- The Washington Times - Friday, June 17, 2005

Although the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle deserves respect for its decision to showcase the majestic seascapes and images of sea creatures in the oceanic documentary “Deep Blue,” this location lacks a screen large enough to do justice to the movie’s pictorial sweep and beauty.

“Deep Blue” grew out of a desire to magnify the impact of a BBC magnum opus of the 1990s, the stunning nature series “The Blue Planet,” supervised by Alastair Fothergill, who is now involved in a successor that is to debut in 2006 under the title “Planet Earth.”

Contacted by telephone at his headquarters in Bristol, England, Mr. Fothergill, director of development for the natural history unit of the BBC, explained that concert showings of a “Blue Planet” compilation inspired a feature documentary. The basic idea was to emphasize imagery and musical accompaniment instead of commentary and informative narration.

“The TV series was a massive success in the U.K.,” Mr. Fothergill explains, “and it reached over 40 countries worldwide. It did very well in the States, too. We were asked to do a concert program at the Royal Festival Hall. We had a huge screen, and the BBC Concert Orchestra played live. Eventually, we did about 20 of those shows around the world. … Time and time again, people would tell me, ‘I loved the TV series, but the imagery is so much more impressive on the big screen.’ ”

Numerous film crews spent about six years compiling the raw footage for “The Blue Planet.” Mr. Fothergill and his colleagues acquired about 7,000 hours of film. Some material from this abundance that was unsuitable for the series has found its way into the feature, also re-edited and rescored by composer George Fenton in ways meant to distance it from the TV format. “Deep Blue” also was meant to go beyond the backlog, so new expeditions were commissioned for two subjects: the open ocean and the deep ocean.

“Historically, most oceanic films were done near coastal regions,” Mr. Fothergill says. “The coral reefs and the shallow parts had been covered pretty extensively. We were very keen to explore habitats that had never been filmed before. Some of the most interesting animals are out in the big blue, where they’re difficult to find. It’s a massive saltwater desert, and you’re never sure where to go.”

Patience is essential in that desert, as many days go by without animals making themselves visible. For the deep-ocean sequences, the filmmakers leased a resource that hadn’t been available during the making of “The Blue Planet”: a pair of Mir submersibles from Russia. Mr. Fothergill estimates that 60 percent of the sea life illuminated during a plunge into the Marianas Trench had never been filmed before.

A couple of species found in the dark proved “new to science.” Having two submersibles working in tandem allowed the crews to use one as a lighting vessel and the other as a camera vessel.

“It’s completely dark below 1,000 meters, and these ships can go below 2,000 meters,” Mr. Fothergill explains. “We wanted to be capable of atmospheric and filmic refinements when photographing those elusive life forms. So we worked with scientists and cameramen to devise a lighting system mounted to retractable arms on a submersible. Basically, you try to enlarge your ability to backlight the subject. For example, a deep-sea jellyfish will look flat if lit from straight on. Backlight it, and you discover the seemingly neon-lit marvels that appear in the film.”

• • •

Although a renewed vogue for the art of Rockwell Kent (1882-1971) seems a long shot, a documentary filmmaker and Ohio University professor, Frederick Lewis, has completed a 10-year labor of love that is likely to remain a definitive career chronicle. Called “Rockwell Kent,” Mr. Lewis’ three-hour biographical study will receive a free showing today at 2 p.m. in the auditorium of the East Building of the National Gallery of Art.

The methodically chronological format may try the patience of some spectators, but for generations who were exposed to Mr. Kent’s engravings for such classics as “Moby Dick” and “The Canterbury Tales,” the movie ought to illuminate an almost forgotten figure of American art and publishing history.

The Kent illustrative style merits a fresh look. So do his travels (some loyally duplicated by Mr. Lewis) and personal misadventures.

Among other distinctions, Mr. Kent designed the imprints for both Viking Press and Random House. He also was a conspicuous fellow traveler for the better part of four decades. Given his die-hard loyalty to Soviet foreign policy during the Cold War, which prompted substantial donations of his work to Russian museums, it’s a bit melancholy to learn that the bequests are more often warehoused than exhibited in Russia. Mr. Lewis is moving on to cinematic studies of three of Mr. Kent’s contemporaries: Maxfield Parrish, George Bellows and Edward Hopper. The National Gallery is at Fourth Street and Constitution Avenue NW. 202/8442-6799.

• • •

The National Theatre had a happy inspiration: to devote its annual summer movie series to free revivals of baseball features. The performance of the Washington Nationals to date has reinforced the welcome-back theme. Screenings are held Mondays at 6:30 p.m. in the Helen Hayes Gallery of the theater, located at 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Admission is on a first-come, first-seated basis. Selections for the remainder of the summer include “The Natural” July 11; “A League of Their Own” July 25; “Eight Men Out” Aug. 1; “Bull Durham” Aug. 8; and “The Rookie,” which concludes the series Aug. 15. Program information is available at 202/783-3372.

• • •

The late 1920s was an impressive period for director King Vidor (1894-1982), and two of his most heartfelt and haunting movies are being revived this weekend with free showings. “The Big Parade,” a romantic melodrama that starred John Gilbert as an American soldier in World War I, screens in the auditorium of the East Building of the National Gallery tomorrow at 4 p.m. Robert Israel provides live organ accompaniment for this classic of 1925. Film historian Scott Eyman, author of the richly informative “The Speed of Sound,” which recalls the transition from silents to talkies, will introduce the film.

Mr. Vidor’s “Hallelujah!” (a pioneering musical of 1929) will be shown today at 4 p.m. in the William G. McGowan Theater of the National Archives. Another historian, Edward Mapp, will introduce this durably stirring period piece, which employed an all-black cast while attempting to reflect the vitality and pathos of folk and gospel traditions. Mr. Mapp is responsible for the current archives exhibit “Close-up in Black: African-American Film Posters.” The National Archives is at 700 Pennsylvania Avenue NW. 202/501-5000.

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