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Jacques Cousteau And The Ocean Film Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 1617 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Imagine a world without oxygen. A dangerous world few have seen and few will ever see. A world filled with colors as bright as a rainbow and blackness as dark as any cave. A world with strange, never before seen creatures everywhere, waiting to be discovered. This is the Ocean. This is the world of Jacques Cousteau. Cousteau worked hard to make this ocean world more accessible to the world. He created movies, books, and films to allow everyone to see what lies beneath the ocean’s surface. He even invented new devices to allow people to go there. Making major advances in scuba diving and raising the public’s awareness are just two of the ways Jacques Cousteau revolutionized ocean exploration.

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Jacques Cousteau made major advancements in scuba diving. Of his advances, his greatest was the invention of the Aqua-Lung. Before Cousteau’s invention, diving gear consisted of airtight suits with lead boots, steel helmets, and an air hose that was attached to a ship at the surface (King). With this setup, divers had very little freedom of movement. Cousteau wanted to create a new system that would allow divers to move freely and allow divers to stay underwater for longer periods of time. He soon attempted this project and was unsuccessful. He tried using a gas mask, rubber tubes, and bottles of oxygen. Cousteau learned the hard way that pure oxygen becomes toxic to the human body at great depths. Cousteau had a seizure on a dive after breathing the pure oxygen for only four minutes. He decided that compressed air was a better choice, and went to his father for more advice (Cullen). Regular compressed air consists of 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, and 1% other gasses (Cullen). His father was an executive for a company that sold gasses, and Cousteau knew his father would be able to help. Cousteau’s father said that a self-regulating valve would work best. The valve would allow divers to inhale and exhale through one mouthpiece without exhaling into their fresh air supply (Cullen). After hearing his father’s advice, Cousteau met with an engineer from his father’s gas company named Émile Gagnan in December, 1942. Together, they modified a self-regulating valve. They traveled to the Marne River and tested the valve with compressed air. At first, the valve did not quite work right. The valve only worked when the diver was horizontal. Within a few weeks, the pair finished their project. They called it the Aqua-Lung, and applied for a patent. Their finished Aqua-Lung weighed about 50 lbs., but still allowed divers to move freely in the water (Cullen). This invention changed the sport of diving forever, and Cousteau knew his invention could change the world as well.

Soon after his invention of the Aqua-Lung, Jacques Cousteau began to set the limits for safe diving. Cousteau’s First dive with his finished Aqua-Lung took him to a depth of about 60 feet (Charton). He knew that his new invention would bring many new dangers with it, so he soon began to set the limits for safe diving. Cousteau also tried using different gas mixtures with different ascension rates to find what worked best (Cullen). Soon, Cousteau began to push the limits of his Aqua-Lung. He wanted to see how deep he could safely dive. In 1947, Cousteau was able to reach a depth of 297 feet (Cullen). Cousteau began to discover new dangers that could threaten divers. Cousteau soon began feeling the symptoms of nitrogen narcosis. Nitrogen narcosis affects divers on deep dives and has many effects on the mind. One of its main effects is not allowing a diver to think clearly and could cause the diver to make mistakes while diving that could be fatal (Cullen). He also learned of decompression sickness when a man diving with Cousteau died while he was ascending. Cousteau set the safe diving limit at 300 feet after this event (Cullen). These guidelines for safe diving would protect the lives of thousands of divers for many years to come.

Cousteau’s invention of the Aqua-Lung in 1942 created many new possibilities for divers. The Aqua-Lung made it possible for divers to explore parts of the ocean that had never before been seen, such as underwater caves. Marine scientists were also able to study ecosystems in deeper parts of the ocean more efficiently. They saw things they could never before see (Cullen). The Aqua-Lung also had many more uses. These include finding and disarming German mines during WWII, clearing debris from ports, underwater photography, exploring caves and shipwrecks, and ocean research (Cullen). Cousteau even thought that the Aqua-Lung could be used as a way for specially trained soldiers to swim into enemy harbors and plant explosives on the hulls of ships (Madsen). The Aqua-Lung gave divers many more possibilities in the underwater world.

Jacques Cousteau played a major part in raising public awareness for the ocean. He created many books, films, and T.V. programs throughout his life. All of these were used by Cousteau to make the world more aware of the oceans and showed how important ocean conservation was. Cousteau became interested in moviemaking when he was very young. He was amazed by the way cameras worked and also enjoyed taking them apart and rebuilding them. This interest followed Cousteau throughout his life, and he went on to make many award-winning films and movies (Cullen). Cousteau began to waterproof his cameras and began taking cameras with him on his dives. He soon released his first film, Eighteen Meters Down, which was very popular at the Cannes Film Festival in 1943 (Cullen). Cousteau began to improve his cameras. He built them to withstand the water pressure they would have to take during deeper dives. Using his improved cameras, he created many new films. He also tried color film and artificial light in his films for the first time (Cullen). The later years of Cousteau’s life were spent creating film series and television specials. These include The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, Cousteau Odyssey, and Cousteau Amazon. Viewers were amazed by the images in these new films, and Cousteau received over 40 Emmy nominations (Cullen). By publishing The Silent World in 1953, Cousteau continued to educate the public about the ocean. The book was made popular because of its color photos and stories from Cousteau’s dives (King). It also included Cousteau’s first explorations of shipwrecks and underwater caves. The Silent World was instantly successful and became a best-seller (Cullen). The book was so successful that it was published in 22 languages and sold worldwide (King). A film version of The Silent World was released three years later, in 1956 (Cullen). The year of its release, the film won the highest award at the Cannes Film Festival, the Palme d’Or. It was the first documentary to win this award, and only one documentary has won the award since (Collins). The following year, in 1957, the film also won an Oscar award (Cullen).

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Cousteau knew that in order to continue his research, he needed a research vessel. He soon found what he needed. Cousteau purchased the Calypso, a 400-ton minesweeper. The ship was converted into a floating laboratory filled with modern equipment and underwater television cameras (O’Leary and O’Meara). The Calypso’s first expedition started on November 24, 1951. The mission was to research the Red sea. The Calypso was used to create many of Cousteau’s films and documentaries. While researching the Red sea, the Calypso’s crew filmed coral reefs, islands, volcanic basins, new plant and animal species, and recorded a new record depth of 16,500 feet. The new films created from the Calypso expedition amazed scientists, naturalists, and most importantly, the National Geographic Society, who agreed to finance one of Cousteau’s future expeditions aboard the Calypso (Cullen). While onboard the Calypso, Cousteau created over 70 films and television specials (Cullen). The Calypso was also used as a way to document and record pollution and other human caused problems affection the ocean (O’Leary and O’Meara). At this time, few people were aware of how their pollution was affecting the ocean.

Cousteau dedicated a large part of his life to promoting ocean conservation. He knew the importance of the ocean as a source of food, water, and minerals. In 1973 he founded the Cousteau Society. The society was created to teach public the importance of ocean conservation. “The mission of the Cousteau Society is to understand, defend, and communicate about the Water Planet, and in doing so, protect the rights of future generations,”(Jacques-Yves Cousteau). The Cousteau Society continues its mission, and still teaches ocean conservation today. Jacques Cousteau worked hard and put a lot of effort into raising support for the organization (Cullen). He gave his entire life to speaking out for the ocean, and convinced people around the world to take better care of the ocean. Cousteau achieved this goal through his films, books, and the Cousteau Society (O’Leary and O’Meara). In an interview for a magazine, Cousteau said, “Our way of managing the Earth is wrong… the oceans are sick, but they’re not going to die. There is no death possible in the oceans – there will always be life – but they’re getting sicker every year… We need to outline what is possible and what is impossible with the nonrenewable resources on Earth,” ( ).


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