Why ‘Titanic’ is more than its Blockbuster Image

My first memory of Titanic is hazy albeit memorable. I vividly remember sitting in a dark movie theater next to my mom and dad; having my mom cover my eyes during Kate Winslet’s nude scene and of course, running out of said theater when the passengers starting falling to their deaths. Seriously though, can you blame me? Needless to say, I was not a fan. All throughout my childhood, I had a bad taste in my mouth whenever Titanic was mentioned.

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Scary shit for a five year-old, amiright?

But, that all changed on my thirteenth birthday. I excitedly unwrapped one of my presents, only to have my face fall when I realized it was Titanic. At first, I thought it was a joke. My dad, who was the one who gave it to me, told me I should give the film another chance. I chided him for buying me a dvd for a movie I’d never fully seen and probably wouldn’t like. He smiled, amused, and told me, “Don’t worry. You’ll like it.”

Since he’d gone to the trouble of buying it for me, the least I could do was watch it once before selling it back to the store. However, after watching it, I felt a little different. To say I was blown away by the movie would be a gigantic understatement. I think it was really the first time I had seen what film as a medium was capable of – the scale of it. Now, I know some people reading this will think that’s trite and say, “Oh, a girl who likes Titanic. Big Whoop.” This public opinion is exactly the reason I shied away from the film initially.

That summer, I became a little obsessed…meaning I watched the film constantly, ate up the special features, and sang “My Heart Will Go On” over and over and over again. I think I became a little hard to live with quite honestly. I know my brothers won’t forgive me for how annoying I was during that time. But, even though I went a little off the deep end at thirteen, I’m tired of people discounting the film as some cheesy romance film that only girls like.

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I mean, some of the lines are excessively cheesy. Not that I don’t love them despite their cheesiness…

This film is an old school epic, on par with Gone with the Wind, which to this day, is still the top grossing film of all time. These films just don’t get made anymore. Titanic was made to appeal to a wide audience, not a specialized one. James Cameron is said to have pitched the film as Romeo & Juliet aboard the Titanic. After I became obsessed with the film, I read quite a bit about the real-life disaster which happened in April of 1912. The heart-wrenching stories I read astounded me. James Cameron could’ve used any one of them as a basis for the story, but he instead, decided to create fictional characters – which is sort of genius. He personalized the tragedy and was given full liberty to make the characters be and say whatever he wanted them to.

If you’ve never seen the film, here are just a few reasons you should look past its blockbuster reputation…

THE MUSIC. 

Let me just reiterate. The late James Horner’s sweeping score brings the film to life. I had the score on CD for a while and would routinely listen to it and relive my favorite moments in the film. The music is inextricable from the film. Just as an example…

THE CAST.

Though you’ll hear many say the opposite, I believe Titanic’s enormous success was all about the strength of their cast. Starting with its young leads, Kate Winslet and Leonardo Dicaprio (who just finally won an Oscar! Yay Leo!) and rounding itself out with character actors Billy Zane, Kathy Bates, Frances Fisher, Titanic made you believe in the characters and the story. It sounds strange to call Titanic fun, but that’s exactly what it was. The chemistry they had made the cheesy lines charming.

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THE SETS.

Beyond the charming nature of the film’s cast, what makes this film believable is the detail with which this world was built. It’s of course well known that the film was very expensive and that it went WAY over budget. In most cases, I would say that big budget films spending the kind of money Titanic spent is egregious. But, in Titanic‘s case, you can see where the extra money went and it really does make a difference. Even though I knew it was fake, the beauty of the costumes and sets, made me forget, if only for a moment, that I was watching a movie.

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THE STORY.

Okay, now before you get too excited, obviously the film is clichéd. I’m not going to sit here and lie to you. But, I do think that although it was calculated, the film was also charming and relatable. Rose’s predicament, while being something that could have been the premise of a romance novel, was something we all could feel. When she tries to jump off the side, we all feel her pain. But, really, I look at it as a story about a young girl who is changed by an event – obviously what she goes through is terrible, but she comes out the other side a stronger person and she lives a full life.

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I still get scared watching Rose look down at the water!

Also, I love how the film comments on the class system in the era and especially how class affected the people in this tragedy. Most 3rd class passengers never even had a chance to get off the boat.

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So slimy!

THE ROMANCE.

Okay, so it’s cheesy. That doesn’t mean it’s not good. One of my first crushes was Jack Dawson and I’m not ashamed to say so. I feel like I can let these gifs explain. Let the nostalgia wash over you…

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If you’ve never seen it, your life is about to change. I think there is something for everyone in this film and I love changing the minds of my friends who think it’s nothing more than a cheesy love story.

My love for this movie will go on and on…too cheesy?

Vintage trailer below:

 

The Red Shoes: The Quintessential Ballet Film

Last night, something rare and wonderful happened. My little brother decided to let me show him a movie of my choosing. If you knew my family and our film craziness, you’d know just how rare it really is. I decided to show him a film which inspired me when I first saw it and with that in mind, here’s a little background on how I was originally introduced to the film.

Years ago, I saw a documentary called A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese through American Movies. Prolific fimmaker Martin Scorsese talks about all the films that inspired him when he was young, the films and artists that made him fall in love with movies. One of the films he talked about was Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Red Shoes. It was only shown for a moment in the documentary but I knew I had to see it.

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As Roger Ebert explains in his review of the 1948 film, The Red Shoes is really an amalgam of two kinds of stories. Powell and Pressburger melded multiple genres to create something truly original and daring, especially for the time it was made in.

“One story could be a Hollywood musical: A young ballerina falls in love with the composer of the ballet that makes her an overnight star. The other story is darker and more guarded. It involves the impresario who runs the ballet company, who demands loyalty and obedience, who is enraged when the young people get married” (Ebert 2005).

Moira Shearer turned down the role for a year before giving in. She was just starting out as a ballet dancer and didn’t want her reputation to be tarnished by the film. However, she ended up giving in and although the process of making the film was apparently arduous, the film has gone on to be considered a revered classic of British cinema.

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Personally, I tend to be drawn to dialogue and storytelling over the visual nature of a film. But, I have to say The Red Shoes is all about the visual. What stuck with me after I saw it were images and the glorious color that just doesn’t exist anymore. There was fluidity and beauty is every shot. Now, I understand, that much of the credit for that goes to the prolific cinematographer of the film, Jack Cardiff.

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It is said that this film inspired a generation of young girls to become ballerinas. I can see why to some extent, but I also feel that, had I seen this as a young girl, it would deter me from dancing professionally. While it doesn’t take as harsh a view as Darren Aronovsky’s 2010 film, Black Swan, it doesn’t paint a pretty picture of the sacrifices it takes to make it as a ballerina. The film purports to say that you can have love or art, but not both. Never both.

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Another aspect of the film which interested me as a teenager was the character of Lermontov played by Anton Walbrook. He was interesting because he wasn’t simple. There was obviously jealousy and resentment and possessiveness of Victoria Page (Moira Shearer) but it wasn’t clear why. It wasn’t romantic. I interpreted it as almost as a jealousy of Victoria being able to have everything she wanted: both love and a great artistic career. Maybe it was something he wanted to have earlier in life, but couldn’t. It isn’t clear.

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For me, a great film inspires conversation. Whether it be about the story or the cinematography or the acting or the dancing is not important. Someone created something which made you think. I think there is something for everyone to appreciate in this film. It certainly has stuck with me over the years. We’re just lucky that Scorsese championed the restoration of this film so that it can still be seen in all its beauty 68 years after it was made.

Vintage trailer below:

Added tidbit: Thelma Schoonmaker, Scorsese’s editor throughout his long career, was actually married to Michael Powell. Scorsese met him through a publicist and introduced the pair. Sadly, they were only married a few years before Powell’s death in 1990.