Sunday, 8 April 2012

Why I Love Titanic: Part 2

Happy Easter everybody!  I know it should be all about The Ten Commandments or The Passion of the Christ today but there's still only one movie on my mind at the moment.  Aaah Titanic!   I'm not finished with you yetI get some very strange looks when I tell people my favourite films include Fight Club, City of God and Titanic.  So this is the second part of my attempting to justify my love for this big, grand, epic love story.

Before I start though, I must point out that I am aware Cameron has played with the facts and obviously added in two completely fictional characters to juice up the story of the sinking.  There's even a great moment on one of the special features documentaries where a Titanic historian tries to tell Cameron that the lifeboats weren't being lowered right on top of each other and Cameron dismisses the historian saying something like 'I'm making a movie here!'  Terrible arrogance or a director who knows how to make a thrilling film?  Anyway here's some more reasons for my undying love for James Cameron's Titanic.

Historical accuracy

It's not just the sets and the costumes that are filled with historically accurate detail.  Cameron also wrote many real life characters into the script.  Most famously, Cameron depicts the band that played presumably until the tilt of the ship made it impossible to continue. Their bravery in the face of disaster becomes just one more heartbreaking story of those that did not survive the sinking.

Other real life victims that appear in the film are Benjamin Guggenheim who did allegedly say the line "We've dressed up in our best and are prepared to go down like gentlemen", John Jacob Astor, the richest man on the ship and the famous Molly Brown (played by Kathy Bates) who insisted that her lifeboat return to the sinking to search for survivors.  There’s also the moment the chairman of the White Star Line Bruce Ismay slinks on board one of the lifeboats despite the remaining women and children who were left to die.  Thomas Andrews did really speak with the Captain after the collision and made it very clear that the ship would sink.  He was even last seen staring at a painting over the fireplace as seen in the film. 

Sources have stated that the Captain was last seen in the wheelhouse and the baker who stands right next to the fictional Jack and Rose as Titanic finally sinks below the water was actually there and was one of the few who survived!  

The incredible story of Chief Baker Charles Joughin was told in the book A Night to Remember.  These were his final moments on the ship as he (and Jack and Rose) are the last into the water:

“The deck was now listing too steeply to stand on, and Joughin slipped over the starboard rail and stood on the actual side of the ship.

He worked his way up the side, still holding onto the rail--but from the outside--until he reached the white-painted steel plates of the poop deck.  He now stood on the rounded stern end of the ship, which had swung high in the air some 150 feet above the water.

Joughin casually tightened his lifebelt.  Then he glanced at his watch--it said 2:15.  As an afterthought, he took it off and stuck it into his hip pocket.  He was beginning to puzzle over his position when he felt the stern beginning to drop under his feet--it was like taking an elevator.  As the sea closed over the stern, Joughin stepped off into the water.  He didn't even get his head wet.”

These are just a few of the characters and Cameron wonderfully weaves his fictional characters into this real life tragedy and takes the audience on a memorable trip through a terrifying night of chaos and confusion.  He even has time to sneak in a reference to this famous photo taken aboard the ship in happier times.

The message

Titanic is entertainment first and foremost.  It’s a thrilling, tragic love story.  But it’s also a memorial to the 1514 people who lost their lives on 15th April 1912.  It’s a film about class, about the arrogance of mankind and surprise, surprise, about never letting go. It's themes may not be subtle but they are relevant and powerful.

Cameron relishes the class divide of the ship juxtaposing the stuffy first class dinner and men retiring to the brandy and cigar lounge with the boisterous dancing, drinking and partying of the steerage quarters.  When the ship sinks, the heartbreaking plight of the steerage passengers is again contrasted with the arrogance, nonchalance and selfishness of some of the first class passengers and even some of the crew that are determined to maintain social order in the face of disaster.

It’s also a film about arrogance with so many men being convinced of the invincibility of the ship, that it was released with only enough lifeboats for 1,178 people, only one-third of Titanic's total capacity.  And these were not even filled properly as depicted in the film.  This is a lesson that we can still learn from.  Did you know… “a change in the New York City building code in 1968 reduced the number of stairwells required in tall buildings.  The World Trade Center, completed in 1970, had fewer escape routes than the Empire State Building, completed in 1931.”  (102 Minutes, Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn) I wonder how many more lives could have been saved on 9/11 if safety was more of a concern to building designers/owners than profit.

Anyway Titanic is also just a love story.  Cameron could have made it more of a docudrama but he adds in the fictional characters to make it a more mass appealing story of love conquering class divide, disaster, and finally death.  Roses’ life changes after she meets Jack.  Even though he doesn’t get to enjoy her new life with her, he has become the catalyst for her escape and freedom.  She never lets go of her promise to him and never looks back.

Cashing in?

But after all that love, I have to ask is this re-release really necessary?  I realized the other day that not once had I really thought about the victims of the disaster when discussing the upcoming 3D release of the film in cinemas.  It’s supposed to commemorate the centenary of the disaster but really isn’t it just celebrating the film?  Then again, anyone who goes and watches the film will be hard pushed to not walk out of the cinema and think of all the real life lost souls that were involved in the tragedy.

But does it really need to be in 3D?  Cameron’s hyping of Avatar lead to a bit of disappointment as we all know that 3D isn’t the game changer that the director suggested it would be.  I’m all up for seeing Titanic again on the big screen where it belongs but I’m not convinced the 3D will add anything to the experience.  However if Robbie Collin of the Telegraph is right we should be in for a treat:

“In the film’s audacious 25-minute prologue, in which Bill Paxton’s treasure hunter introduces us to the barnacle-encrusted wreck of the Titanic, a third dimension makes the silty lifelessness of the ship that bit more tangible. When we slip back to 1912 and join Rose and Jack on the Southampton quayside, the riot of background detail and foreground drama feels richer and more vibrant than ever.”

So will you be going to see Titanic on the big screen this time around?  Why do you love/hate this film?  Has anyone seen the 3D version yet?  What are your thoughts?