Thursday, March 8, 2012

Sea Urchins by Jean Painlevé

Jean Painlevé is one of my favourite filmmakers and biologists. I remember the first time I ever saw his work as a child, as well as the mixture of fear and fascination and reverence it made me feel—the same feeling I have when I think of the ocean. He ignited in me a deep and passionate aesthetic appreciation for underwater life. Incidentally, this blog is named after one of his films.


One of his better known films showcases the mysterious beauty of one of my favourite animals—the sea urchin. Adult sea urchins, like all members of the echinoderm ("spiny skin" in Latin) phylum, have a pentaradial symmetric body plan. In other words, they have five-sided symmetry, like a star. In my eyes, this simple yet distinctive trait is, among other things, what makes them so beautiful.


The sea urchin is best known for being covered in sharp, venomous spines, which offer it protection. In between these spines are soft, jelly-like tentacles that sense and manipulate things in the environment. Sea urchin locomotion is powered by an intricate hydraulics system of tube feet—another trait shared by all echinoderms. The mouth is located on the underside, and it has five teeth, arranged, like the rest of it, in pentaradial symmetry.

Watch Painlevé's "Oursins" (or "Sea Urchins") below for an intimate look at the unusual beauty of one of our closest invertebrate relatives.

2 comments:

Nicholas said...

This is a beautiful 35mm film. Do you happen to know who provided the music? I found this wonderful b/w photo of the filmmaker and his life partner, Ginette Hamon, a fellow scientist, i.e.

http://cdn.dipity.com/uploads/events/381aa883e899cb89ca01d44f86a318c3_1M.png

Dalma Boros said...

Yo La Tengo composed "The Sounds of Sounds of Science" to accompany a selection of his films, including this one.

But the original footage was actually set to jazz and other experimental music from the 20s.

Post a Comment