The silent world (1956)

A film by Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Louis Malle from 1956. Watch the film down on this page.

This film (The silent world, portrays the underwater adventures of the divers of Calypso, the ship owned by Cousteau. The impressive opening scene portrays divers wearing aqua-lungs (Cousteau-Gagnan regulators and three cylinders of compressed air) and carrying bengal fires. The bengal fires were probably only used because they looked nice on film. Cousteau had to make his films popular to finance his ship of course.

Bengal fires were used as a light source in french cave exploration too, as the “father of modern vulcanology” Haroun Tazieff writes in his book Le gouffre de la Pierre Saint-Martin (1953). A crew member of Calypso was involved in the cave exploration, as is written in the book: “Jackie Ertaud, le deuxième homme à être descendu dans le gouffre, travaillait sans relâche aux films ra- menés de notre croisière en mer Rouge avec J.-Y. Cousteau” (Jackie Ertaud, the second man to descend into the cave, was working tirelessly on the films brought back from our Red Sea cruise with J.-Y. Cousteau).

Vulcanologists, cavers and divers — adventurers and explorers — had things in common, it seems.

It is no surprise then that bengal fires feature in a diving film a few years later. Cousteau however had better electrical dive lights too, as can be seen on the film. So, the bengal fires were more a gimmick than a divers tool. A woven basket is seen too, maybe resembling those of Ama divers. Some of the compressed air dives done are quite deep by modern standards: “200 feet down we enter the world of rupture” and the maximum depth mentioned was 247 feet.

The credits list “our team”: Francois Saout, André Bourne-Chastel, Marcel Colomb, Simone Cousteau, Jean Delmas, Frédéric Dumas, Jacques Ertaud, Albert Falco, Norbert Goldblech, Fernand Hanen, André Laban, Maurice Léandri, Paul Martin, Denis Martin-Laval, Henri Plé, Étienne Puig, Albert Raud, Émile Robert, Réne Robino, Jean-Louis Teicher.