The Titanic Movies
"Titanic is not just a cautionary tale - a myth, a parable a metaphor for the ills of mankind. It is also a story of faith, courage, sacrifice &, above all else, love." (James Cameron)
Consider, if you will, the disaster movie. What do we get from them? Is it a vicarious thrill in being able to live the story while in the theater and yet walk away without experiencing the actual pain and suffering, do we just want to want to watch people die, or is there something deeper? I'm sure that most of us have no desire to watch death for death's sake and I, in the case of Titanic, go to see history being re-enacted. Of course themes vary. "The Towering Inferno", "Posideon Adventure" and "Airport" were action-adventure films with no historical background. Titanic is real though and that is what we are here to discuss.
(Click on the movie poster to view the review!)
It all started in 1912 a few weeks after Titanic sank when Dorothy Gibson, an actress and Titanic survivor co-wrote and stared in the frst one. "Saved From The Titanic" was released May 14th 1912, just 29 days after the disaster. There was no live coverage of Titanic as we have today, there was no radio excepting wireless & no television. People's primary sources of information were the newspapers & that wonder of wonder the motion picture. Sadly no known copies of "Saved From The Titanic" exist today having suffered, I believe, the same fate as many great movies of the past in the breakdown of the silver nitrate process that developed them. It no doubt was a typical melodrama of the time & in that pre-sound era full of exaggerated gestures and overacting but would be an interesting bit of history.
The next addition to the soon to be ongoing saga of the ship was in 1915 from a company in Italy. Not much is know about this film but the fact it was made and a few of the names associated with it.
Time passed and Titanic was forgotten for the most part being eclipsed by the "war to end all wars", World War 1. The Lusitania sank in 18 minutes after taking a torpedo off the Old Head of Kinsale, Ireland. The battles of the Somne, the Marne, horrors like gas warfare and the trenches, the coming of the airplane into it's new role as a war machine all took their place in our minds. And let us not forget loss of so many innocent lives. Peace and prosperity followed till one dark day in November, 1929 when the stock market crashed and was followed by what we now know as the Great Depression. No time now for disaster movies (although "Atlantic" came out in 1930 but it was a higly fictionalized version and hardly rates as a Titanic movie even though it was based on the sinking) the public needed uplifting films to reassure them that happy days would indeed come again. Enter the Second World War, it seems that the "war to end all wars" had not taught us enough of a lesson and enter the latest weapon, propaganda. What better way to try to demoralize the Allies than with a disaster film? The German film industry by direction of the Nazi leaders produced "Titanic" of 1943." This was a terrible distortion of history in that it portrayed the British officers of the ship as cowards and only through the efforts of the one German officer on board (all the officers were British or Scottish) were those few people saved. It didn't work, we still won.
More years passed, the nation and the world had to rebuild itself and, taking a lesson from history, rebuild those who had been defeated. The time was approaching for Titanic to again take to the stage. 1953 and Hollywood produced what was to be the ground breaker for the movies to follow. "Titanic" starting Barbara Stanwyck and Clifton Webb played to good audiences and though hardly accurate it was a start. It was typical of the disaster movies of the 50's. No one really died, at least not right in front of you and the story was average, it could have been told in most any setting. Still it brought Titanic to the foreground and managed to win one Academy Award.
In 1955 Walter Lord published a book that was to re-kindle interest in the ship. "A Night to Remember" remains in print to this day and is still held in high regard by Titanic historians. The Rank Organization in England and producer William McQuitty realised that here was the book they needed for the proper telling of the story and bought the rights. By the time 1958 rolled around we were treated to "A Night to Remember" in the theaters. Told from the viewpoint of Second Officer C.H. Lightoller this movie was the standard by which to judge all movies of Titanic for almost 30 years. It also made popular the "docu-drama" though no one fully understood the concept then. Television was soon to join the parade in producing an episode of the popular program "You Are There" based on the book and it was a hit.
The next major Titanic film, "SOS Titanic" came about in 1979 and dealt with the sinking in a more realistic tone though there were a lot of the old myths revived to keep the plot interesting. Still it dealt with real people, the Astors, Lawrence Beasley and others who actually were on the ship. Names were assigned to passengers using the lists left us by the White Star Line and we came to know them in greater detail.
Aside of the myths the greatest failing in this film was the limited budget that made filming aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach California a necessity. Seeing the bridge of Titanic with a radar mast and searchlights just didn't quite feel right.
1985 Titanic was found. Dr Robert Ballard commanding a joint French-American
team discovered her remains on September first. Titanic fever seemed to grip
the world more with each journey to the wreck site. More evidence was
discovered of what life had been like aboard her and it was proved that the ship
had, indeed, broken in half.
By the mid 1990's the time was right for the next, and greatest of all Titanic films. In 1995 writer-director James Cameron started his deep dives to the Titanic to film the wreck. Penetrating deeper into the hull than anyone before and using special designed movie cameras he shot the beginning footage at the rate of 12 minutes per dive, all the film the cameras could hold. The parlour suite B-52,54,56 was filmed, J. Bruce Ismay had occupied these rooms during the voyage but they were to be used for others now. The bow was filmed in great detail as was the first class dining saloon and the enclosed promenade deck. The time for studio work was coming. A new studio was being built in Rosarito Beach Mexico, partly to film the upcoming spectacular as partly to created the largest deepwater tank on this continent for future films. Actor's contracts were being discussed, stunt people and extras were being hired and the time was at hand.
Filming started with a budget of 100 million dollars, the largest amount ever allotted to a film. Due to Cameron's great attention to and desire for detail this soon was depleted and more money was to be spent reaching a final total of near $200 million. The studios were concerned. If this film didn't succeed it would be a major financial setback to them, by release date they were convinced that if it paid back the $200 million investment they would be lucky. In December of 1997, "Titanic" was released to start a record breaking 8 month run in the theaters. The rest is history.
RMS TITANIC, as everyone now knows, will live on forever in films.