Friday, March 6, 2015

Titanic (Best Picture 1997)

Do you think you know the story of Titanic? (Who reading this has not actually seen Titanic yet? A show of hands, please.) I can sum up this film in five sentences, so pay close attention if you don't want to commit to three plus hours of Leo DiCaprio: A rich girl meets a poor boy. She fights against falling in love with him, eventually succumbs. They are on a cruise liner which hits an iceberg and sinks. She lives, but he doesn't. When she is nearly 100 years old she returns to where the ship is buried and dies.

Anyone who thinks this film is actually about the RMS Titanic tragedy hasn't actually seen the film. In fact, there is more fiction about this so-called "true story" than there are established facts. As an amateur historian, this bothers me every time I see it. I want more about actual survivors Col. Archibald Gracie, or young Jack Thayer, or the radio operator Harold Bride, and less of Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. The way the story unfolds here, the actual victims of the tragedy become extras in their own story. In other words, I prefer the 1958 film A Night To Remember, or even the 1953 film Titanic (with Barbara Stanwyck). It's fictionalized, too, but it's LESS.

 Director James Cameron does an expert job of manipulating us, and he starts immediately. The story starts at the actual wreck of Titanic, but then scenes filmed in a water tank are edited in to show how Bill Pullman is searching for the missing diamond. Cameron hooks us into believing what we are seeing is real, even though everything we see from here on in is absolutely NOT real.

However, there is no sense in whining about what this film isn't. The epic scale of the film is hard to deny. The ship set is absolutely believable, for one thing. Even though some computer graphics are obviously used, there are equally obvious opulent sets for the stairwell, the engine room, the dining room, and the passenger suites. The costumes are likewise extravagantly beautiful.
Here are a few random scenes or incidents I noticed while watching Titanic:

Why in the world would the deep-sea divers ask Rose to visit them and tell them her story? They are being paid to search for the diamond, not sit around listening to an old lady.

Rose's fiancee Cal criticizes Picasso, and Bruce Ismay criticizes Sigmund Freud. This is to show how stupid they are, but it's lazy writing.

The extended scene where Jack saves Rose from jumping is probably the best scene in the film. Their conversation the next day is also fun. Kate Winslet as Rose is adorable as a girl trying not to fall in love. Leo DiCaprio, in contrast, is just too good to be true. It's not a surprise that Winslet was nominated for Best Actress, but DiCaprio was not nominated for Best Actor.
The comparison between how the First Class patrons and Steerage patrons enjoy themselves differently is fun.

On Sunday morning Cal tells Rose, "You didn't come to me last night." Pre-marital sex in 1912? Or is this more evidence of Cal's boorishness?
The whole scene where Jack tells Rose that "only you can save yourself" is totally a phrase from the New Age Female Empowerment movement. It's a great sentiment, but I find it hard to believe that a character would actually say this in 1912.
The scenes immediately following the crash, after the crew realizes that they are doomed, are the most dramatic and well done in the film. Victor Garber as the ship's builder and Bernard Hill as Captain Smith are especially good at portraying the sense of doom. Officers Murdoch and Lightoller also stand out among the crew as they try their best to face death heroically. In fact, watching the staff, crew, and orchestra deal with the tragedy brings a tear to my eye every time I watch them.

According to the story, Rose never told her husband about Jack. And she never tried to sell the diamond, even after Cal had died. I find that hard to believe, especially because she arrived in the United States absolutely penniless.
I liked that Rose's photographs on her night-stand show her doing all the things she promised Jack that she would try to do, including horse-riding (not side-saddle!) and airplane piloting.

The music by James Horner is fantastic. He took old-fashioned Irish melodies and weaved them into a memorable sound-track. Celine Dion's single "My Heart Will Go On," was over-played at the time, but now when I hear it it strikes a definite chord. Both his score and the single won Academy Awards.

Titanic won eleven Academy Awards out of its fourteen nominations. What it did NOT win was Best Actress (Winslet), Best Supporting Actress (Gloria Stuart as Old Rose), and Best Make-Up (Men in Black won). It was not nominated for Best Actor or for Best Screenplay. (There is a drinking game where in the last hour or so one team drinks every time "Jack!" is shouted, and the other team drinks every time "Rose!" is shouted. So...yeah.)
If you have not seen this yet, you probably the same way you should probably see, say, Gone With The Wind or The Godfather. Titanic is a cultural experience as much as a film, and even if the film is not as great or even as factual as it could have been, there are worse ways to spend three hours.

*Academy Award Best Picture of 1997*
Produced by James Cameron & Jon Landau
Written and Directed by James Cameron

This is the UK trailer, I think...?
The only other one I could find was 4 minutes long.
This one at half that shows you everything you need to know.

Also Nominated:
(in alphabetical order)
As Good As It Gets
The Full Monty
Good Will Hunting
LA Confidential
This is an odd assortment of nominees that I actually managed to see the year they came out. As Good As It Gets is probably the thematic opposite of Titanic, with a cast of about a dozen people. Helen Hunt plays a struggling waitress who eventually falls for manic-depressive Jack Nicholson. She won Best Actress, he Best Actor. The Full Monty is the dramatic comedy about a group of unemployed British steel-workers who cobble together a male strip-tease in order to make money. Good Will Hunting is the drama written by Ben Affleck and co-star Matt Damon about the young genius. They won Best Screenplay, and Robin Williams won Best Supporting Actor. And LA Confidential is a mystery drama about police corruption in 1940s Hollywood. Kim Basinger won Best Supporting Actress for her role as a Silver Screen idol and possible prostitute.

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