In the decade between 1966 and 1976, 150 000 jobs were lost along London’s dockyards. With them so was a thousand years of history. A way of life, a work force and a community that has now more or less vanished from the public eye and conscious. The Docklands areas of east London were home to the largest port and trading places in the world, and the men and woman who lived and worked on the ships and the docks not only provided the infrastructure that created the wealth and power of Britain but also were integral in creating a sense of place and community that shaped the national identity. In The Rime of The Modern Mariner film makers Mark Donne, Joe Morris and Anthony Rossomando have created a documentary that draws light to this lost world of Dockers and Sailors, showing the colourful past and the barely skeletal remains of an industry that literally made Britain the (Great) modern nation it has become.
Narrated by The Libertines and Dirty Pretty Things front man Carl Barat, The Rime of The Modern Mariner opens with fast and lyrical retailing of characters that roamed the East End dockyards. This then leads to perhaps the film’s most vital aspect. The men of the Stepney Dockers Social Club are nearly all that’s left of a link to the past that was so quickly demolished and built upon. These men tell their stories with amazing coherence and pride, this is amplified by the unspoken stories that are there to see in the old men’s faces. Yet this is mixed with a sense of anger, that the world they new and the communities that lived in and forged were taken from them. Their way of life and their skills were made redundant by forces that were out of their control.
The modern age and the fully encompassing assault of globalisation, has changed the east end of London in such a way as to render it almost unrecognizable to how it formally was. The film takes the viewer on trip on the Dockland’s Light Railway, through Canary Wharf and the other glass corporate tower blocks and sky scrappers that have replaced the once vibrant and integral area of London’s docklands. A stark reminder of how quickly the world has changed throughout the last century.
The second half of the film is about the modern day dock workers and the maritime trade. About 90% of all imports to Britain are still from shipped sources. But the role of the dock workers, the sailors and the ships have changed dramatically and (paradoxically) even though there is more trade than before there are fewer jobs in this dwindling industry, as technology leaves manual labour redundant and what labour there is sent overseas.
The filmmakers, to their credit, handle the history, stories and emotions of the film with great restraint and respect for the subject. Mostly letting the subjects speak for themselves, unedited and honest. Joe Morris and Mark Donne’s images of the lost dock world work in wonderful conjuncture with the close up interviews of the old men who’s creased, worn faces echo the weather beaten forgotten landmarks that still remain, hidden in plain view, around London’s east end. Anthony Rossomando’s subtle and haunting soundtrack, fused with sounds he recorded from ships and dockyards, captures the mood perfectly and fall right in place with the imagery. Made on almost no money, edited and scored in a bedroom and sourced through blagging and perseverance, the film is also a remarkable achievement of guerrilla filmmaking in its own right.
There is an overwhelming sadness throughout this The Rime of The Modern Mariner. It is a demonstration of the soullessness of globalisation and corporate take over. The last laments of the old and dying Dockers are a powerful reminder what the world was like not that long ago and realisation of how quickly things change. But of course things have to change, and as D.H Lawrence said, ‘when things change, something is lost’. Change and loss are inevitable, and whilst this is a sad aspect to life, it is integral to it.
And perhaps it is because of this that The Rime of The Modern Mariner is such an engaging and important film, because it is a vital record of the past, a past that may not need to be sought after, but that should always be remembered.