Cinema was still a relatively new hybrid of art and technology when the RMS Titanic met its fate. Still, movies wasted no time taking on a disaster that seemed to expose the hubris of embracing the new too hardily. And from the start, film wove the true with the fictional, a habit enjoyed right up to director James Cameron's 1997 romantic epic starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as the White Star Line-crossed lovers Jack and Rose.
The first silent of merit is celebrating its own centennial. "Saved From the Titanic" was released just a month after of the sinking. The one-reeler featured American actress Dorothy Winifred Gibson, who'd been a passenger on the ship. Other early efforts that utilized the ship's ruin if not the vessel's name: "Atlantis" (1913) and "Atlantic" (1929).
Photos: Titanic, 100 Years Later
- View images from the aftermath of the sinking of the Titanic.
- View images of the Titanic as it was built.
- View images of artifacts recovered from the Titanic.
- View images of survivors and of relatives of other passengers aboard the Titanic.
- View images of various expeditions to explore the Titanic on the ocean floor.
- Follow a map of the Titanic's route on its fateful maiden voyage.
World War II saw the German-made "Titanic" (1943), a propaganda effort intended to exploit the oceanliner's misfortune as a rank example of British incompentence. But the tale of humans facing a heretofor unfathomable disaster sank at the box office.
"Regular bombing raids on German cities by the combined American and British air forces did not whet the public's appetite for a disaster," according to the Media Awareness Network. "The Nazi censors yanked it from circulation when they discovered that German audiences were still far too sympathetic toward the British passengers despite the obvious propaganda quotient."
There remain three vastly notable films about the disaster. (Four, if you count 1972's "The Poseidon Adventure," which I sort of do.)
"Titanic" (1953): Charles Brackett, Walter Reisch and Richard L. Breen won the best original screenplay Oscar for this tale of romantic woe and reckoning. Barbara Stanwyck and Clifton Webb star as the fictional Sturges, first-class passengers whose marriage has floundered. A shockingly fresh-faced Robert Wagner plays a nice Midwestern fella smitten with the wealthy couple's daughter.
"A Night to Remember" (1958): Movie purists and Titanic historians often hail this British take on the disaster as the best. It is indeed wondrous in its restraint. The film, based on Walter Lord's book, did not book fictional characters onboard but hewed to accurate depictions of the class hierarchies that doomed most of the third-class passengers who weren't allowed up on deck until lifeboats had been lowered to sea.
"Titanic" (1997 and 2012): Writer-director Cameron's titanic hit — which is set for a 3-D rerelease April 4 — was the first film to sail past the billion dollar, box-office beacon. It was nominated for 14 Oscars and won 11, including best picture and best director. It's tarnished some by its over-the-top flourishes: Billy Zane wielding a gun, really? Three decades after "The Morning After," Maureen McGovern's disaster ballad for "The Poseidon Adventure," Celine Dion ruled the airwaves — and then some — with "My Heart Will Go On." (Both songs won Oscars.) Last but hardly least, "Titanic" ensured first-class passage to the A-List for young stars Winslet and especially DiCaprio.
Lisa Kennedy: 303-954-1567 or firstname.lastname@example.org