TV

Independent Lens: Deep Water

Deep Water tracks Donald Crowhurst's voyage over the horizon and into himself, filtered through observations by associates and family members, and amplified by his own logs.


Independent Lens

Airtime: Tuesday, 10pm Et
Cast: Clare Crowhurst, Simon Crowhurst, Françoise Moitessier de Cazalet, Ted Hynds, Donald Kerr, Robin Knox-Johnston, Ron Winspear, Tilda Swinton (narrator)
MPAA rating: N/A
Subtitle: Deep Water
Network: PBS
US release date: 2008-06-17
Website
Trailer
Amazon
I think doubt started to set in when reality started to set in and the reality wasn't quite as perfect as the idea. This is why ideas are dangerous.

-- Ron Winspear

It lies within us to make god.

-- Donald Crowhurst

In 1968, Donald Crowhurst set off to sail his yacht around the world. A 36-year-old businessman, he wasn't precisely prepared for a nonstop adventure in a one-man craft, and yet he went. Deep Water, Louise Osmond and Jerry Rothwell's 2007 documentary (airing on PBS' Independent Lens), tracks his voyage over the horizon and into himself, filtered through observations by associates and family members, and amplified by Crowhurst's own log books and film and audio recordings. The differences among these versions -- even as they come together in a stunning end -- offer a portrait of desire and despair, forever part soaring fantasy and part grim consequence.

Crowhurst's participation in the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race seems here less a matter of fate than odd chance. The excitement generated by Sir Francis Chichester's one-stop voyage around the world in 1967 inspired would-be adventurers and promoters to put together a contest, complete with newspaper and television hoopla. "There could be no greater challenge," recalls television reporter David Kerr (appearing dramatically shadowed in a doorway), suggesting the race was part of an era's fabric, a neo-Elizabethan thrill alongside sexual liberation and the Beatles.

This notion of a "boys' own" adventure, Kerr says, attracted nine original racers, including experienced sailors Robin Knox-Johnson ("This was something humans had hadn't yet attempted to do," he says now, "Ten months of total loneliness") and Bernard Moitessier. As his wife Françoise Moitessier de Cazalet recalls, Bernard was a "poet" who "needed to prove to himself that he was capable of doing this." The "mystery man" in the mix was the amateur Crowhurst, who appears for the first time in Deep Water in a sport jacket, pale and professorish, pondering what it takes to be able to sail around the world alone. "I think one's psychology has to be fairly stable," he says matter-of-factly. "And one need be constantly aware of the risks."

And yet these risks remain at some level unknowable. Narrated by Tilda Swinton, the film itself evolves from what seems a rather conventional combination of talking heads and archival footage into an existentialish exploration of what it might mean to contemplate individual limits and fears. As his son Simon remembers, Crowhurst "had grown up with Kipling's stories of adventure," and imagined he might live one. "In a sense," says Simon, "My father wanted to take on that feat and take on that persona." The ambition was complicated when, in need of money because his electronics firm was failing, Crowhurst signed a contract with a sponsor, Stanley Best, and hired a public relations officer, Daily Mail crime reporter and "Dickensian character" Rodney Hallworth. While his entry into the race was now funded, if he dropped out for any reason, he would be bankrupt and he would lose his house, a finish he could not bear to deliver to his beloved wife Clare and four young children. "He was gambling everything," says Simon.

Setting off in a 40-foot boat he built for the occasion, the Teignmouth Electron, Crowhust is at once scrappy and hapless. When he first leaves port, some three weeks behind the others, he sends back cables and keeps meticulous track of his progress. As his exploration turns increasingly inward -- indicated in the gaps between his tape recordings (made for public consumption) and his journals (more meditative, though no less self-image-conscious) -- the messages come less regularly. The film's reconstruction of the voyage, based on records found on Crowhurst's boat, is increasingly harrowing. Even as, Kerr notes, "He was building the character of a long-distance sailor," Crowhurst was also dealing with serial structural and mechanical problems, spending long hours bailing out the boat with a bucket. "The bloody boat is falling apart," he records early on.

While Clare, Simon, and Crowhurst's best friend Ron Winspear offer possible reasons for his decision to go on (he had an "isolated childhood," he feared financial ruin, having seen his father's death under such duress), Crowhurst devises to make up a journey, to concoct reports of places he isn't going. Remarkably, no one catches on, hoping against hope that he -- along with only three other sailors still in the race -- will return home triumphant. But as he sends back this fiction, a second log keeps track of the real journey. As the film repeatedly shows pages of script, a voiceover reads, "The rigging sighs a sigh of cosmic sorrow... A sigh to fill man's soul with melancholy waves, to sweep away my melancholy."

As Crowhurst is apparently drifting off the coast of "Brazil" (his cables, increasingly sporadic, leave his exact location unknown), Winspear imagines, "There you are, alone on your boat, just you and the ocean" (the film inserts footage Crowhurst took of himself, sunburned and scrawny). "It just accentuates the isolation. From that moment, the time bomb was ticking. He had no longer one enemy, which was the sea. He had himself, this problem of imagination and the delicate mechanism of the mind."

Deep Water evokes Crowhurst's internal charting, his efforts to track his loss of hope and sense of connection with "the universe." While those who remember him cannot know what he experienced, their own devastations and losses punctuate the movie's compelling fiction of Crowhurst, joined effectively with his fiction of himself. Winspear suggests that his friend's decision not to return has to do with his inability to face failure: "He's got a role to play and he mustn't drop a line." The film shows the child Crowhurst, dressed in sailor suit, then offers up his tape-recorded voice: "There are close similarities between sailing a small boat and living," he says. Ends can never be wholly anticipated. His last recordings are unnerving, if revealing. "I was forced to admit that nature forces on cosmic beings the only sin they are capable of, the sin of concealment. It is a small sin for a man, but it is a terrible sin for a cosmic being." Even as this cosmic being decides on his own punishment, the film submits, it continues to take tolls on those he's left behind.

7

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image