming water scenes; the first was to use indoor large water filled tank and point the cameras through portals. The second was to have the actors right out on stage pretrending they were swimming, yup right in the desert-like conditions of the studio. Performing on the boards was preferred over the problems involved in acting in an airless environment. Getting a part in those days was based on an actor’s ability to pretend to be fighting a shark at 5 fathoms while in reality standing in front of a bank of lights and a room filled with bored stage hands.
As the science of special effects matured, so too did the public’s fear of the ocean begin to grow. In the thirties and forties,with each new underwater film released, a bigger and more dangerous underwater threat was brought to the attention of the world via the big silver screen.There were octopi ready to rip the arms off Peter Lorre, Tiger sharks Hell bent to gnaw on a young John Wayne.and coal black Manta Rays to herald a wave of pestilence and death on everyone! In the years prior to the start of the Second World War, Hollywood hard hat divers rarely stayed on their lead covered feet long enough to live to the credits.
With the outbreak of war the role of the diver in the movies changed dramatically. The monster of the deep were no longer a cinematic threat. The Germans, Italians and Japanese were the personification of evil both below and above the waves in many of the movies of that era. Scuba gear was not yet in use, the navies of the world relied upon oxygen rebreathers to give men the ability to swim underwater undetected for long periods of time . [A rebreather recycles a diver’s exhalation through a filter which cleans the carbon dioxide out of the air and allows the user to breathe the same air again and again while underwater].