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Ed Driscoll

‘I Don’t Think I’ll Ever Feel Sure Again About Anything’

September 30th, 2013 - 12:02 pm

This past Saturday night, after photoshopping Roger L. Simon into William Shatner’s Star Trek uniform (don’t try this at home kids…), I watched the Criterion Collection Blu-Ray of A Night to Remember, the great 1958 British retelling of the Titanic disaster. The one that featured a cast of grownups rather than Leo and Kate romping around amid a backdrop of a zillion extras.

After seeing James Cameron’s teen romance-meets disaster movie take on Titanic on the big screen in 1997, I remember saying to my wife as we left the theater that I wanted to see Lawrence of Arabia again for the next film we watch. Why, she asked? Because it’s all desert, no water.

I had seen plenty of YouTube clips of A Night to Remember, but this was the first time I had watched it all in sequence. While A Night to Remember is over an hour shorter than Cameron’s mammoth production, and watching it on a 55-inch TV instead of a 70-foot multiplex screen, I felt similarly wiped out afterwards. I poked around Amazon Prime on the Roku box for something that was as least like A Night to Remember as possible. I ended up watching a segment of Firing Line from 1981, in which William F. Buckley interviewed Tom Wolfe on his then-new book, From Bauhaus To Our House

But even there — because I’m me, and this is what I do — my brain was trying to work out the connections. Mr. Guggenheim, whose daughter would found the modernist museum that bears the family name, went down with the ship along with his valet, after uttering the famous quote, “We’ve dressed up in our best and are prepared to go down like gentlemen.”

The sinking of the Titanic is universally seen as foreshadowing the horrors of World War I. (“WORLD’S LARGEST METAPHOR HITS ICE-BERG,” recalls the classic Onion headline.) That’s implicit on screen in A Night to Remember as well, of course. As L.A.-based film critic John Patterson wrote in his 2012 retrospective on the 1958 film in the leftwing London Guardian, where he notes that Eric Ambler, the film’s screenwriter was “by then an ex-Marxist,” with what sounds like a trace of tacit disappointment:

His heroes and villains, cowards and charlatans, are spread evenly across the social spectrum [in A Night to Remember], but he emphasises the numbing and mindless social deference of 1912 to a 1958 audience for whom a good many of those assumptions were still firmly in place, although their erosion was already under way. Ambler can sense a foretaste of the Somme in these events, a whole social order upended, quite literally, just as Scott’s failed Antarctic expedition, the other great British debacle of 1912, tolled the death knell for the cult of the English Gentleman Amateur.

And as Wolfe mentioned in From Bauhaus to Our House, and during his interview with Buckley, modern art and modern architecture grew out of the horrors of World War I and its aftermath. The rubble of WWI, the blood-stained trenches, and the rapid ascension of various forms of socialism all made the “Start From Zero” mindset of the Weimar Republic’s Bauhaus possible. History? The past? Tradition? It should all be tossed into the Atlantic, along with all those stuffy old toffs who went down with the ship dressed in their best.

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There you see how a once great country, the same that gave us Alighieri, Petrarca, Manzoni, Ariosto, etc. was filled with scoundrels as the liberal ideas of communists, fascists, and other varmint took control of the cultural landscape. Other countries like Spain, and Argentina suffered the same fate. Liberalism is a sickness that rots the soul. It will take mankind centuries to recover from it if it ever does. Duty, honor, and Christian morals got us to the top; Liberalism will bring us to the bottom: hell on earth while promising "paradise on earth."
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
"I had seen plenty of YouTube clips of A Night to Remember, but this was the first time I had watched it all in sequence."

Welcome to the fan club. It's still THE best movie ever made about the Titantic because it was based more or less on the non-fiction work of Walter Lord AND it had as technical advisor Joseph Boxhall, surviving 4th officer on the Titanic. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Night_to_Remember_(1958_film) It was not tarted up with some bogus love story just to get the audience into the theaters. The sinking was dramatic enough; it didn't need "help."

Cameron's exercise was somewhat useful for the "making of" documentaries that surrounded his version, in which you were treated to the fruits of his vast fortune when aligned with his consuming passion for the ship. His attention to detail in the sets and mock-ups was laudable and produced very interesting results. Unfortunately, the accretions to make it appealing to the 18-34 demo were trash and unnecessary and cheapened the scholarship that went into the recreations.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
"The sinking of the Titanic is universally seen as foreshadowing the horrors of World War I."

This occurred to me last Spring. Some friends hosted a vintage dance party and specified Edwardian attire. Had to look it up -- what made it different from Victorian (aside from the monarch). Came to the conclusion that Edwardian was the generation that built and lost the Titanic while letting Europe slide into total war. Good thing nothing like that's goin' on now....
47 weeks ago
47 weeks ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (35)
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46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
If the Titanic signaled the end of the Edwardian era and the onset of WWI, what does the Carnival Cruise debacle of Feb 2013 say about us and of what is to come? The minute the electricity went out, the toilets exploded, food refrigeration ceased. People began defecating in the hallways, sometimes for amusement, and raiding what was left of the kitchen supplies.

This does not bode well for us. It also explains why the story of the rich on the Titanic is the more interesting one: when bad things happen to the wealthy and powerful, it is called "tragedy"; when it happens to the poor and the common, it is called "melodrama." When it happens to Americans, it is called a dark comedy.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
Firing Line interviews available on Amazon on Demand streaming, free for Amazon Prime and 99 cent for others.

Thanks for the tip, Ed.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
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46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
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46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
-Errata: That was actually Col. Archibald Gracie who spoke with Officer Lightoller.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0051994/quotes?ref_=tt_ql_3

-Very well put, ED.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
Certitude is a thought, not a feeling.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
Holy Cows in India, I have learned a lot today from the internet. I have learned about Milliband's communist hatred of the English and that the president of Iran was involved in the Marine Barracaks bombing in Lebanon. Now this. The question is how can we get rid of all these nasty people so we can get on with figuring out how cure cancer without burning people's insides first, etc.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
There are a number of things wrong with the Cameron version. A big one being the First Officer blowing his brains out. He didn't and went down with the ship. Witnesses all attested to his calm bravery while trying to get the boats launched in an orderly manner. His family was furious with Cameron edition.

Additionally, for the most part, Cameron made all the rich people out to be snobs who worried about themselves first. Virtually all accounts point out that the men, rich and poor, behaved gallantly and followed the "women and children first policy". The vast majority of survivors were women and children.

Bottom line, I like "A Night to Remember" better than the Cameron edition.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
The opening of the king's song from "The King and I":

When I was boy
World was better spot.
What was so, was so,
What was not, was not.

Now I am a man,
World have changed a lot.
Some things neeeeeeearly so.
Others neeeeeeeearly not.

46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
It's not really foreshadowing as the Titanic accident and WWI have little in common.

The Titanic sinking was due to oversight of a few simple technical problems - ice in the way, and inadequate provisions for rescue. Solutions were obvious, and implemented more or less immediately - a more realistic attitude toward icebergs, better ship-to-ship communications (improving radio systems, standardization of codes for visual communication by signal rockets), better lifeboat arrangements, etc.

WWI was something dumb and pointless which Europe blundered into. And after it started, nobody in Europe seems to have had any real ideas for how to get out of it. When American forces began to arrive in 1917, the Europeans were busily planning the dreary campaigns of 1919 and 1920. They foresaw no end, and could imagine nothing beyond going through the same motions and repeating the same failures. The only man in Europe with any ideas seemed to be Churchill, and half of his ideas were terrible (though the other half were pretty good, some even decisive - though of course being half American he wasn't all that Eurpoean).

Titanic was a failure of technique. WWI was a failure of everything else - systems, philosophies, diplomacy, imagination, ideas. They recovered from the first quickly enough, but some would argue that they never fully recovered from the second.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
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