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17 out of 18 people found the following review useful:

A poignant, understated gem

7/10
Author: wmorrow59 from Westchester County, NY
4 August 2002

Anyone who believes that the acting in silent dramas was always laughably exaggerated should see The Unchanging Sea, which was directed by D. W. Griffith during his formative period at Biograph. Anyone who thinks the cinematography of 1910 was crude and murky should take a close look. And for that matter, anyone who thinks that these very early movies convey only the most basic emotional information in a primitive fashion, and therefore no longer have the power to move modern viewers (except perhaps to unintended laughter) should see this, too. There are no over the top histrionics on display; the tempo is measured and the characters' feelings, though not broadly indicated, are perfectly clear to us. Simple it may be, even simplistic, but The Unchanging Sea still packs a punch in its climactic reunion scene, which is admirably underplayed.

The setting is a small fishing village. Griffith conveys the steady routine of the characters' lives through his deliberately repetitive camera set-ups and editing rhythms. Although the story is based on a poem, the title cards are happily free of the excessively flowery wording sometime found in early dramas, including some of Griffith's. The story is conveyed by the performances, not by overly explicit announcements in title cards. Of special note is the shot in which our central figure, the wife of a fisherman, walks down to the sea with the men, including her husband, as they launch their boat. The husband has just learned that his wife is pregnant. We see her from behind as she watches the men depart, and we just know—it's there on the screen, we can feel it—that tragedy lies ahead. Again, nothing is italicized.

Like Enoch Arden, the fisherman is involved in a shipwreck and is separated from his family for a generation. Unlike Enoch Arden, whose tragic story Griffith would also dramatize at Biograph, this tale has a poignant, semi-happy ending.

You wonder about Griffith's reputation? Take a look at The Unchanging Sea. It isn't usually mentioned in the same breath with his most famous short films, but in its own quiet way it ranks alongside the best of them.

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6 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

Nicely Filmed Early Silent Film

8/10
Author: ccthemovieman-1 from United States
2 May 2008

For a film so old, I thought this was one of the better-photographed efforts of its day. The composition was outstanding. Just examine those shots with the wife standing on the beach and her husband and small crew rowing off into the ocean. It's perfectly framed.

As for the story, it's based on a poem called "The Three Fishers," which is shown here during several interludes. It's a wonderful poem.

Because films were so short, you can really have time fly. Nowhere is that more evident than in this film. In a matter of a few minutes, we see years pass by a seaman leaves his family, a wreck ensues and the man survives but loses his memory. He doesn't know who is wife is and seems to be a totally lost soul. In the interim, the baby they apparently conceived before we went off to sea has now grown up. She's played by the famous Mary Pickford.

In the story, the daughter gets married and the poor wife, thinking she's now all alone in the world, gets a nice surprise when her husband returns from another voyage. His memory is back.....and all is well!

Many things happen to all of us in our lifetime, but that tide just keeps coming and going, unchanging. Nothing that profound, frankly, but that's the message. This story would have had a lot more impact had it been drawn out more, but trying to rush all of this into 14 minutes makes it way too hurried.

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7 out of 10 people found the following review useful:

Convincing Atmosphere, Worthwhile Story, Good Low-Key Performances

Author: Snow Leopard from Ohio
6 August 2004

Starting with a convincing sea-side atmosphere that benefits from being shot outdoors, this short feature adds a worthwhile story and some good low-key performances to create an understated but thoughtful and sometimes memorable movie. There is quite a lot of material in less than 15 minutes of running time, and yet it never seems rushed. The image of "The Unchanging Sea" is used effectively to emphasize the timeless nature both of the sea itself and of the lifestyles of those who live by it. The sea's constancy is distinguished from the uneven course of the hopes and trials of individual lives, making for an interesting contrast, which gives the picture a distinctive feel.

The story, which moves across many years of life in a fishing community, is often moving, and the understated approach is effective. For the most part, the characters make only small gestures and changes of expression, and yet their reactions always seem sincere and heartfelt. It is effective both as cinema and as a portrayal of the sea-going community. Excessive drama or emotions would have overshadowed the substance of the story, rather than enhancing it. As a result, there is more worthwhile material in this short film than there is in many films that are several times as long.

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4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

"For men must work and women must weep"

7/10
Author: Steffi_P from Ruritania
4 June 2008

This DW Griffith picture from 1910 shows how adept he was becoming, not only in the nuts and bolts of cinematic technique, but in shaping these short films into cyclical stories. Here we have a tale set over two generations, in which we see the break-up and reunion of a family, and history repeating itself all crammed into fourteen minutes. That's quite an achievement!

Key to this is Griffith's complex and daring use of cross-cutting, and in particular his narrowing the set-ups down to the minimum number of locations. The Biograph hierarchy were terrified that the story would be too confusing, but by re-using locations and camera set-ups the narrative becomes simplified and coherent. For example, when the father loses his memory and ends up separated from his family, perhaps the obvious thing would be to show him doing different things in different places as the years go by. Griffith however repeatedly shows him in that dilapidated dockyard, visually informing us that he is still stranded away from home, and still suffering from amnesia.

Griffith also saves time by having more than one thing going on each shot. In one scene we see the mother being courted by another sailor in the background, while her young daughter runs around near the sea in the background. Having two points of interest in the frame at one time shows Griffith's growing confidence in shot composition, and this is something he would gradually refine over his years with Biograph. Another important aspect is Griffith's frequent use of actors with their backs to the camera. Backs-to-the-audience is generally a no-no in theatre, but with the unlimited depth of the screen it becomes workable, and here it really adds power to the imagery.

Such was the strength of Griffith's visual storytelling, he almost did away with any need for intertitles. Here, the majority of the titles are lines from the Charles Kingsley poem upon which the picture is based. For Griffith, intertitles need not just be functional and explanatory, they could also be a kind of poetic commentary on the action.

The Unchanging Sea is a strong story told in moving pictures, although to be fair the Biograph bosses' fears were partly confirmed, because you do have to pay attention to follow it. In particular it can be a little confusing working out who is who. Griffith still had a fair way to go in developing characterisation and making individuals memorable, and this fact really stands out here.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

A gentle early short from DW Griffith.

6/10
Author: barhound78 from United Kingdom
28 August 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Inspired by a poem by Charles Kingsley, this is a touching tale of love lost and found from D.W. Griffith.

Set in a small fishing community, a young wife says farewell to her husband as he sets out to sea. However, his small boat is lost and she presumes him to be drowned. Years pass by and their daughter grows up to find love and to marry whilst all of the time the "widow" continues to grieve. However, her husband did not die but was washed up upon the shore with amnesia further up the coast. As she stares out upon the abyss that took her love, he once again sets out to sea.

Charming in its simplicity and boasting some crisp photography, The Unchanging Sea is a gentle early short in which Griffith (like in his masterpiece Broken Blossoms) imbues his love story with a tenderness and minimalism not often associated with the often histrionic early silent cinema.

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4 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

D.W. Griffith Catches a Wave

7/10
Author: wes-connors from Los Angeles
19 August 2007

Early film masterfully directed by D.W. Griffith. Arthur V. Johnson and Linda Arvidson play a happy couple, who obviously love each other very much. He must go out to sea. Tragically, he is shipwrecked. Far away, Mr. Johnson washes to shore, but suffers from amnesia. He has no idea he has a wife, whom he loved so dearly; and who, in his absence, bears his daughter.

Years roll by… Ms. Arvidson is a heartbroken woman, never knowing what happened to her husband. Their daughter (Mary Pickford, looking very grown-up) takes a husband of her own (Charles West), but mother remains alone. Then, Johnson's memory returns.

Griffith uses shots/time incredibly well - showing familiar scenes, like a static row of houses where Arvidson lives, changing over the years. "The Unchanging Sea" remains the same, but there are things happening in/on the sea which move the story. It's a lovely story, but the end is too sudden. I would have rather Griffith had the man return and never regain his memory, but fall in love with his wife all over again. The acting, direction and photography are exceptional.

******* The Unchanging Sea (5/5/10) D.W. Griffith ~ Arthur V. Johnson, Linda Arvidson, Mary Pickford

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

short but not bad

6/10
Author: planktonrules from Bradenton, Florida
12 August 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

As the movie was released in 1910, it was of course a very short one-reeler--like most films of the day. However, only a year later, D. W. Griffith was now making slightly longer films and he did a remake, of sorts, of this film and stretched it from the original 13 minutes to 33 in ENOCH ARDEN.

A man marries and goes to sea. The boat is lost and they find three corpses that wash up on the shore. The married guy is not among them, but he is presumed to be lost at sea. The widow never remarries but she remains just in case he shows up as well as to raise their only child. Towards the end, a silly plot device is revealed, as the husband is alive and has amnesia!!! When he stumbles onto his old stomping grounds after many, many years, he remembers everything and returns to his faithful bride. That's about it.

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0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

"For men must work and women must weep"

6/10
Author: ackstasis from Australia
30 September 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

'The Unchanging Sea (1910)' feels too ambitious for its own good. Griffith was obviously trying to create some sort of epic love story, but the restrictions of early cinema were against him – with just 14 minutes, he didn't have enough time to do anything special with the material. The film is based upon Charles Kingsley's poem "The Three Fishers," from which several passages are quoted throughout the film. Griffith aims for poignancy, as he did so successfully with 'A Corner in Wheat (1909),' and he accomplishes it well for at least the first half of the film, until a silly plot device intrudes to shatter the bittersweet realism that had been so admirably developed up until that point. The director's shot composition (with cinematographer G.W. Bitzer) is sporadically impressive, making good use of the rolling waves of the ocean. However, here Griffith's primitive editing becomes noticeably static, with very little creative variation in camera-work. Perhaps this repetition and familiarity was used deliberately to demonstrate how little the ocean landscape has changed relative to the film's human characters.

A fisherman (Arthur V. Johnson) launches out to sea, while his wife (Linda Arvidson) laments his departure. His companions are later found dead in the waves, and, for years, the wife considers her husband lost, raising their child (played by Mary Pickford as an adult) by herself. But wait – the husband is actually alive! He washed up on the shore and was revived, but tragically lost his memory. I never realised that the age-old amnesia cliché was around as early as 1910, and its effectiveness has always been considerably low. Also, I must have missed a crucial establishing shot in the film, because I was under the impression that the Husband had washed up on the beach outside his hometown, and I just could comprehend how the couple could somehow go twenty years without seeing each other about {I was obviously mistaken with this interpretation, but perhaps this was caused by an editing issue on Griffith's part}. 'The Unchanging Sea (1910)' is an interesting Griffith Biograph with good photography and suitably understated acting, but the great director has certainly done a lot better.

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