In Nacht und Eis (1912)

In this day and age, when almost everything seems to be on DVD within minutes of its theatrical release, it’s remarkable to think that a film could be considered lost “forever” within two years of its appearance. Such was the case with the second film about the sinking of the Titanic (the first one apparently is indeed lost forever): In Nacht und Eis was thought to have vanished some time in 1914 until it reappeared in 1998, boosted by the hype over young Mr Cameron’s retelling of the story (although I also read that the BFI had held a copy for decades without realising). Rather than encourage Cameron’s “retrofit all the films in 3D!” fetish by revisiting Titanic on the big screen, I chose to look at this instead. (It’s on YouTube if you want to do the same.) It’s a fairly compact melodrama (albeit a longish one for the time at 35 minutes) which seems to have learned a few lessons from Griffith while also manifesting some of the tableau vivant tendencies of early cinema (cf. the scenes where the first officer is sending radio messages for help and you see people running past the window of the telegraph room); while most of the interiors are evidently outdoor sets, as was usual at the time, I did rather like the way the camera rocks about to simulate motion on the sea, I don’t suppose that was a common trick in 1912. One thing the film does kind of lack is much in the way of human interest, there are no really defined characters (I don’t know if any of them are even named), but then again with only 35 minutes I suppose spectacle was deemed to be the main thing… then again, considering the “human interest” Cameron brought to his film, maybe this one is better off after all. Maybe it’s of historical interest now more than anything, but I quite liked this.

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