Pool Party

Sill from Footlight Parade
Still from ‘Footlight Parade’ (1933) (image via strawberryblondefilms/Tumblr)

On the eve of summer, Slate has put together a timely, bubbly supercut of swimming pool scenes in cinema. Scored to “Sometime” by the indie rock band DIIV, the orthodox supercut safely commingles that peculiar array of scenes and moods — nostalgia, summertime abandon, sex, morbidity, spiritual emptiness — seemingly unique to the swimming pool.

“With Memorial Day weekend approaching,” Slate writes, “we decided to bring together our favorite cinematic scenes of sex and death — and everything in between — that transpire in swimming pools.”

Even though it’s just a drop in the bucket compared to the ocean or even a lake, the cinematic swimming pool is seemingly a far deeper, existentially frothy place. Perhaps only space rivals it in potential, but despite the number of films set in the cosmos, the swimming pool is still a funnier, undeniably more sensual, domestic, and communal place. From the the scatolgoical — Caddyshack‘s Baby Ruth-doody scene — to the suicidal —Harold and Maude — to the spectacular — all those water ballet scenes — to the sexual — take your pick — the swimming pool is astonishingly varied, a wellspring of life or death.

This uncanniness is too much for just one supercut, and thankfully there is another, this one by Les Incompetents.

Published almost two years ago in 2012, Les Incompetents score their supercut (sharing many of the same films) with the the hazy chillwave tune “Dirty Dreams” by Work Drugs. The choice of music gives the supercut a more contemplative, dreamy atmosphere that resonates with the ambivalent, mutable environment of the summer pool, which can be communal or private, seasonal or year long, the empty pool a symbol of change and loss — or a place for skateboards to radically reimagine as freewheeling utopias.

What explains the summer pool’s thematic and visual dynamism? Unpack its design and suite of characteristics and it becomes clear.

Pools possess a unique aesthetic and design all their own: flat, clear, and blue. And under the water the view is memorably different, a translucent and distorted imagery films use to great effect. A pool may be private or public, privileged or communal, further lending the space a variety of feelings, occupants, and associations — from one person in a large pool to ten in a small, with each feeling much different than the other.  And yet, a pool is a relatively small space, even at the Olympic level; it’s concentrated, but still large and open enough that it overlaps privacy and exposure, isolation and voyeurism. Safety and vulnerability often co-reside. The feeling that someone can see you adds to both the death drive and sex drive.

And, of course, youth often make up its audience, a reliably erratic, emotional, and sexual bunch; the swimming pool demanding and condoning an amount of skin generally unacceptable anywhere else but the beach.

With that in mind, perhaps the car, sharing this combination of confinement, youth, sex, strength, and vulnerability is the only filmed space that comes as close to the pool’s protean richness. But where do you want to spend your summer? In the car or at the pool?

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