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The Unchanging Sea (1910)

Not Rated | | Drama , Short | 5 May 1910 (USA)
In this story set at a seaside fishing village and inspired by a Charles Kingsley poem, a young couple's happy life is turned about by an accident. The husband, although saved from drowning... See full summary »


D.W. Griffith


Charles Kingsley (poem)

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Cast overview:
Arthur V. Johnson ... The Husband
Linda Arvidson ... The Wife
Gladys Egan ... The Daughter as Small Child
Mary Pickford ... The Daughter as an Adult
Charles West Charles West ... The Daughter's Sweetheart
Dell Henderson ... Rescuer


In this story set at a seaside fishing village and inspired by a Charles Kingsley poem, a young couple's happy life is turned about by an accident. The husband, although saved from drowning, loses his memory. A child is on the way, and soon a daughter is born to his wife. We watch the passage of time, as his daughter matures and his wife ages. The daughter becomes a lovely young woman, herself ready for marriage. One day on the beach, the familiarity of the sea and the surroundings triggers a return of her father's memory, and we are reminded that although people age and change, the sea and the ways of the fisherfolk remain eternal. Written by Thomas McWilliams <tgm@netcom.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Drama | Short


Not Rated






Release Date:

5 May 1910 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Haabet See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Biograph Company See more »
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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Version of And Women Must Weep (1922) See more »

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User Reviews

"For men must work and women must weep"
4 June 2008 | by Steffi_PSee all my reviews

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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