Titanic (1997)

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My only fond memory of Titanic is from a student exchange trip to Russia, when I saw a middle-aged Russian man rocking a Titanic-themed t-shirt plastered with Leonardo DiCaprio’s face.

Back when I was in high school, and this movie was all the rage, and Celine Dion was inescapable, and I was cynical of anything pop culture, I vowed to myself that I would never watch Titanic.  And until now, I’ve been able to keep that promise.

I knew the obvious plot points, of course – the boat sinking, the doomed love story, something about a naked drawing, old lady framing device.  I recognized some other random moments thanks to various parodies or references in other media, such as the Irish jig replicated in Battlestar Galactica or that episode of Futurama, or that other episode of Futurama.  But I finally had to see the whole film to truly appreciate how stupid it is.

You would think that a movie about a massive ship sinking would carry enough drama and gravitas on its own, but no:  this movie also has to add a ridiculous MacGuffin to explain why some guy would be sending submersibles to search the wreckage, and why a little old lady would travel by helicopter to the middle of the ocean to tell her granddaughter and a bunch of strangers about the time she lost her virginity.  What happened to the giant valuable diamond?  Who cares, because its existence and disposal is completely meaningless!

Right around the time a normal movie would be wrapping it up in time for the closing credits, the iceberg finally strikes.  Trivia point:  both in real life and on film, the impact took 37 seconds, which happens also to be the 37 seconds that I stopped paying attention.  I actually liked the way people mostly didn’t really get the severity of the situation for a while; that felt genuine based on every disaster I’ve been witness to.

But what didn’t feel genuine was the way Jack and Rose decide to go traipsing back and forth through flooded sections of the ship, completely impervious to the cold temperatures.  And the absurd gun fight when Billy Zane decides he’d much rather shoot Jack than hop in the lifeboat.  When the stern splits off from the bow and slams back into the ocean, the people on deck suffer little more than a faint shudder, because physics.  While I’m complaining about inanities, I’d also like to point out how stupid it is that a charcoal drawing survived 80 years in a waterlogged safe.

Did cold-hearted Bridget get emotional watching this film?  Okay, I’ll admit that I did – but it was when they showed all the second- and third-class passengers who clearly weren’t going to make it out alive, not when Jack was cheerfully turning himself into an icicle.

At least Rose finally gets to share her story of lost love.  “He exists only in my memory, which is why I like to imagine him looking like Leonardo DiCaprio.”

Thank God I took on this project, because otherwise I never would have experienced the pure face-palming that is Titanic.  And with that, gentle readers, I’m finished!  Next week, I’ll do a summary post or two, along with a ranking (of either the whole list, or maybe only part, depending on how lazy/busy I am.  Thanks for joining me on this journey!

 

Theme:  On a Boat

First Time Watching?  Yes

Final Verdict:  I have a sinking feeling…

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Cavalcade (1932/1933)

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I had to look up the word “cavalcade,” after spending the past eleven months wondering what the story was with this movie.  A cavalcade is a procession of people on horseback (or, in its presumably more recent usage, in vehicles).  Which makes sense in relationship with that other horsey word, cavalry.  It also clarifies the recurring shots of horses trotting along while the year flashes across the screen, though in this case the horse reference is more metaphorical.  Here, the years gallop past, and good luck keeping up.

The story focuses on two families – the wealthy Marryots, who live in a fancy London building, and their servants, the Bridges.  It opens on the turn of the century (that is, 1899), on the verge of the Boer War, which drives both upper and lower class men to enlist.  Over the course of the next two hours, their lives are seen through the lens of major world events:  Queen Victoria’s death, the sinking of the Titanic, World War I… well, that’s about it, really.

There’s a sense of grandiosity about this parade through history, in that way that is apparently inscribed in the Official Rulebook of Historical Reenactments.  Everybody talks about events in direct and ironic opposition to their reality, so we get people casually dismissing this big war as one that’ll last three months – six, tops.  Or the romantic couple that discusses their future aboard ship on their honeymoon, only to step away, revealing the name on the life preserver (spoiler alert:  it’s not the Queen Mary.  And side note, who would take a ship across the ocean for their honeymoon?).  Instead of personalizing the epic, this kind of stunt only seems to trivialize the lives of people who actually experienced world-altering events.

It’s hard not to think we’re living in high-stakes times at the present, which adds a sort of weight to looking back.  One thing that oddly stands out, though, is how quickly we forget what came before us.  I don’t know what the Boer War was about, for example.  I suppose it involved the Dutch, and the big battle they kept referring to at Mafeking seemed significant.  At the time of the film’s release, I’m sure its history was more present and relevant, but since then, we’ve had two world wars and several other significant national conflicts to push it back into the fog of history.  Today, we as a nation can’t even seem to see the errors of Nazi Germany, let alone the disputes from twice as long before that.  I don’t know if I should find that thought reassuring or terrifying.

The film concludes pretty much where it began, in the Marryot’s living room (convenient for the set designers) as they toast another new year, 1933, the very same year the film was released.  Nearly everyone else they knew had died, and they’re pretty old, but since they were the rich ones, they still have a lot to celebrate.  Their swanky mid-London castle, for example, probably hasn’t lost value even in the middle of the Depression.

Out of nowhere, there’s a bizarre cacophony of final images, nameless figures warning of the rise of communism and the loss of faith.  You could imagine a similar kind of punditry today, which suggests that this progress hasn’t harmed us too much overall, though nor has it improved our lives beyond reckoning.  Time marches on, whether on horseback or ocean liner, or in a tank, and we have only to look around us to watch the enormity of history claim us.

 

Theme:  Rotten

First Time Watching?  Yes

Final Verdict:  Seasick, hideously