' ' Cinema Romantico: This One Ain't Sinkin'

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

This One Ain't Sinkin'

Recently Cinema Romantico has come under intense fire for being a fan of "Titanic" (or, as it's known in some circles, The Most Successful Movie of All Time). Opponents of the film point out its presence in Cinema Romantico's DVD collection and cackle which leads to more cackling from the people the opponents of the film have pointed it out to.

Well, Cinema Romantico is fed up.

I'll say right now what I say when all this cackling is going on - I'll defend "Titanic" until the day I die. And I will defend it today. So make yourself a sandwich, boys and girls, and perhaps pour yourself a crisp pale ale, because we're gonna' be here awhile.

I could gush for days regarding writer/director James Cameron's fantastic storytelling ability, how every piece in the script is crafted to fit its place and how he somehow manages to make the sinking feel as if its happening in real time and how he brilliantly chose to show a computer recreation of said sinking at the beginning so that image could hover over everything that follows. But rather than discuss all that I'd like to discuss something else instead.

"Titanic" is my generation's "Gone With the Wind".

That may sound like hyperbole, the ridiculous espousing of a passionate fan enraged by idiots who don't know a work of art when they see one. But it is not hyperbole. In fact, it could not be farther from it. Think about it. Each film is a passionate romance set against the backdrop of a significant historical event. Each film is about a fairly one-dimensional male hero (Rhett Butler, Jack Dawson) assissting in the salvation of a more complex female heroine (Scarlett O'Hara, Rose DeWitt Bukater). Each film features several fantastic setpieces (the burning of Atlanta, the ship sinking).

In this day and age "epic" movies are becoming much rarer. There are "big" movies, sure, but there are hardly any movies with "sweep", which is to say there are hardly any movies that "sweep" you away to a specific time and place. Everything nowadays leaves you feeling detached. Whereas when you watch "Gone With the Wind" you feel like you're at Tara and Sherman is marching toward you and you need to get the hell outta' there. Likewise during "Titanic" you feel as if you're on the ship and it's going down and you need to get the hell off it.

Did anyone during "Superman Returns" feel like they were in Metropolis? Didn't think so.

I have no doubt much of this stems from the fact that we live in such an ironic world. Everything has to comment on what came before it. A film homage is never simply an homage. It wants you to know it's an homage.

I felt a majestic rush as I watched "Kill Bill Volume 1" but it was a different kind of rush. The film was clearly a nod to Quentin Tarantino's love of kung-fu, chop-socky films. The same is true of the blockbuster "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies which were clearly aware of the existence of swashbuckler movies. The aforementioned films knew they took place within a certain cinematic universe. Therefore I never felt that I was right there with The Bride as she, say, dispatched The Crazy 88's. I was more detatched. But in "Titanic" I felt like I was right there with Rose as she dashed through the empty hallways of the ship searching for someone, anyone to help her free Jack from those dastardly handcuffs.

"Titanic" is a throwback to the big budget spectacles of the 30's and 40's but it's not trying to comment on those films. It is one of those films.

I recall watching Bogie and Bacall in "To Have and Have Not" and my fellow viewer kept commenting on the "awful" dialogue. But it's not awful. It's just different from the dialogue we've been conditioned to expect in today's movies. Now dialogue must be one of two things, 1.) Staggeringly real or 2.) Uproariously self-aware. On these terms the dialogue of "Titanic" is terrible. (Admittedly, some of the dialogue is just plain terrible regardless of the terms. "It's like being inside a dream or something. There's truth but no logic." But I digress.) But the dialogue in "Titanic" isn't asking to be taken on modern-day terms. It's corny, yes, but so was the dialogue in "Gone With the Wind".

Scarlett: "Oh, Rhett! Please, don't go! You can't leave me! I'll never forgive you!"
Rhett: "I'm not asking you to forgive me. I'll never understand or forgive myself. But there's one thing I do know. And that is that I love you, Scarlett. In spite of you and me and the whole silly world going to pieces around us, I love you."

Rose: "When the ship docks I'm getting off with you."
Jack: "This is crazy."
Rose: "I know. It doesn't make any sense. That's why I trust it."

Who talks like that in real life, you ask? No one, of course, and that's the damn point. In the 30's and 40's they had no interest in capturing the way people talked in real life onscreen. Neither does "Titanic". They wanted it to be hokey and over the top and because it is you leave the theater wishing you could be as unabashedbly romantic as what you just saw onscreen. You want to be able to tell a woman for whom you pine that she needs "to be kissed" just as Rhett told Scarlett. You want to be able to ask the girl for whom you pine if she wants "to go to a real party?" and then take her below decks for some booze and Irish music.

Now to this point I haven't even discussed what my friend Dan recently termed The Winslet Factor. This is in reference, of course, to the fact Rose was played by our greatest working actress (i.e. Kate Winslet). Despite all the attention heaped on Leo (i.e. Leonardo DiCaprio) during the movie's phenomenal run it was - as I've written before - Winslet who made the whole enterprise work.

James Cameron asked a lot of the actress playing Rose. She has to go from being a "spoiled little brat" (as Jack says) to a young woman living for the first time to someone who gives up everything she has for someone she loves to a full-fledged young woman, and all in three days while running around a sinking ship a hefty portion of the time. But it has to feel gradual, not rushed, and we have to buy into the change or else we don't buy into anything else.

Remember the scene where she and Jack meet? Where she's hanging off the back railing of the ship and threatening to jump and then Jack comes along and talks her out of doing it? As written, it's tricky to play. Part of the problem is Cameron writes what the scene itself should have simply said - "You would've done it already". But Winslet still expresses that notion. Up until this point we've seen Rose being so prim and proper, a young adult. And here, clinging to the rail, tears streaking her face, we see what she really is - a confused, young girl. This is Rose's cry for help that no one but Jack sees. If we don't see it as a cry for help then it's merely a Meet Cute and the romantic story starts out behind in the count. But Winslet doesn't let that happen.

And I haven't even mentioned the scene which all by its lonesome should have won her the Best Actress Oscar. Rose's evil fiance and her mother are trying to shepherd her into a lifeboat but she refuses to go, knowing she must go find Jack (who is locked up far below deck) instead. She pauses for a moment and then says, "Goodbye, mother." Look at her face as she says this. That's acting! In that flash of a moment she has to show us that she's not merely Love Interest #1 going after Love Interest #2. She has to show us she's choosing to leave behind her mother (even if her mother is kind of a bitch) and all her belongings and all her social status can afford her and even her plethora of fabulous clothes to risk her life on a sinking ship to save the life of a struggling artist she met a couple days ago because she loves him.

If "Titanic" is my generation's "Gone With the Wind", and we've already established that it is, then Rose DeWitt Bukater is my generation's Scarlett O'Hara. (Rose entering New York Harbor and looking up at the Statue of Liberty is essentially her "tomorrow is another day" moment.)

The next time you may happen to watch it (and I encourage you to) I would suggest turning in your irony card at the door. Let yourself go, people. Admittedly, the movie is a cornball love story. But it's a genuine cornball love story. There is not a hint of pretense.

Maybe I'm in the minority but I'm tired of the artifice. I'm tired of empty mechanics posing as plot. I'm tired of "big" movies. I want sincerity. I want films that stir my emotions. I want movies that "sweep" me away. And if you do too, you should want more films like "Titanic".

Otherwise, you can go watch the new Michael Bay movie on July 4th.


Wretched Genius said...

I'd just like to take this moment to point out that I was never one of the people who laughed at you. I love the movie, and agree with every word you've written. Now if only the U.S. had been given the complete 4-disc Collector's Edition DVD that Europe received, rather than the paltry 3-disc edition.

Rory Larry said...

Are you saying "Transformers" won't be as sweeping and epic as "Titanic"? They're Robots in disguise, they're more than meets the eye. I'll assume you must have been mistaken.

The Fab Miss B said...

I just recently watched this movie again, and I do agree with your point about this movie lacking pretense. It does a lot to bring you close to what it must have felt like to be there on the ship. But some of that dialogue...oy vey! But to sweep the Oscars that year? Better than As Good as It Gets and L.A Confidential? Really?

Anonymous said...

To Wretched Genius, I do indeed know you to be a long time supporter of this film. And I appreciate your support. I was also unaware of a 4 Disc DVD. We DO need to get this released over here.

To rory larry, your assumption is incorrect.

To Miss B, As Good As It Gets was overrated tripe. LA Confidential had an ending even more hideous than Spring Forward. They aren't even in the same class. And Helen Hunt? Best Actress over Kate Winslet? That alone merits another 15,000 word blog entry.

Anonymous said...

I drove 3 hours to see her.

We had dinner.

We sat down to watch a movie.

She chooses "Titanic."

She then sits on the floor, studying for her nurse-practicioner (sp?) tests.

I am forced to watch "Titanic" without even getting to make out, which was the only reason I wanted to watch it.

This movie was crap, and it went on for years.

At least "As Good as it Gets" was mildly entertaining and made me laugh. The only good part of this movie was Kathy Bates, and I kept waiting for her to hit someone with a sledge hammer, but alas.

Also, they completely ignored the fact that President Bush had the Titanic torpedoed to justify his unjust war and destroy the constitution. Damned neo-con media, towing the company line.