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Titanic

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MichiganJ
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Titanic

Postby MichiganJ » March 17th, 2011, 5:16 pm

Recently my wife and I visited the Titanic Artifact Exhibition at our State museum and the following weekend she had a business trip to Titanic's final port of call, Cobh, Ireland. This coincidence rekindled a lifelong interest in Titanic, and since my wife was away, I decided to revisit many of the films dealing with the tragedy.

Titanic (1943)--If there's any one thing the Titanic story needs to make it more compelling it's propaganda, and this German production has plenty. Produced during the war, the production values are quite high and the film gets many of the basic facts more-or-less right. But the propaganda gets laid on pretty thick, especially with created character 1st Officer Peterson, a German who was substituting for an ailing English officer, and who, single-handedly, could have prevented the Titanic disaster at numerous turns, if only he had been listened to. The film goes to extraordinary lengths to show the greed and ineptitude of the English, portraying Captain Smith as weak-willed and Chairman of the White Star Line, Bruce Ismay, as the one ultimately to blame for the disaster. According to this film, it is the German First Officer who leads Ismay to his seat in the life boat, making sure Ismay survives so that he can be prosecuted. Interestingly (but not surprisingly) this Titanic is the only film in which the Congressional Inquiry is presented. Ismay is exonerated (as he actually was) but here it's adding fuel to the propagandistic fire.

Technically Titanic looks pretty good, especially considering it was made during the war. The special effects are so-so, particularly when seeing shots of the "actual" ship from any distance. (Whatever ship they are filming looks only marginally like Titanic.) The sinking image looks almost like a tilted photograph but may be a model.

Titanic (1953)--I guess the facts of the Titanic sinking weren't compelling enough for Hollywood, so instead they made up their own story, which is essentially a soap opera that happens to take place on the Titanic but could have happened anywhere. While well-acted, it's hard to relate to any of the characters, and even harder when the tragedy is merely used as a plot point. Instead of the Atlantic, this Titanic goes down in soap suds. On the plus side, Robert Wagner sings two songs!

Technically the film looks great, although it's clear that they are sets that are being flooded. Interestingly, this in the only film that actually shows an underwater shot of the ship hitting the iceberg. Notably, though, it's the wrong side! (She hit Starboard, not Port as depicted.) Witnessing the sinking from the lifeboats is quite effective and the model work is very good.

A Night to Remember (1958)--Author Walter Lord was the Kevin Brownlow of the Titanic. His lifelong fascination with the story led him to to seek out and interview dozens of survivors, which allowed him to write his book filled with details that have been meticulously recreated in the film, making A Night to Remember as close to a documentary of the actual sinking as one can get. Unlike both the Hollywood and German films, A Night to Remember doesn't bother with any real personal stories but does follow most of the action as seen from Second Officer Charles Lightoller's (Kenneth More) perspective. Unlike the other Titanic films, NtR also shows the proximity of the Californian, a ship close enough to the sinking Titanic that seamen on her deck saw several of the distress rockets fired form the sinking Titanic. While there are any number of things that could have prevented the Titanic disaster, if only Captain Stanley Lord or anyone had woken up the wireless operator on the Californian, it's pretty clear there would have been many more survivors.

On a technical level A Night to Remember is almost a documentary, too. Check out the making-of documentary included on the Criterion DVD and you'll see how they seamlessly moved from locations to models to sets. The model work is amazing, particularly during the sinking. (While the soundtrack is mono, there is a substantial amount of bass, and on more than one occasion the subwoofer made me feel as if my living room was starting to founder, too.)

One thing about the special effects in all of the above films is the hard fact about trying to work with miniatures in water: you can't manipulate the size of a single drop of water, therefore perspective is always an enormous challenge. Just ask Willis O'Brian, Ray Harryhousen or the effects guys at Toho.

Titanic (1997)--I'm not sure where we are in the inevitable backlash against Cameron's film, but my fondness for it hasn't faltered and after watching the other films, I appreciate it even more. Yea, the McGuffin necklace is hokey; but it also enables Cameron to setup the crucial bookending sequences. It's here where we get to learn the particulars of the ship's sinking, especially how it split--something even NtR got wrong. (To be fair to Lord, only one teenaged boy described the ship as breaking in two, something which the experts dismissed as impossible. Of course she was impossible to sink, too.) This information gives us the timeline and a sense of place as we then enter the Kate and Leo story. And yea, that story is a bit hokey, too, but as David Warner (who really deserved a better part) gives chase, that McGuffin again enables us to explore the ship in a way that the other films did not. Whether one becomes emotionally involved in the exploits of Kate and Leo may depend on gender and age, but Cameron gets a lot of the facts correct and presents them in an entertaining and exciting way. He also doesn't sugar-coat the harrowing aftermath of the sinking where survivors are left screaming for help while the half-filled lifeboats wait for the screams to lessen. (Because most of them were wearing life jackets, floating bodies continued to be found by passing ships several months after the tragedy.)

Technically the film still holds up brilliantly. Cameron is nothing if not ambitious, and the mix of miniatures, actual locations and yes, the now much maligned CGI, Cameron allows us to actually experience not only the sinking, but, more importantly to me, the overall grandeur of the ship before she went down. And because of CGI, he didn't have that pesky drop of water to throw-off the scale.

Not sated, I went for the documentaries:

Titanic: The Legend Lives On (1994)--Really great documentary that covers every aspect of Titanic; from her inception, construction, demise, everything in-between and after, including the official inquiries in both the U.S. and Great Britain. Interviews with survivors, experts, and, of course Robert Ballard's discovery of Titanic on Sept. 1, 1985. The film also briefly talks about the company that has the salvation rights, RMS Titanic, Inc., and how they "plan to" put the artifacts on tour, something I'd had mixed feelings about at the time it was announced, and kinda still do even after seeing some of them.

Beyond Titanic (1998)--Included as a special feature on the Titanic (1953) DVD, this documentary primarily focuses on the aftermath of Titanic and the various films, songs, and other forms of popular culture she inspired. Apparently all my viewing hasn't even touched the tip-off the iceberg (!), when it comes to films about Titanic, but the one I'd most surely love to see is the lost silent Saved From the Titanic, made in 1912, mere weeks after the sinking and featuring one of the actual survivors. Still can't imagine the play, Titanic: The Musical, (but I also can't imagine Spiderman the Musical, so that's my bad). Great documentary, though, and includes some footage not seen in the other docs of the Carpathia bringing in the too few survivors.
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JackFavell
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Re: Titanic

Postby JackFavell » March 17th, 2011, 6:04 pm

What a great post!

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Rita Hayworth
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Re: Titanic

Postby Rita Hayworth » March 17th, 2011, 8:28 pm

JackFavell wrote:What a great post!


Hey Jack!, I wholeheartedly agree with you! :)

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Re: Titanic

Postby Lzcutter » March 17th, 2011, 10:45 pm

Hey MJ,

Are you referring to the Titanic documentary, Death of a Dream? It was a four hour documentary presented on A&E (back when A&E really was a good channel) in 1994.

That doc is one of my favorite docs and surprisingly enough, it was written and produced by MrCutter's ex-wife. I was just starting to date MrC at that time and mentioned how much I liked the documentary. He replied his ex had done it. We both laughed. A few years later, MrC got me the doc for Christmas.
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Re: Titanic

Postby MichiganJ » March 18th, 2011, 7:47 am

Lzcutter wrote:Are you referring to the Titanic documentary, Death of a Dream? It was a four hour documentary presented on A&E (back when A&E really was a good channel) in 1994.

Yes, it looks like the original subtitle was The Legend Lives On but is now called Death of a Dream. I actually have the VHS set somewhere, but replaced them with the original DVD release. I think I've watched this documentary more than any other (Burns' Baseball is up there, too), and while there are obvious episode breaks, I generally watch it in one sitting. It's that good.
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Re: Titanic

Postby kingrat » March 18th, 2011, 11:52 am

MichiganJ, thank you for the terrific post about the various versions of the Titanic story. This reminds me of why coming to the SSO website is so enjoyable.

As for the Kate and Leo story, Thelma Ritter said it best in All About Eve: "Everything but the bloodhounds snappin' at her rear end." However, Cameron did his homework about the ship, and the technical work is brilliant. The short IMAX film he made afterward about the salvage is fascinating, too.

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Re: Titanic

Postby Lzcutter » March 18th, 2011, 11:31 pm

MJ,

I agree with your analysis of the Titanic films! I've been a Titanic buff since I was a pre-teen and read Walter Lord's wonderful book. MrC has marveled over the years how he managed to find two women with similar interests (the ex also did a good documentary on the early history of Las Vegas). But, I'm the keeper, he tells me.

One of the things I love about Cameron's *Titanic* is the attention to detail of the ship, its passengers and its sinking. I remember the first time we saw the film and I was thinking that's the Baker, that's Jack Thayer, etc. All because forty some odd years later, I still remembered Walter Lord's book. I don't even mind the love story though it does get a tad over the top towards the end.

I still remember when Robert Ballard and his team found the wreck. I followed the story in the news and rushed home from work to see the pictures being beamed up on the Nightly News.

I always wanted to live long enough to see that. I lived long enough to see that and Cameron's remarkable recreation and more.

Who knew back in the 1960s when I first read the book that there would be so much more to the story?
Lynn in Lake Balboa

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Re: Titanic

Postby MichiganJ » March 20th, 2011, 5:42 pm

kingrat wrote:As for the Kate and Leo story, Thelma Ritter said it best in All About Eve: "Everything but the bloodhounds snappin' at her rear end." However, Cameron did his homework about the ship, and the technical work is brilliant. The short IMAX film he made afterward about the salvage is fascinating, too.

And of course Thelma is a passenger on the 1953 voyage, playing the Molly Brown-ish part.

I saw Titanica in the IMAX theater (it played with Cameron's Titanic, which was not IMAX'd, but still enormous), but unfortunately didn't pick up the Titanica VHS release. The DVD is re-edited and has altogether different footage and is not nearly as good as the theatrical edition.
Lzcutter wrote: I've been a Titanic buff since I was a pre-teen and read Walter Lord's wonderful book.

Great to find another Titanic buff on the boards. My history with the ship is similar, discovering Lord's book when I was in seventh grade, which meant all the subsequent class-projects pertained to the ship in one way or another. (Lots of papier mâché!)
Lzcutter wrote:One of the things I love about Cameron's *Titanic* is the attention to detail of the ship, its passengers and its sinking. I remember the first time we saw the film and I was thinking that's the Baker, that's Jack Thayer, etc. All because forty some odd years later, I still remembered Walter Lord's book. I don't even mind the love story though it does get a tad over the top towards the end.

You're so right about Cameron's attention to the ship's detail, as well as what we know of the actual passengers and crew. In an odd way, it kinda feels like seeing
old friends, which can't help but add to the drama.

I also like how Cameron tried to address the class issues, which admittedly is often heavy-handed, but is also just as often witnessed if one wants to look for it. The disparity between the number of third class passengers lost with those of first and second is staggering, as we know. It was seeing the list of names at the end of the Titanic Artifact Exhibit at the museum, names listed by class, that the disparity became something more than a number for me. When entering the exhibition, everyone is given their own "boarding pass" with the name of an actual passenger. It is at the exhibit's end, looking at the long lists of names, where you see if "you" survived. It's very effective.
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Re: Titanic

Postby MichiganJ » March 26th, 2011, 10:08 am

Watched one last Titanic documentary, Titanic's Final Moments: Missing Pieces which turned out to be a great conclusion to my current odyssey.

****spoilers*****

Focusing on a theory about how she sank, the documentary follows explorers and scientists as they once again search the wreckage and the various debris fields. They find two pieces from the ship's bottom; complete sections from starboard to port. While Titanic was double-bottomed, these two pieces seem to indicate that when Titanic struck the ice berg on her starboard side, she also bottomed on the berg's plateau. This explains how the boiler room was flooding from below and not the side. It also explains why Titanic sank as fast as she did.

Most interesting, however, is the debate on how she split. Before this find, it was assumed that she spit from the bottom up, thus having her snap as depicted in Cameron's film. While still only speculating, but using all of the math and some pretty convincing evidence, the experts in this documentary conclude that because of the tear in her bottom, the weight of the water would actually have made Titanic fold together, splitting more from top down. But because she was also foundering from the wounds in her side, this split likely occurred while her bow was already submerged, which explains why most survivors didn't report seeing her split.

Even if one still questions the theories, the documentary once again offers some great shots of Titanic on the ocean floor. Twenty-five years after she was discovered, it's pretty clear that her time is short.

*****end spoilers*****

Also on the DVD is an interesting documentary Histories Mysteries: Doomed Sisters of the Titanic, which investigates the Olympic and the Britannic. Not only are their stories fascinating (both were used extensively in WW I), but we also follow the story of a woman who worked first on the Olympic, then the Titanic (many of the Olympic staff were transferred to Titanic), where she survived the sinking only to then be assigned to the Britannic. After surviving the Britannic's sinking, she was reassigned to the Olympic. Oh, and she had a fear of water.

Very interesting documentary and well worth seeing and there is plenty of actual footage of the ships. Like Titanic, they are beautiful.
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Re: Titanic

Postby JackFavell » March 26th, 2011, 10:28 am

I saw the doc about the way the ship split, I thought it was very good.

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Re: Titanic

Postby mrsl » March 26th, 2011, 6:42 pm

.
Since I've always been fascinated with the Titanic story, I don't know how I never noticed Michigan J's post comparison of the three movies. When John Cameron's Titanic came out and while it was playing, I saw so many bad reviews and slurs about the film that I kind of decided not to bother with it, but one Sunday afternoon I had nothing at all to do, all my friends were busy and to keep from total boredom, I decided to pay for it on the PPV. What a shock!! I went out the very next day and bought the VCR two tape set. That's how enthralled I was with it. Still, to this day, people often dismiss it when the subject comes up and for the life of me I can't understand. I think it is a great movie, the acting is all superb (especially Kathy Bates as Molly Brown), and the two young stars are totally attractive. It definitely turned me into a Kate Winslet fan. Usually when I get into a discussion about it, I'm either tepid about it, or don't mention it at all, simply because at this stage in life I don't care to get into arguments for any reason other than life affecting. I often stop the tape when watching to look at as much of the detail as I can. I guess I should invest in a good film about the background of the Titanic, but this is more fun.

For some reason critics don't seem to like Cameron's movies. Away back when he made Abyss he got bad review, but again that was a terrific movie, especially with Harris at the helm. And again, this past year, many reviews for Avatar were very lukewarm. Just one more reason not to trust movie critics. Some day they will learn to speak for the masses instead of just themselves. But that's a whole other thing that I'm not going to get into.

In all, I watched Titanic twice that Sunday on rental from PPV, and twice again on my day off on Tuesday. That's how much I liked it. Now, however, I have to find a copy on DVD since I no longer use my VCR.
.
Anne


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Re: Titanic

Postby markfp » March 28th, 2011, 12:49 am

My wife and I took a tour of the Canadian Maritime Provinces, last year and while in Halifax, Nova Scotia we visited the Atlantic Maritime Museum (I think that's the name) which has a permanent Titanic exhibition and features artifacts and other displays. It's well worth seeing. Something about looking at articles belonging to passengers and crew on the ship gave me a strange feeling. A good part of the museum deals with numerous other ships that have gone down either in storms or during a war. The whole thing was pretty fascinating.

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Re: Titanic

Postby MichiganJ » March 28th, 2011, 8:00 am

When in D.C., stop in for a bite.

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Re: Titanic

Postby mongoII » March 30th, 2011, 5:33 pm

There is Titanic exhibit down here in Orlando. When you enter you choose the name of a passenger from the doomed ship and when you exit you check the names to see if you survived the sinking. There is also a big wall of ice displayed and a deck to experience how cold it was that night. Of course there were various items (plates, life jackets, deck chairs) etc. displayed. I had a sad feeling when I left.
Of the versions filmed, my favorite is the James Cameron spectacular.
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Re: Titanic

Postby Rita Hayworth » March 30th, 2011, 7:52 pm

mongoII wrote:There is Titanic exhibit down here in Orlando. When you enter you choose the name of a passenger from the doomed ship and when you exit you check the names to see if you survived the sinking. There is also a big wall of ice displayed and a deck to experience how cold it was that night. Of course there were various items (plates, life jackets, deck chairs) etc. displayed. I had a sad feeling when I left.
Of the versions filmed, my favorite is the James Cameron spectacular.


I'm from the Pacific Northwest - I visit Victoria B.C. often - they had the same exhibit that MongoII just described to us. I wholeheartedly agree with MongoII when I left the exhibit - I had a sad feeling too.


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