May 24, 1910 [The Unchanging Sea]

I delight—if that's the word—in finding pathos in the trivial. That line in "The Man on the Flying Trapeze"—"Left in this wide world to weep and to mourn"—whispers in the ears of those angels that sing Hamlet to his rest and beats like the muffled drum of Lear's five "nevers" when he wonders when he'll see poor Cordelia again. And once more, as I watched The Unchanging Sea, my sentimental heart swelling, making room for the Charles Kingsley poem upon which it's based, "The Three Fishers," who "three went sailing away to the west" ... "For men must work, and women must weep." Finally, inevitably:
Three corpses lay out on the shining sands
In the morning gleam as the tide went down,
And the women are weeping and wringing their hands
For those who will never come home to the town;
For men must work, and women must weep,
And the sooner it's over, the sooner to sleep;
And good-bye to the bar and its moaning.
The Unchanging Sea begins where the poem ends—but cinema will have none (well, not all) of Kingsley's melancholy; so, no matter how final may be the sight of those three corpses "on the shining sands," one of them revives—but with convenient amnesia. His child (the disarming Mary Pickford, still "a maid in her teens") grows and romance blooms (the child's beau himself sailing away), while the wife continues "to weep and to mourn." But in his old age the resurrected fisherman's memory returns, and he makes his way back to his love.

Many facile elements come together here—but the sum is greater than the parts, for it struck me to unaccountable depths—no, accountable: I confess I situated myself as the amnesiac, wandering, long without the home I had left, my head clouded, my gait unsteady. I suppose I feel the pull of loneliness as much as others—more? I hope I am not so filled with false pride. But of late I am often alone in the cinema—not even my children want to attend as often as I, and my wife sees it as "his indulgence," and tells me I need these private minutes—hours, sometimes. But in the theater today a "sudden storm" surprised me, and I heard my foolish, stifled moan. No one, I am relieved, noticed. But I must admit that as much as I disparage cinema's—what? Flimflam, twaddle, bosh? Every ridiculous epithet I can muster will not suffice—I am its moonstruck calf, and had better accept it. And if I do, perhaps I can begin to master (at least understand) cinema's attraction—or better yet: I will desist from worrying about the fool I have become, and simply continue—wiser, but with luck not necessarily sadder.


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