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The Unchanging Sea (1910)

CRUMBLIES…2 crumblies

Okay, back to early-ish cinema and D.W. Griffiths in year three of his career; and at film number 131, or thereabouts. He knew how to work hard before he got a grip on making film fast and interesting. It’s all over in quarter of an hour, which is something of a relief. Just as with Enoch Arden (1911), this is a pedantic telling of a poem that didn’t make it into old Jack’s education. The Unchanging Sea.

Ok, the poem is The Three Fishers. Take a look. It’s miserable. Griffiths ups the fun in the film, however, by having one of a small boat of fishermen surviving horribleness at sea. “For the men must work and there women must weep” isn’t something I’d try selling as a title these days, but it would have given these 13 minutes of angst a touch more drama. For the surviving fisherman, escaping the beach the others are dragged from, albeit he gets carried with no noticeable dignity, has just become a father and – alas – instantly loses his memory.

And then Griffiths starts to jump through time. Young daughter becomes young girl becomes Mary Pickford. Her mum ages at a rather more furious rate, Linda Arvidson going from miserable and dark-haired to creaky and white-haired in about sixteen years.  This makes a kind of sense, and would be fine if the hair was the only thing that went, but her entire system seems to age forty years. Hmmmm…the portrayal of the old in Griffiths’ movies is probably something academics should look into once they’ve finished with his racism. It’ll be a long wait.

Now, the atmosphere is kind of interesting. The film is shot in a ‘”fishing village” that seems to be made up of an American beach, a few rocks, and a long line of beach huts. The surviving fisherman also seems to be living about fifty metres up the same beach, ambling about in a forgetful daze until…

Oh yes…there’s an until…

He happens upon the daughter (thankfully not making a pass at Mary Pickford), the waves, the wind, his aged wife and memory…and then they all dance around one another in a state of hammy joy.

On the bright side, whilst the acting is…demonstrative…it isn’t full-on ham. Arvidson gives a pretty clear performance as young, middle-aged and old miserable woman. The kid is as 1910-weird as it gets. And Mary Pickford isn’t slavered over given she’s about to meet her Dad. Arthur V. Johnson is the Dad. He waves his arms about very well and – in real life – kept on going until a nervous breakdown wiped him out and 1916 finished him off, aged 39.

Old Jack here may have been a tad sharp with Silent Steve for YouTubing this one onto the shared TV.  It feels so close to Enoch Arden (1911) in style, origin, execution and competence that it may as well be a repeat. They hold back on the beards and the rags this time, what with the hero surviving and making a life just up the street, but it drags…

Give it a go if the kettle’s being sluggish. Or you like the poem. Or have ever heard of it…

Or fancy a curious commentary commentary…

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