While documentary is generally thought to value clarity and denotation, this article examines nonfiction documentary forms where more poetic practices have served as a communicative, if not denotative, tool. Accounts of the first extended underwater observation by pioneering divers like William Beebe, Hans Hass, Philippe Tailliez, and Philippe Diolé used literary allusions and fanciful rhetoric to express the implausible conditions of this alien environment, in a practice that reached its height before the flowering of underwater color and documentary cinema in the mid-1950s.

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