Sunday, May 28, 2006

D.W. Griffith's Enoch Arden

Directed by D.W. Griffith, USA, 1911, 33 minutes
Source: D.W. Griffith's Biograph Shorts Special Edition (DVD 644)

Based on the poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson. Two kind men, Enoch Arden and Phillip Ray vie for the love of Annie Lee. Enoch is the lucky man and the two get married and have kids. But money is short for the family so Enoch signs up to go on a voyage to China. Annie stands by the shores waiting for Enoch to return. Enoch is then shipwrecked and stranded on an island. Many years go by, the children have grown and Annie keeps looking out to sea for Enoch as Phillip Ray humbly looks after her children and continues to vie for Annie's love. Annie resisted for years until she gradually grows fond of Phillip. Old and gray, Enoch is finally rescued and quickly tries to find his family, but when he peeks into the window to see that Annie and his children are happy with Phillip, he decides that he will not let Annie know he is alive. Enoch leaves the happy family and goes to an inn where he dies.

I myself never read the long poem but a story like this one should be a prime example for a narrative short film. The story really gave a powerful emotion even at the time it was made. The melodrama started out as a genre of romance when in the end it felt more like a tragedy, Enoch keeping Annie happy by not informing her of his sudden existence. This story did what a narrative film is supposed to do, make you wonder what happens next. The story made me really hope that Enoch would finally see Annie again. With Phillip Ray being a very kind man however, I was more than understanding that Annie and her children would be fine with Phillip.

What really captured me was the music. The modern piano playing made me feel like this was a modern melodramatic film. And it just may be because of this music that I wanted to watch this film many times more. D.W. Griffith's use of parallel editing showed the expressions of both Annie and Enoch to heighten the melodrama, a feat like this is something I have never seen before in movies at this time period. This was considered the first feature film because it was presented in two reels. And while this is still considered, at least in this class, a short film, the film sure gives the emotion and technique of a narrative feature today.


Middento said...

FYI, the poem in question (which indeed is long) can be found here.

Jay said...

You mention parallel editing . . . I found the cutting pattern in one particular sequence very intriguing. After Enoch's voyage, he is stranded on a shore far from Annie; Annie stands on the shore of their homeland, looking across the water. We cut between a shot of Annie on her shore and Enoch on his shore; this parallel cutting repeats. The result is a lack of geographical discrimination between these two settings, as the rapid cutting between shores gives no indication of the vast space between. I found this technique to be disorienting at first, and guessed it accidental and clumsy on the filmmaker's part; and yet, on second consideration, thought the manner of juxtaposition suggestive of an almost "telepathic" link between Enoch and Annie, a means of filmically illustrating the depth of their bond.

One thing that strikes me in viewing this "short," is the similarity of its plotline and imagery to the feature film "Cast Away," with Tom Hanks. Enoch's appearance once he has been on the island for many years - his rags and long, scraggly beard - are very reminiscent of Hanks' character in the Zemeckis film. Also, the plotline - with the male lover disappearing, his female counterpart holding on to hope for many years, before finally moving on and starting life over with someone else, only to have her lover return - is basically the same. Of course, Enoch keeps his return a secret, while Hanks' character does not; but neither male ends up with the female in the end. Perhaps this is more a commentary on "Cast Away"'s modeling itself after the elements of Tennyson's poem, but I thought it worth a mention nonetheless.