Thursday, June 19, 2008

"Deep Water" aired by Independent Lens series on PBS

PBS Independent Lens (with an introduction by Terrence Howard from “Hustle & Flow”) aired (on June 19, 2008) the 2006 British documentary “Deep Water,” directed by Louise Osmand and Jerry Rothwell, and with an original theatrical release by IFC films. The film probably relates to the book "The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst" by Nicholas Tomalin and Ron Hall. This film is not quite “Open Water” or “Castaway” but it shares the desperation of both. Documentary, they say, should have a beginning, middle and end with a kind of rooting interest even if you know the outcome. The film probably fits a textbook example of effective documentary technique.

Documentary must have a “story” and that is certainly strong here. In 1967, amateur yachtsman Donald Crowhurst enters a London Times sailing contest (the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race), and takes a lot of money on what sounds like a dare. He is to sail around the world, heading east, around the Cape of Africa, across the Indian and Pacific Oceans, south of Patagonia, and up the Atlantic. If he drops out, he loses the money and his family is forced into bankruptcy and loss of home. The film stresses the financial urgency, partly because of a failed business and prior life hardships. Despite elaborate preparations, he falls behind, and starts a deception, pretending to continue the race when actually he languished in the South Atlantic. He wanted to finish second so that he would not be investigated. But when the apparent winner’s boat sunk, he was to become the winner. He let his boat sleep in the sticky Saragosso Sea (more or less the Bermuda Triangle), and it would eventually be found by a passing frigate, along with his painfully philosophical handwritten journal (three decades before mobile blogging). Crowhurst vanished and is thought to have drowned after jumping overboard; anyone who has read Sebastian Junger’s “The Perfect Storm” knows that would be a horrible way to go.

Films made largely at sea can suffer a certain blue monotony. But this film provides plenty of interesting visuals of Crowhurst’s life on land in Britain, or the south English coast and of the crowds wishing the contestants off; there is lots of original footage, some of it black and white, from the 1960s.

Again, remember that Crowhurst was alone at sea for months. I wondered if he had a volleyball called "Wilson" on board.

The story, one of personal ethics and personal tragedy, seems quite fitting for British film, as this sort of contest is most fitting for a nation with a millennium of world history based on seafaring. Yet the basic dilemma seems universal. The film, after all, reminds us that he did this for his family. This was one of those traps that one can fall into.

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