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Jack London’s Martin Eden

REVIEW by Lee Roscoe

Jay Craven has been making exceptional, unique films for decades. As writer and director, his newest, Martin Eden, based on Jack London’s semi-autobiographical novel, is a gem, and should be counted amongst the classics of American cinema.

Invited to the Morse mansion after saving young aristocrat, Arthur, from a beating, Eden meets his sister Ruth, and it is love at first sight. They share a love of poetry but are worlds apart in class. Ruth is refined and sheltered. Eden is working class, poor of grammar, and rough around the edges. Eden longs to better himself both to court Ruth and for his own sake. To expand his intellect and lift himself to the high aspirations of a successful writer, he haunts the library where a sympathetic librarian guides him. Ruth begrudgingly falls for Eden; her family objects, and her love is conditional. He has a year to make good as an author, and then, if he fails, must “take a position.”

As the story unfolds there are political as well as romantic conflicts. There is a mythic quality to the story, an archetypal tale of the artist’s struggle to be acknowledged for, as Eden says, “work performed.” It could be the filmmaker’s own cry, or any who have gone this fraught and lonely route.

Andrew Richardson as Eden is charismatic, handsome, strong and sensitive, riveting. Hayley Griffith as Ruth, is the personification of the well-bred, yet fearful bourgeoisie, which Brissenden warns Eden against—ambivalent about breaking free to a braver life. Missy Yager as her mother, embodies the tenderness and tribal WASP restrictiveness of the turn of the last century. When Annet Mahendru, as Lizzie, rejects Martin’s offer of monetary help, because what she wants is his love—the look in her eye says everything. And Phil McGlaston as Brissendon, delivers his lyrical lines with Shakespearean clarity. Eden’s compassionate and downtrodden sister played by Jo Armeniox, and the librarian played by Susan McGinnis—both of whose scenes with Eden are subtly touching—and everyone else, are perfectly cast.

The costumes are class appropriate, cocky and exquisite; it’s ironic to see the ethereal whites of the Morses, and in the next cut the squalor of child labor in a laundry where Eden is working. The settings, interior and exterior, are flawless. Using some of London’s own stunning photos of the downtrodden within the film is a brilliant touch. Even the sound is extraordinary: you can hear them walk on the wood plank floors or clink a wine glass. David Dolnik, director of photography catches the light, natural or kerosene lamp, the sea, and the town, with each painterly frame. The production design, the piano score, the editing, all add immeasurably to the ambience, the measured pace, the sharp, intelligent dialogue which Craven masterfully builds, drawing us into lives, souls, a time and place, a story with eternal themes.

Martin Eden screens at Wellfleet Preservation Hall, 335 Main St. on Thursday, September 1, 7 p.m. Jay Craven will introduce the screening and lead a post-film discussion. For tickets ($15) and information call 508.349.1800 or visit

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Ginger Mountain

Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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