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Trawling for secrets in haunting films recovered from the bottom of the sea

The British ocean liner RMS Lusitania embarked on its infamous final voyage from New York to Liverpool on 1 May 1915. Six days later, torpedoed by German U-boats off the southern coast of Ireland, the ship sank in less than 20 minutes, killing 1,198 passengers and crew, and setting the US on the path to join the fight against Germany in the First World War. One of the most luxurious ocean liners of its time, the Lusitania was equipped with what was then a novelty – an onboard movie theatre.

In Sunken Films, the US artist and filmmaker Bill Morrison uses archival footage to unspool the stories of the sinking of this luxury liner, its incendiary movie reels, as well as other films about or from shipwrecks. One early clip was salvaged from the sunken Lusitania in a 1982 expedition; another mysterious film, featuring the Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin in 1919-20 with his cat, was recovered from a fishing net off the Danish coast in 1976. By trawling for memories in deep-sea shipwrecks, Morrison offers haunting glimpses into early-20th century film and world history.

Director: Bill Morrison

7 July 2020

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