Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Happy Anniversary Titanic...

15 April was yet another one of these hundred year anniversaries that so fascinates the public and the media who want to sell product to a fascinated public. 15 April 2012, of course, was the hundredth year anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic in the Atlantic Ocean and the Western media have been full of stories about the ship, its tragic fate, and fictional representations of the ship, its crew, and its passengers and their fate as it sailed toward its tragic fate.

One of the fictional representations of the Titanic that debuted this April and which has gotten a lot of attention, is Julian Fellowes', yes the Julian Fellowes of "Gosford Park" and "Downton Abbey" fame, "Titanic" miniseries that ran on Global in Canada, ITV in the UK, and ABC in the US. Critical judgement of this "miniseries" has by and large been underwhelming, too many stories attempting to be told, too much focus on class, not as good in comparison to James Cameron's 1997 and recently re-released in 3D Titanic, have been the major complaints of media and internet critics.

I recently started watching Fellowes's "Titanic" on the ABC.com website. And apart from the annoyances of advertisements louder than the audio of the show itself, advertisements that are poorly timed, advertisements breaks that are poorly done, two of the plagues of watching films and TV shows online, Fellowes's "Titanic" actually grew on me. It took me awhile to get into the series but Fellowes's telling of the tale of the Titanic tragedy from the several different vantage points of passengers and members of the crew, all representing different classes, over four episodes proved really fascinating and, in the end, quite compelling to me.

As to Cameron's "Titanic", I never found his $200 million dollar plus play toy version of the Titanic tragedy particularly compelling. Rather I found it representative of everything that is wrong with Hollywood. Cameron's "Titanic" is film making by the demographic numbers. You have Leonardo and Kate for the tweens, the ship for the technonerds, Kathy Bates for the adults who like their Americans boisterous, wild westy, and dismissive of Old Europe's class system, the disaster for the dudes who love their films action adventurery, and lots of money spent (while poverty continues to bring suffering to those without access to big Hollywood budgets) for those who think that special effects are the only aspect of a movie that matters. Yech. Of course, this film making by the demographic numbers and drawing as many demographic groups as possible into the suburban movie less than palaces was presumably the only way Cameron and his big money men could recover and expand on their investments. Commodity aestheticism, the Hollywood way. Yech squared.

In the end I enjoyed Fellowes's "Titanic". I found only the historical and special effects aspects of Cameron's "Titanic" (the reconstruction of the ship and its sinking) interesting. Neither Fellowes's nor Cameron's Titanic dramas, melodramas, and tragedies, however, have made me change my mind that the greatest of the Titanic tales on film is the superb "Night to Remember" from 1958 (now available on DVD and Blue Ray from Criterion). Fellowes's version with its narrative ingenuity, a narrative ingenuity confusing, I think, to many viewers socialised to believe that the only real narrative is a linear narrative, was an honourable if overly romanticised effort. And that is much more than one can say for Cameron's linear manichean tween weepie in which what little characterisation there is, is lost amidst the orgiastic spectacle of special effects.

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