Titanic Remembered

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Last week was the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic. At her launch, she represented a new, golden age of science and technology, luxury and opportunity. She was an unprecedented monument to man’s greatness… but only for five days. James Cameron’s 1997 film, technically groundbreaking though it was, emphasized the pride of enlightened humanism while ignoring the true lessons of history, and turned a true story of heroism into groundless class warfare.

According to Paula Parisi’s gushing book Titanic and the Making of James Cameron, the director would actually go out of his way to enforce the brutish behavior of his cast. “Stop helping people,” she quotes Cameron barking on the water-logged sinking set. “I hate that. it’s every man for himself.” Despite being overbearingly demanding in his pursuit of the physical accuracy of costumes, props, and sets, James Cameron would chastise extras for modeling the very sacrificial character that made the actual sinking of the ship iconic.

The legacy left by the Titanic and her passengers is much bigger than mere records broken by a gigantic ocean liner or a gargantuan Hollywood blockbuster. The cultural impact and character lessons of this event should not be forgotten or ignored. Last week The Vision Forum put on a centennial celebration of the lives and examples of those who lived and died, underscoring the Christian principles that we should remember.

Also, a very important article just went up on the Western Conservatory website, entitled “What Lifeboats and Grief Ships Can Teach Modern Americans,” by Geoffrey Botkin. It puts the event and its fallout in the context of the hundred years that have followed, and underscores why we remember.

I don’t have much to add, but I was able to finish these two paintings in time for the Centennial. The sunrise painting shows the Titanic as the symbol of modernism at the dawn of the 20th century, and the wreck painting shows her as a monument to entropy. In continuing my study-through-forgery art experiments, I attempted to imitate the work of oceanographer, historian, explorer, and ship artist extraordinare Ken Marschall.

Since ocean liners with such flowing lines are tricky objects to draw, and cracked and buckled ocean liners are brutally difficult to capture the with proper perspective, I bought a rough 3D model and tried to rebuild it to match blueprints and wreck photos and experimented with camera angles in Lightwave. As I began painting the details and rust and lighting, I decided that I didn’t want to destroy her to the extent that she has corroded today.

Ken Marschall has painted the definitive pictures of the wreck as it was discovered in 1986, and the photos from the recent National Geographic expedition for the 100th anniversary show extensive deterioration even since then. I didn’t want to paint millions of rusticles, and I really didn’t want to corrode so much of the details and paint of the bow section. And so, my final painting is a semi-educated guess as to what the R.M.S. Titanic might have looked like in 1962, at the 50th anniversary of her sinking.

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  1. Beautiful work, Isaac. And good thoughts contrasting the filmic “painting” by Cameron with what actually happened.

  2. Nice work.

    How many hours did you work on it?

    - John-Mark
  3. Great work!

    Do you have any book or other resource recommendations on painting?

  4. I’m not trying to promote James Cameron, at all. But something to realize is that in any type of story you need to have conflict. Otherwise it’s not really a story at all. There has to be struggle and conflict to keep the audience engaged to the film. What I’m been wondering is if you took away the struggle for survival, what would the story be about. You might say well the characters could still try to survive, but the problem is that the stakes wouldn’t be very high. There is a strong possility Titanic where everyone is trying to help each other would turn into a soap opera from the 80’s. So has anyone heard of any ideas on how to retain conflict in the story while having everyone trying to help each other on the Titanic?

    - Ben
    1. There are two answers to your question. The first is that there are many ways to add conflict to the disaster without stooping to mere man vs. man squabbling, and I think all of them are considerably more dramatic, especially since having random mobs of anonymous extras fighting in the background doesn’t actually add conflict, only action. Check out the 1958 film “A Night to Remember” for a very effective and more accurate take on the story. The scenes that Cameron should have tackled are the much bigger man vs. situation or man vs. self conflicts.

      At the end of the day, the people brawling on the deck over who falls into the water first is dull. We don’t know who most of them are, but we do know that they’re all doomed anyway. The audience could have been asking questions like “Will these men who have so arrogantly endangered so many lives in this unsinkable ship redeem themselves by honorably making the ultimate sacrifice?” Or, “Will the crew in the boiler rooms keep the pumps running long enough to launch all the lifeboats?” Or, “Will the captain of the Californian wimp out, or come to the rescue?” All much more gut-wrenching conflicts than, “Will Leo manage to fight his way through enough panicking, faceless characters to die in the water?”

      The second answer is that we can’t rewrite history in the interests of punching up a story, especially when it means actively slandering the legacies of dead men and denying the truth. That is never acceptable, even if it makes the story more interesting to us personally. If a historical event is honestly too to boring to retell accurately, then tell some other story and don’t lie about the lives of real people or, even worse, misrepresent God’s hand in history.

  5. “Will Leo manage to fight his way through enough panicking, faceless characters to die in the water?”
    Is this the leading character? I think the actual goal was to save the leading lady from her ex-boyfriend. Showing the way Leo died was part of the story, but not the goal the main character is working towards. (I do know it is still argued by writers who the MC is in Titantic.)

    Thank you for answering my question I have heard people complain about the movie, but never have I heard ways to make conflict. All I have heard is galantry, heroic actions, and dramatic monolouges. The problem with that is there is no question in the mind of the audience on what the characters will choose to do. Of course they will do what is good. Since there is no contrast the right thing looks natural and probable. I think in order to see something as light there has to be darkness to compare it to. For example if everyone is kind in a movie, it wouldn’t be very noticable if someone is kind. Because everyone else is doing it to.

    “If a historical event is honestly too to boring to retell accurately” True, but there is the possility of the movie be boring and predictable. Especially if the audience will already have a large knowledge of what happens. There are still ways to keeping the story truthful and make surprising at the same time. However I do think you want to show a new spin to the story. Show it differently then people have shown/told it before. I think Apollo 13 is the best example I’ve seen about that. I would agree dishonering real people that is not right, but there things that the writer will have to make up in order to complete the script. Dialouge, locations, events that happen to the character in order to show the audience things about what is happening inside the characters. Unless you are making a documentry.

    - Ben
  6. I’ve been thinking more about what you wrote. So, would you be ok with the actions of the travelers, and crew if James Cameroon’s film was called the Litantic? Taking away the historical part of the film.

    - Ben
    1. Well, it would still be inaccurate to portray adults of the 1910s talking and acting like postmodern 1990s kids, but yes, a fictional ship with fictional passengers is much, much less problematic than showing men like Smith, Lightoller, and Murdoch doing things that completely go against the historical record. That said, I would like emphasize that historical revisionism is not the movie’s only problem. James Cameron communicates a number of destructive messages in Titanic, and nearly all of them would still be there even if it were set on a fictional modern day cruise liner. And it would still be badly written.

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