By now, you may have heard of this year's winner of the Platform award at the Toronto International Film Festival (and the Volpi Cup for Best Actor at Venice): Pietro Marcello's Martin Eden, an adaptation of the titular 1909 novel by Jack London. (Read our interview with the Italian director from Venice.) Marcello transfers the story's setting from early 20th century Oakland, California to an indeterminate but similar time period in Naples. The film shares London's (an active advocate of socialism) concerns regarding art and politics and their manifestation in the world of a young proletarian writer, but is hardly the first attempt at bringing the novel's fiery vision to life.
In 1914, American filmmaker and actor Hobart Bosworth directed, wrote, and produced his own adaptation of Martin Eden. The film, available on ARTE, is missing a few reels. But even in its incomplete form, a faithfulness to its source is evident. Intertitles borrow directly from the novel's text, following the sailor as he travels the South Seas then becomes entangled with an anarchist poet in Oakland. Furthermore, as writer Robert M. Fells notes, Bosworth (through the Hobart Bosworth Production Company) "functioned as an auteur decades before that term was given to filmmakers." He was also a huge Jack London fan, once declaring, "In all my reading I have never come across better material for motion picture plays than Jack London's stories, and I hope to go right through the whole lot." Managing to partner with London himself, Bosworth would go on to direct and even star in a number of multiple-reel adaptations of London's works, huge accomplishments considering the technical and economic limitations for filmmakers in the country. Though far from Marcello's Naples, Bosworth's Martin Eden proves the universal resonance of London's tale that tells of the endurance and wrestle of love and politics through art.