Wednesday, January 18, 2012

"A Night To Remember" -- The Titanic In Film Since 1953

By Tennessee Jed

Few, if any, events in modern times have captured public imagination as has the Titanic disaster. That assertion is bolstered by the fact four feature length films, not to mention two made for television movies, have chronicled its demise. Numerous other productions, some dating as far back as 1912, feature either Titanic or a thinly veiled substitute.

Excluding the 1943 German film Titanic which was strictly Nazi propaganda, the other major productions each helped create or revive fresh interest in the story. The sinking of R.M.S. Titanic is the perfect template for the “disaster genre,” made all the more intriguing by the fact it was an actual historical event. Facts surrounding the disaster include all the requisite elements for gripping drama: who lives or dies, bravery, cowardice, chivalry, class distinctions, celebrity, unresolved mysteries, and abundance of eerie “what ifs.” The viewer invariably asks “how would I react under those circumstances?”

Most people today associate with the 1997 box office blockbuster that garnered eleven Oscars, and propelled Leonardo DiCaprio to mega-stardom. Movies with multiple “remakes” make for interesting comparisons. While later versions benefit from advances in cinematic technique, it is also harder to find a “fresh” angle. As we approach the 100th anniversary of the sinking, let’s review the major productions. No spoiler alerts required:

Titanic ( 20th Century Fox, 1953) - This was the first Hollywood feature film about the disaster. Although several celebrity millionaire passengers and crew officers are briefly portrayed, the focus is almost exclusively on one fictional family. Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck star as an estranged couple, Richard and Julia Sturges. She is traveling first class to take the children Annette and Norman back to America away from the foppish, high society world that engrosses her husband. In order to stop her, Richard secretly books passage in second class, then bribes his way “upstairs.” Their daughter falls for a young Purdue student named “Giff” Rogers (portrayed by a young Robert Wagner who looks eerily like Leo DiCaprio.) As Julia and Annette are being placed into life boats, Richard and Julia have a tearful reconciliation. Young Norman refuses his seat and remains with his father joining a chorus of doomed passengers singing “Nearer My God to Thee” (“Bethany” the American setting) as the ship founders. While helping lower lifeboats, “Giff” is knocked overboard, breaking his arm. He is pulled into a life boat and survives. Richard Basehart plays a young priest who had been suspended for alcoholism, but leads prayers as the ship goes down.

Modeling and special effects were pretty good for the time. Stanwyck was reputed to have been overcome with sorrow during the scene where she was lowered over the side in a lifeboat.

A Night to Remember (The Rank Organization, 1958) - is a highly faithful film adaption of Walter Lord’s 1955 best selling book. Because the book was so well written and the facts so compelling, it reads like a suspense novel. Lord scrupulously researched all information available at the time, reviewing testimony from boards of inquiry, plus newspaper and eyewitness accounts of survivors from both passengers and crew. There are a few scenes where slight artistic license is taken, but no wholesale fabrication of characters or fictionalized sub-plots. In reality, the film is more docudrama, yet never lacks for tension. Costuming was perfectly detailed and accurate, interiors perfect reproductions of the actual grand staircase, dining rooms, and smoking lounges were used. It is the most accurate of all Titanic films, even though exterior modeling shots were a bit weak.

The film stars veteran British actor Kenneth More as Second Officer Charles Lightoller, and is primarily told from his point of view since he was senior surviving officer and one of the more reliable witnesses. When I first saw this movie, I had not yet read the book, and knew little detail beyond that presented in the 1953 film. I was amazed to see how Lightoller survived after going into the freezing ocean, climbing onto an overturned collapsible life boat with several others, then somehow managing to keep it from capsizing by calling out commands to lean left or right as needed. All of this was accomplished for several hours without succumbing to hypothermia as ice formed on their soaked clothing. At first, I assumed this was merely incredible cinematic license only to discover it was a true account.

The British production, which took five months to film, added even more authenticity to the film with a cast mostly unfamiliar to American audiences. This film features an incredibly poignant scene with cellist John W. Woodward playing and singing “Nearer My God to Thee” in the more likely Horbury setting. It is fun to see a young David McCallum as assistant telegraph operator Harold Bride, plus Honor Blackman, and very brief uncredited appearances as crewmen from both Desmond Llewelyn and Sean Connery (the latter three later appearing together in larger roles in Goldfinger.)

S.O.S. Titanic (EMI, Argonaut 1979) - This production was first seen as an ABC “movie of the week.” At over two and a half hours without commercials it was presented over two nights. A shortened version cutting about 40 minutes was shown theatrically in Europe. Plagued by horrible editing, this unfortunately is the version used for subsequent VHS and DVD releases. Rushed into production prior to a rumored expedition to locate and raise the Titanic, it carries a definite television quality feel, but at least retains the distinction of being the first Titanic movie filmed in color.

The film stars and focuses on David Jansen as J.J. Astor, Cloris Leachman as Molly Brown, and David Warner as Lawrence Beesley (an actual second class passenger survivor who wrote a book about his experience.) Susan Saint James plays the fictional Leigh Goodwin, a school teacher and quasi-love interest for Beesley. As with the later Cameron film, a significant amount of time is spent with steerage passengers. In fact, there is a bit too much political sermonizing about the class distinctions of Edwardian England. Much of the footage was shot aboard the Queen Mary, and it appears several special effects shots were pilfered from A Night to Remember, then subsequently “colorized.” Bright spots include future great Helen Mirren in an early role as stewardess Mary Sloan, and Ian Holmes as J. Bruce Ismay. Despite some shortcomings it was a welcome addition to the Titanic catalog, the first re-telling in over twenty years.

Titanic (RHI Entertainment 1996) - Seventeen years later, another two part tele-movie premiered on CBS. It too leaned heavily on fictionalized characters to recount the experience of the sinking. Television, as is it’s habit, rushed production to capitalize on the hype generated by the forthcoming Cameron film. It shows, and this is clearly the weakest of the group in terms of sub-plots, dialog, and acting. Plotting yet again follows a pair of fictionalized first class and steerage passengers in romantic relationships. Perhaps the best thing about this version is that American audiences are introduced for the first time to the stunning beauty of the young Welsh actress, Catherine Zeta-Jones as Isabella Paradine, a married American passenger who is returning from Europe alone after attending a funeral. By chance, she meets her former lover, Wynne Park, played by the thoroughly dreadful Peter Gallagher, and they rekindle their long lost love while Mrs. Paradine struggles with the guilt of it all.

Before departure, a young pickpocket, Jaimie Perse (Mile Doyle), is saved from Queenstown police by two men in a crowded pub. One becomes quite drunk, brags about his upcoming passage on Titanic, and passes out permitting Jaimie to pilfer his steerage boarding pass. The other man who shielded Jaimie is the unsavory Simon Doonan (Tim Curry), a truly evil individual who happens to be a steward on Titanic, and uses his position and knowledge of the stolen pass to extort Jaimie. Curry is a fine actor, excellent villain, and produces one of the brighter acting jobs in the film. George C. Scott has a somewhat expanded role as the ship’s captain, Edward J. Smith. It may be the only time I’ve ever see Scott mail in a role, as his acting mainly consists of grimacing every time he speaks. Roger Rees (Cheers) overplays Ismay as the “go to” fall guy at fault for the disaster. In this film’s defense, almost all versions tend to unfairly promote a somewhat exaggerated, unflattering view of Ismay in that regard.

Also included is a gratuitous, inaccurate scene in which Doonan rapes Jaimieʼs love interest, Aise Ludvigsen, another steerage passenger he meets on board. Class bias is hyped and historical inaccuracies abound. On the bright side, discovery of the actual wreck in 1985 confirmed reports by many eye witnesses that the ship had in fact broken apart as it foundered. That effect was included, an improvement over prior films. The band does not play “Nearer My God to Thee” a distinct possibility.

Titanic (20th Century Fox/Paramount/Lightstorm 1997) – There is little that can be said about James Cameron’s Titanic that hasn’t already been said or written. Nominated for fourteen academy awards, winner of eleven, worldwide revenues over $1.8 billion. Essentially, this version became an incredible phenomenon, shattering all previous box office records. Cameron came up with a story that was original, and an angle that was fresh. He paid attention to details of historical accuracy, and put his $200 million of expenses to good use in terms of sets, costuming, and CGI. In short, the film deserves the success it attained. Once again, “Nearer My God to Thee” is featured as the last song played by the band using the “Bethany” setting.

This version of Titanic was first to make full use of the 1985 discovery and subsequent exploration of the wreck by modern deep water submersibles. The exploration is expertly woven into the story using a past and present format that permits the story to be told by the reminiscences of a 100 year old survivor. The screenplay proves just how well the events can be recounted utilizing fictional protagonists. Acting was overall first rate, particularly for the principals DiCaprio, Winslet, Zane, and David Warner. The inclusion of Warner in this film permits him to hold the unofficial record of three appearances in films featuring Titanic. (The third was Time Bandits which features a segment set aboard the ship.)

Cameron intends to re-release this film in 3D, 2D Imax, and Blu Ray as part of the centennial anniversary observance of the ill fated voyage.

Summary - We may never shake the grip the Titanic disaster still holds on so many of us a hundred years later. I admit to an unending fascination with the events, ironies, trivia, side stories, and human drama. As such, I appreciate all dramatic efforts to bring it to life. However, my own conclusion is that while the 1997 film Titanic is undoubtedly the best, most elaborate recounting ever made, A Night To Remember remains my personal favorite. The former is the most realistic visually and boasts a terrific screenplay. The latter unveiled more historically accurate events and a devotion to accuracy of sets and costumes than other films before or since. What is your favorite?

67 comments:

Tennessee Jed said...

without fear of spoilers, I can confirm the ship founders in each and every film :)

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Thanks for an excellent discussion of a fascinating issue. I will be back with more thoughts soon -- work calls first sadly.

Ed said...

Jed, Exellent breakdown of the films. I admit that I liked "Titanic" with Leonardo. I'm ashamed. LOL!

Tennessee Jed said...

Ed - thanks, but I don't think we need to apologize for liking Cameron's film. Leo was incredibly good in that role, and as much as I don't like Cameron personally, he wrote and made one hell of a film. Did you ever get to see any of the forerunners?

Ed said...

Jed, I have seen a couple of the others -- the 1979 and 1996 versions. They were good, but nothing like the Cameron version.

Tennessee Jed said...

The one I would recommend is "A Night To Remember." Cameron's film and this one are so far above the other three, it is not even close. Of course, Cameron's film had the huge budget and modern technology. It was a rare example of a movie that exceeded expectations even after it had been hyped to infinity. "Night to Remember" on the other hand, sticks strictly to known facts, and considering it is 64 years old, it is amazingly worthwhile. I think that is why Criterion felt it a worthy addition to the Criterion Collection.

Tennessee Jed said...

BTW, I should give a shoutout to ken Marchall whose artwork is featured at the beginning of the review. He is one of the top artists of ships, and his renderings of the Titanic are considered the most accurate and detailed based on known facts. Here is a non-link to his website


http://www.kenmarschall.com/

ScottDS said...

Great article! I've always been fascinated with the Titanic story, too.

Criterion just released A Night to Remember on Blu-Ray... I should check it out one day. It has an audio commentary with Don Lynch and Ken Marschall, who also worked with Cameron on his film.

Ah, 1997... you couldn't walk five feet without hearing that Celine Dion song. With the possible exceptions of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Dark Knight, I don't think we've had quite the same kind of collective cultural experience as we did when Titanic was released. I still enjoy the film though there a couple of cheesy lines and moments. I think Cameron's best-written films were the ones he did in the 80s.

As for the technical aspects, volumes have been written about the sets and effects work, which involved CGI, miniatures, bluescreen, and about a dozen companies working on the film at one point. There are a couple of trick shots done the old-fashioned way, too, including a view of the ship outside the tavern where Leo is playing cards - the ship is a cardboard cutout!

I assume the 1953 version is where Robert Wagner and Barbara Stanwyck began their long affair...?

I remember the TV movie from 1996 and I swear the rape scene was cut when the movie re-aired a year or two later. Anyway, I worked at Best Buy in 2002-03 and an irate woman rushed in claiming she had called ahead and was told we had Titanic in stock. I hadn't answered the phone but I walked her over to the aisle and plucked a copy of the Cameron film - except she was looking for the TV movie! I had to tell her: a.) it was never released on DVD (at least up to that point), and b.) the VHS copy has been out of print for years and by 2003, we wouldn't have carried VHS anyway.

Needless to say, she left the store quite unhappy.

rlaWTX said...

I've only seen the last one, and honestly didn't love it. Barely liked it. But I didn't see it until after it had been out for a bit (at the drive-in in Gatesville, TX) and was already a bit tired of the constant hype. And, I've never quite 'gotten' the fascination with the ship.

The Night to Remember sounds interesting, tho'.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Sorry to be so late today. My favorite ship disaster film is actually The Last Voyage and I always compare the effects in that one to the effects in Titanic. I understand they partially sank the ship to make Voyage and it shows in the on-ship scenes which are brilliant (but not in the "seen from a distance" scenes which are awful).

I think there is something really interesting about the idea of ships sinking. It makes for one of the most interesting challenges on film in fact -- as the water rushes to take you down with the ship.

I haven't seen all of the Titanic films you reference, but I am fascinated by the topic. In many ways, this is one of the most interesting moments in history because of the way the people acted -- some stupidly and some truly heroically. I am particularly fascinated by the band playing until the end. I see that as a heck of a statement -- it's like flipping the bird to fate.

Doc Whoa said...

Jed, Excellent article! I never realized there were so many Titanic films. I don't really have a favorite as I haven't seen enough of them to say for sure. So I guess I would need to say the 1997 version by default. My favorite ship disaster film is the original Poseidon Adventure.

I agree with the other comments too about this being a fascinating moment in history. So much for "unsinkable."

Doc Whoa said...

Scott, I did not know Best Buy ever hired anyone who knew anything about their products? ;D

ScottDS said...

Doc -

They don't. I was a notable exception. :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Doc, The Poseidon Adventure is good, but I tend to think of that as fantasy.

And speaking of something similar, there was a film in the 1980s (can't think of the name) where they found a ship that had sunk to the bottom and somehow the people on board survived and built a little society. It was an interesting show because the divers wanted to get them out of there, but their leader didn't want that. I would like to see that again because it sounds like an interesting premise, though in hindsight I can't see how they got air or food down there?

Doc Whoa said...

Scott, LOL!

Tennessee Jed said...

I got the Criterion DVD which has the same special features, Scott. Stanwyck and Wagner met on the set of Titanic, but I don't really know if they started their affair then. She was divorced from Robert Taylor, and I suppose he was something of a young cabin boy. :)

One of the reasons I have great respect for Cameron's film is that despite being SO OVER-HYPED, it really stood up quite well.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, The effects were really incredible in Titanic. I don't recall the soundtrack/score though.

In fact, I don't recall much about the film at all except for the effects.

Someone asked the other day whether or not this film still has the same impact today and I honestly can't say. It certainly doesn't seem as huge as it did at the time and I don't see it referenced very much in the culture, though it is on television quite a bit.


P.S. I agree with you and the Doc, Best Buy never seems to hire anyone who knows what they are talking about. I'm surprised they hired you!

Tennessee Jed said...

Ria - The fascination with the story of Titantic comes, I think, with some of the issues I tried to mention in my review. Remember, Hollywood was not on the radar at that time. So, the celebrities of their day were people like J.J. Astor, Guggenheim, The Weidners, etc. Forgetting politics for a moment, it would be like a natural disaster claiming the lives of DiCaprio, Cruise, Clint Eastwood, Meryl Streep, Phil Mickelson, Michael Jordon, and Greta Van Susteren.

I would actually suggest reading Walter Lord's book, but since this is a film site, I'll say see the movie :)

ScyFyterry said...

I would be very interested to see the 1958 version. I've never heard of it and it sounds like it would be good.

One thing I really did enjoy with the Cameron film was the introduction where you see them use the footage of the wreckage. That was chilling.

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

James Horner did the score for Titanic, reuniting with Cameron after a stressful working relationship on Aliens. It's a good score and I know you'd recognize it if you heard it... but I wouldn't call it a favorite score of mine.

I still see it parodied now and then but, like I implied above, we're so fractured as a culture, I'm not sure we're able to have those collective experiences again. And to think, we didn't have MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, or blogs back when the film came out!

Titanic might've been the last film I saw more than once in the theater - the first with a friend and the second time with my mom.

Tennessee Jed said...

Andrew - ah the old Robert Stack movie. I didn't know they sunk a ship in that one. It had eroded from my memory over time.

You are correct, one of the things that shocked everybody was that this ship was supposed to be "unsinkable" although White Star never claimed that to be the case. It was a reminder that man, despite his technical advances, is but a pissant in the overall scheme of nature. So many things had to come together for this to happen, that the what if's are legion.

Nobody knows what music was played last on the Titanic. At the inquiry, one of the seaman who manned a lifeboat claimed it was the "Nearer My God To Thee." this despite the fact he was in a lifeboat a half mile away. After that, as witnesses are want to do, everybody started saying that.

Walter Lord points out the problem. Americans knew the hymn only to the tune Bethany. Britishers also claimed it was played and yet they would only know it set to the tune Horbury. The band leader was the son of a Methodist minister and would have known it by Sullivan's (of Golbert and Sullivan) Apiori Deum setting. There is a webpage that has all three versions to listen to.

Many musicians of the era state they would not have played such a number, but rather would have played something more cheerful. The most reliable source is Harold Bride, assistant wireless operator. The musicians were playing right outside his room when he was released from duty. He claims they were playing the tune Autumn (which you could get by the White Star Orchestra on itunes) I have been in a Titanic museum which allows you to TRY and stand unaided on a wooden deck at the angle of the ship. It is hard to imagine how the musicians continued to play. The important thing is not what they played or when they stopped. What they did was brave and poignant.

Tennessee Jed said...

Doc - thanks! As I mentioned to Ed, if you see any, see a Night to Remember. Amazing stuff considering the time it was done. I think the fact Titanic was real is what so captured the public's imagination. It was, of course, the inspiration for Poseidon.

Tennessee Jed said...

Terry - my real interest in Titanic began in 1985 with Nationa Geographic's special on the Robert Ballard expedition that first located the wreck. My youngest son was just three or four at the time, and yet he was spellbound by it. We read everything we could get our hands on, and built a 3 foot long model. I think the way Cameron incorporated this into his screenplay was great.

To me, the score of Titanic is so much more than "My Heart Will Go On." But, I do find fascinating the album by the White Star Orchesra that features a bunch of tunes from the orchestra song book for White Star ships at that time. Takes you back in time!

Andrew - here is my take on whether the film seems all that big, or good. I had my two grand daughters aged 12 and 9 at the Titanic Museum. I was afraid they would be bored, so we screened Titanic in my theater for them. Not only did they eat up the movie and museum, the next night they MADE me do a replay. To me, that is powerful stuff.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I think the Titanic is an incredibly clear warning about human hubris -- thinking that we've reached the point where we've conquered nature, especially since it sank on it's first voyage.

I never thought about what the band actually played until you mentioned it and I guess I'm not surprised there would be some dispute. In any event, the really cool part is the defiance to fate they showed just by continuing to play. That's one of those moment like the 300 at Thermopylae that just makes you understand human will and human dignity.

On Voyage they used a French liner (can’t think of the name) and partially sank her. Then they raised the ship afterwards. That’s why the effects are so incredible – because they’re real.

DUQ said...

Jed, Very nice article. I've seen a couple of these and I read "A Night to Remember." That was an excellent book. My favorite Titanic "film" was the National Geographic special where they showed the wreckage and went into the ship's history.

CrisD said...

Hi Jed!
Nice account of the film history of the Titanic!
I grew up with Titanic (Webb/Stanwyck) and always loved it. A real 3 hanky.
When Cameron's came out, of course, like the rest of America, I swa it :) but I was a bit put off by Winslet/Caprio pairing. I felt she looked bigger than he did and so was not the romantic ideal. Also, I did not care for the love scene in the car. Just seemed embarrassing-can't say why-the drawing was awful, too. I draw and that looked like a modern commercial art drawing. Cameron could have taken a minute to make that more appropriate. because after all, it was a highly unlikely she would have posed.

I think I thought the one I grew up with was dignified.

I will try to find "A Night to Remember" . Can't believe I have never seen it!!!!

Tennessee Jed said...

It has been sooooo long since I saw that, it would be interesting to see it again for just that reason. Titanic is an interesting look at British society including class distinctions. Some of the more modern Titanic films tend to play up how poorly the steerage class was treated. Interestingly, the quarters and accomodations on Titanic were much better than they got at home.

Most of the men behaved incredibly gallantly. English honor required that males be willing to protect women and young children, up to and including willingness to die. Ismay is made out to look like a real coward, something the facts never really supported. The problem is that there was such disarray during the two hours that boats left only half full or less. Most women did NOT want to get in the boats. Would you want to be lowered over the side in a lifeboat in the North Atlantic at 31 degrees off au unsinkable ship? Particularly while being told, it's just a precaution. On one side there were not nearly as many people. One of the last boats is being lowered half full. Ismay is standing there with nobody else around. I'm not so sure I wouldn't have said to myself "hell if nobody else is using the seat, why not?"

Tennessee Jed said...

DUQ - I concur. Of course, I didn't include any of the various documentaries due to space limitations, but it was incredibly powerful. Don't know if you are aware, but after the Titanic was found, Lord did an updated sequel companion book titled "The Night Lives On." That, if anything, is even more interesting than the original. In fact, the whole "Nearer My Godd to Thee" vs. "Autumn" debate comes to light in the sequel.

Tennessee Jed said...

Cris - your point about the drawing is an excellent one. Supposedly Cameron himself drew that. It wouldn't surprise me because lack of a huge ego is not something Cameron has ever had to deal with. However, realistically speaking, a lady of means would probably not be posing nude for her steerage boyfriend. The whole car scene was probably done just to let the audience know that one car did make the voyage and go down with the ship ;)

I probably would not have paired Winslett with DiCaprio either, but can't say she didn't give it her all. Still, it is probably why "Night to Remember" stands as my favorite. It's kind of like a no bull, just facts version.

Tennessee Jed said...

Oh, and Cris - it has been written that the whole final scene in Webb/Stanwyck with the "Mormon Tabernacle Choir" singing as the ship foundered set off the modern interest in the story.

Tennessee Jed said...

I know a lot of folks at this site use netflicks and other streaming devices. I would assume it is readily available. The Criterion Collection is a fantastic transfer, whether in DVD or Blu-Ray

Tennessee Jed said...

Andrew - I got thinking about your thought; e.g. how big is this film today. Although I cannot say for certain, I think when the 100th anniversary comes in April, and Cameron releases his 3D, 2D Imax, and Blu=Ray versions, Titanic mania is "gonna run wild again' (apologies to Hulk Hagan.) Perhaps it is because of my age, and the fact my interest greatly precedes Cameron, but I think the human drama and hubris angles of this disaster are what makes for it's longevity.

I didn't have time to get into the what if's, but the fact that Titanic's wireless operator had told Califfornia's operator to get off and shut up . . . the fact that in a 1000 to 1 shot, the sea was like a sheet of glass which made spotting an iceberg nearly impossible, the fact a book had been written which detailed exactly what happened to Titanic before the disaster occured. These are the things, more than Cameron's marketing machine that makes the story remarkable.

I think Cris has such a valid point as to how Hollywood and modern audiences have changed. In the 1950's movies, there were no nude paintings, rapes or other sexcapades. That kind of thing barely existed at the end of the Victorian Age. But in moder tellings, directors must feel it is deregeur.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed,

That will be an interesting test to see how big the revived interest will be in the film. I wonder if it will be any good in 3D?

I think you're right that there is so much (besides marketing) which keeps this issue fresh in people's minds. It has in fact become synonymous with the word "disaster" even though there have been larger and more dramatic disasters. What makes this one so incredible is the sense that it could have been avoided by so many people in the chain. It's more dramatic than a movie in that way because every single step along the chain, someone could have prevented this... and yet they all failed.

Also, I think this incident really highlights the nobler parts of human nature. There was no depravity, no looting and no cowardice. People were put under incredible stress and they did the right thing. So not only is it fascinating how avoidable this was, but it's a moment that should make us all incredibly proud as humans.

(P.S. Need to leave for a while for, I'll be back later in the afternoon.)

tryanmax said...

The Titanic story carries a dual message, and that is what makes it so fascinating. One one hand, it serves as a warning against hubris as the cause of the disaster. On the other hand, it has immortalized noble gestures and heroic sacrifices exemplifying the best in human nature.

ScottDS said...

Jed -

Cameron did the Winslet drawing. Call it an ego thing but he is a talented artist - I've seen some of his artwork for the tech in Aliens and he's very good. :-)

In fact, the shots of Leo drawing in the film are shots of Cameron's hands.

Tennessee Jed said...

Tryanmax - I agree. It also points out the dichotemy of the English class system. On the one hand, it certainly tended to diminish the worth of people who were not of the upper class. And yet . . . . people who were born of the upper class were taught that with the privileges went great resonsibility and the need to act accordingly with honor.

Tennessee Jed said...

Scott - I don't dispute his talent. I can't know his specific motivation, but to Cris' point, the more I think about it, the liklihood of that actually happening between two people in their circumstance is quite small. So why put it in? Don't know, but by 1997, gotta have some nudity, right? Second, I can see him thinking Yeah, you bet your ass I'll put myself in." It certainly didn't ruin the film for me, but it was not among the things I liked best.

ScottDS said...

Fair enough. I have no problem with your issues with the scene itself - hell, you're probably right! :-)

TJ said...

I’ve always been fascinated by the Titanic tragedy and remember watching the special on TV when Robert Ballard and his team found the wreck. I have seen both the 1997 version and A Night to Remember (I have that book as well and read it every couple of years). I had not heard about “The Night Lives On”. I’ll have to give it a look. Thanks for the info Jed!

Tennessee Jed said...

Thanks, TJ - sounds like you are a kindred Titanic spirit! :)
"The Night Lives On" was published in 1986 right after the Ballard expedition. I actually like it even more than his first book. I imagine it is relatively accessible from Amazon, E-Bay or other online sources.

LawHawkRFD said...

Tennessee: Excellent in-depth review(s). I have four of the movies in my collections. I liked the drama best in the Stanwyck/Webb/Wagner Titanic and the telling best in A Night to Remember (which I had read before seeing the movie) For special effects, of course, the DiCaprio/Winslet version wins hands down, but I saw too much political-correctness and rich people/fascist crew intentionally blocking the exits of the wonderful poor folks in steerage. There was that in reality, but there was far more heroism and casting-off of class distinctions than the latter version portrays. It probably doesn't help that I can't stand the sight of Leonardo DiCaprio. LOL

Individualist said...

Hi Jed

Excellent Article!

I had heard that Oliver Stone and Dylon Avery (the director of Loose Change, 9/11) were supposed to collaborate on a project to retell the true sinking of the titanic but naturally were denied funds by the "Man".

I am not sure what the movie would be like but supposedly it was to reveal then President Howard Taft's secret plot to sink the ship and make it look like an Iceberg.

Not sure! Maybe we will see their version on Youtube.

Tennessee Jed said...

Hawk - in the criterion collection "A Night to Remember" commentary, they talk about how little evidence there was of any crew members intentionally holding back steerage other than one crewman early on. Considering the captain initially instructed the senior crew to keep things quiet to avoid panic, little wonder there was confusion and lack of consistency as to how the evacuation was carried out.

As you know, women from 1-3 class all were extremely reluctant to leave their husbands or families and the relative warmth, and light of the luxury ship, under-dressed in the bitter cold.

That said, it cannot be denied, the boat deck was closer to first class passenger quarters, and arguably the stewards more accustomed to providing first class service, and a smaller group that they served. As such, 1st class got a solid half hour start in evacuation. In steerage, generally people were patiently waiting for more instructions. Of course, it makes for good p.c. drama to play that aspect up to the hilt.

LawHawkRFD said...

Tennessee: I think that's a very good historical analysis.

Tennessee Jed said...

Another interesting aspect about the evacuation. Lightholler took the Women and Children first dictum to mean women and children only. That was not the case on the starboard side where men were permitted to get in if no other women were waiting.

The problem is, of course, a ship three football fields long and half a field wide under the most pressure packed circumstances. Not only that, the ship had only done minimal evacuation drill before hand, and it was the maiden voyage. Although there were plenty of experienced crew aboard, they were relatively unfamiliar with this ship.

Interestingly, the captain and crew were not really being negligent. They were doing what every other ship was doing. Titanic had only enough boats for half the people. That was more than any other ship and more than were required!!! This is how tragedy occurs. Complacency sets in, a freak set of occurences take place, and voila lesson learned the hard way.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed and TJ, My mother is fascinated by it too. She's got all kinds of books on it and even had a painting of the Titanic. I think a lot of people find the incident gripping for a lot of reasons. In fact, I can't think of many other events that have such broad interest continuing for so long.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I don't dispute his talent, I do dispute his politics though.

Tennessee Jed said...

Andrew - I don't blame your mom for being fascinated. I suspect we are probably similar in age. I wonder if she remembers the old 50's movies?

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I don't think so. She grew up in East Germany and didn't get to the US until the mid-1960s and she's never been a big television/movies fan.

But she has a LOT of books on the subject.

T-Rav said...

Crap, looks like I missed a great discussion!

Great rundown, Jed. I was big into Titanic stuff as a kid--guess that makes me a tad morbid--and it has always interested me. I haven't seen these, except of course for Cameron's film (and a snippet of the '96 TV production, which even at a glance did not impress me). I'm kind of ambivalent about his movie. On the one hand, the class-warfare stuff is more obvious to me now than it was then, and therefore more annoying; and the "Rose freeing herself from rich stuffiness" subplot was rather too cliche-ridden. On the other, the film clearly shows why Cameron is considered a master of cinematography; the visuals are just amazing, especially when the 1912 reproduction is overlaid with the wreck footage. And the final scenes are (for me, at least) genuinely intense and heartbreaking. I guess on balance I still like it, despite its flaws.

Tennessee Jed said...

Thanks, Rav - given what you have just said, I really do recommend you rent/download etc. "A Night to Remember." There is a little bit of the class thing in there, but that is because there is a little bit of the class thing in the Titanic disaster. What they don't do is sermonize or beat you over the head with it. The Clifton Webb Barbara Stanwyck production was true Hollywood production of that era. Highly romanticized and fairly inaccurate in it's details, it does go with the nobility of those who died in the way they stoically and nobly faced their death.

Tennessee Jed said...

Oh, and Rav - I don't think an interest in Titanic is morbid at all. One of the themes of the National Geographic specials (and even touched on by Cameron) is that some of the newer modern day 'explorers' are looking to cash in on it. That is all well and good if we remember that the wreck of the Titanic is actually a mass grave. A certain amount of respect and dignity is not out of place.

T-Rav said...

Jed, I'll put it on my "things to see" list. :-)

Like I said, on the whole I like Cameron's work on Titanic. In light of CGI-fests like Avatar, I especially like the fact that this movie involved actual set work. For example, for the depiction of the ship they built a half-size replica (no easy feet, considering the actual ship was almost 900 feet long), and for the flooding of the Grand Ballroom--well, they actually flooded the Grand Ballroom. What an idea, huh? And frankly, I didn't have a problem with Leo DiCaprio or the Jack-Rose romance. I thought they were both compelling characters, and he and Kate Winslet did a fine job. So while there's stuff to criticize, I do like it.

Incidentally, since you mention Lawrence Beesley, I have his book on the sinking, which I highly recommend. It defends a lot of the traditional scapegoats for the tragedy, and is useful for those who want to keep in mind the 1912 viewpoint on these events.

Tennessee Jed said...

Rav - the Beasley book is interesting, and one of the better resources on the subject. Sadly, they make him more of a class warrior in S.O.S. Titanic. Looking at different survivor accounts helps make one realize how the same events can be seen differently depending on where one was.

CrisD said...

ScottD-
I don't know if you are still on here but let me just say that I thought the drawing (by Cameron)itself was agood drawing--what I noticed was that it looked like someone who had modern training Its hard to tell you how I know this--it has to do with dimensions and the pencil strokes. You have to see drawings done by artists of the time. I know this would go right over the head of most people but it didn't suprise me totally that it was Cameron himself--it looked like straight off a modern day story board not like, for instance,a Thomas Eakin's drawing for an oil.
Anyway, Jed got my drift hokey paintng, hokey idea that she would have been seduced to do this. (maybe a successful painter on board with upper class???)

I think the idea is that the movie goer is under a spell by a movie and can get into it and overlook things. I found myself having to really try to overlook things. Especially that Billy Zane was not hot enough for the Winslet gal. Just kidding, but for girls, he was hot AND manly, not boyish like DiCaprio.

Tennessee Jed said...

hey Cris - you are right, the notion of modern technique would be lost on most of us. Look, Cameron went at the film trying to take aspects of all the predecessors. At it's heart (no pun intended) he went for a real romance. To that, he threw in a little p.c. class warfare, and tried hard to get most of the historical details correct.

Part of the issue for you, and at least a little for me, is that typically a romance like that one typically doesn't come to fruition that quickly in real life. Given the lasting Victorian morality in place in 1912, it would be even less likely to happen between a steerage passenger and a first class passenger. To help pull that off, he made the Billy Zane character over the top unlikable. But for most, they are willing to get drawn in and overlook that.

So what we have is a romanticized, unrealistic relationship contrasting with an otherwise extremely realistic depiction of an actual disaster. Now there is always the possibility that for some, the chemistry in a romance doesn't work. But my original take was that it is hard to come up with a fresh angle. While not perfect, I thought Cameron actually did that. Clearly, he wanted to make a blockbuster to recoup the huge unprecedented budget, and go down in history.

In order to do so, he wanted to have something for everybody. And in that regard, he certainly suceeded based on sales. Chick flick, action adventure, special effects, a little mystery. And in particular, I was So set up to be disappointed due to the hype, that I was pleasantly surprised.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, That's what you get when you try to have a life off the internet. Tsk tsk.

On Cameron, I can appreciate his technical ability, but not his storytelling ability or his politics.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed and T-Rav, I don't think it's morbid at all. History gives us a window into humanity and this is one of the most fascinating and dramatic windows we have to ourselves, our society and to an entire era. There is little else I can think of that presents such a crystal clear example of how humans respond to moments of crisis.

T-Rav said...

Robert Ballard, the man who discovered the Titanic's wreck and went on to explore the Lusitania, the Britannia, and other ships, wrote once that what fascinates us about these disasters is that they're an example of man being undone by his own technology and hubris. Many of these wrecks were caused by people who got careless with the sophisticated craft they were using, such as the Titanic being considered unsinkable and thus sailing through ice fields with not enough lifeboats and so on. I don't think that's all of it, but it's worth thinking about. Fortunately, of course, nothing like that could ever happen today.

Tennessee Jed said...

Oiginally, I wanted Andrew to post this in April at the 100th anniversary, but given what just happened in Italy, I think it appropriate and highly ironic we are discussing this right now. :)

Tennessee Jed said...

Andrew, I agree. The Titanic disaster is exactly that; a window into humanity at it's best and worst.

Tennessee Jed said...

thanks to all for a great discussion.

Anonymous said...

Just discovered this page---( bit late --what? )The Nazi film version of 1943 you refered to, was a recent subject on TV of a documentary, here in the UK. To my astonishment, it states that much footage from this film was used in the British 'A Night To Remember'. Well they kept that quiet. Scenes depicting the full view of the ship, and in particular, the sinking, were lifted straight from the Nazi film, which as you said, was intended to be a anti British Disaster movie, but was never shown because the war had taken a bad turn for the Nazis, and Goebels thought it might look more like a metaphor for their loosing the war, and not a bash at British Class snobbery etc. I watched the 1958 film today 15/04/2012, and it still looks good.

Tennessee Jed said...

Anonymous - thanks for your comments! Yes, the film by the Rank Organisation did use some footage from the German film. I think they might have used a couple of the boiler room scenes. For what it's worth, "A Night to Remember" is what I chose to screen last night in my own theatre on the actual 100th anniversary. The DVD and now Blu-Ray are part of the Criterion Collection. Only great films are chosen, and the telecine is always first rate. Hope you join us at Commentarama films. We are always looking for new people to join the discussion :)

Anonymous said...

It's fantastic.So great!!!I like it very much!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Thoough the color and big budget was great for the DiCaprio 1997 version, the blasphemy of using God's name in vain and the nudie scene (that didn't really need to be there) ruined it for me.
So I will take A Night to Remember as my first choice.
I wish they would colorize it though, as that would really add something special and make it much more vibrant.

The Rush Blog said...

I hate to say this, but even "A NIGHT TO REMEMBER" also had its share of flaws and historical mistakes.

Post a Comment