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I assume my use of this image falls under the terms of “fair use”…

You might recall that I frequently rant about “phantom books” – books that everybody quotes or recommends, but that are in fact nowhere to get, suggesting that the quote or recommendation was either taken from a third source, or is simply made up. Soister’s and Nicolella’s American Silent Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy Feature Films, 1913-1929 might well fall into that category – except that it is really as awesome as it sounds.

Witty, fast-paced, and entertaining, yet almost a textbook at the same time, American Silent Horror provides a unique insight in the lost world of silent movies – a world that so profoundly shaped western culture, and is so inaccessible to modern people nowadays.

Diligent as they are, Soister and his team also provide an entry to a certain 1925/1926 piece that is of most interest to us here, which is The Ancient Mariner.

I think it wouldn’t be okay to quote the entire article, so I’ll just copy the part that might be most important to my fellow Coleridgians: What was the movie really about?

So…

Doris Matthews, a beautiful, innocent young girl, forsakes her sweetheart, Joel Barlowe, in favor of Victor Brant, a wealthy roué. On the night before they are to elope, an old sailor gives Brant a strange potion to drink and then unfolds before his eyes The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Deeply touched by this story about the consequences of the wanton destruction of innocent beauty, Brant leaves without Doris. After some time, he returns and finds to his pained satisfaction that Doris, having overcome her infatuation for him, has again turned her tender attentions toward Joel.

And later on, quoting from another source:

The setting for the story proper is in the California foothills, and the tales concerns a little schoolteacher, sweet and unspoiled, and very much loved by her pupils and the people of the surrounding country. An earnest, hard-working young farmer of the vicinity had worshipped at her shrine for a year or two, and everything seemed most propitious, when a handsome, distinguished looking stranger from the great outside world drops into their midst, and for a while all is chaos in the hearts of the young people. But, silent and unobserved, a rugged-faced man watches the scene. In the little village he is known as “the seafaring man.” He loves the young pair with fatherly devotion and his watchfulness and intervention bring things to a happy climax…

Well, well… It might be important to know that the movie was apparently conceived as what we today might call a “movie fit for all ages”, or, less formally, a “family flick”, intended to become the Avatar or Hobbit of 1925, with the powerful Christmas/December release.  How one comes to make that out of one of the arguably most iconic Gothic poems of all time, I won’t even pretend to understand.

Somewhat predictably, the movie failed to attract the audiences the producers had envisioned, and somewhat predictably the family-friendly romantic comedy ultimately didn’t survive the ages, as people turned their attention to – frankly – more interesting movies.

For us Coleridgians, this is particularly sad, because only one picture (which I posted it a while back) remains of the noted “dream sequence” in which the action of the poem is reenacted – according to Soister, based on the illustrations by Gustave Doré.

All that said, I will continue to look into the matter – maybe I can dig out a few more  still photographs over the upcoming months, at least.

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