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April 12, 2012


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'97 was around the time I started reading Premiere religiously (which in Mexico City was an expensive, hard-to-get, affair). I remember most of the Titanic coverage, as well as my disillusionment with the film.

It was an Oscar piece in the magazine, by the great William Goldman no less, in which he pointed out what the big problem with the film I thought was but as a kid I had trouble articulating: the love triangle doesn't work because the Billy Zane character is a grade-A douche.

I remember Goldman comparing it to Casablanca, a love triangle that works because Laszlo is a worthy guy, in many ways superior to Rick. The problem with Titanic was that Rose really didn't had a choice. Jack was a straight way out from a miserable life, rendering the romance a little... boring.

Over time I've grown fonder of Titanic. But Goldman's point stayed with me forever. It became the rule by which I judge romance in film.

Man, I really miss that magazine.

Glenn Kenny

@ Rotch: You and me both!

Goldman's points were well taken, and his Oscar pieces for us were always feisty and great reading. Of course Cameron IS, like DeMille, one of those creators who can make "Casablanca" look like a masterpiece of nuance. To call Zane's character a pure silent-film-villain caricature isn't even really fair to silent film villains. It is perhaps here that my "it is what it is" forgiveness of the film might frustrate some of its sensible detractors.

Owain Wilson

I never really thought of Rose/Jack/Cal as a love triangle. To me it was always an escape story, the tension coming from the fact that Rose would supposedly never recover from the shame her running off would bring down on her - you know, what with all them Edwardians being so uptight and all that.

Anyway, I've always loved Titanic. It's one of those movies that's so huge and ambitious that it's really quite pointless to pick apart the bad bits when the bits that DO work - which is most of the film - are so fantastic.

I could go on about Titanic for hours but I haven't got enough pens. All I can say is that everyone moans about how 'they don't make them like THAT anymore', but when someone eventually comes along and 'makes one like THAT', everyone moans!

A Facebook User

A very thoughtful defense of the film, Glenn. I've always been a detractor of Titanic, and not always a sensible one, Titanic precisely *because* of its emphasis on spectacle. But your argument about the strength and the integrity and, finally, the art of that spectacle, make me want to view the movie again, something I never thought I'd say about this film.

David Ehrenstein

I saw a relatively early press screeneing at paramount. You cannot imagine the tsunami of bad press "Titanic' was getting before it opened. Knives were being sharpened to haul out metaphors that hadn't been utilized since "Howard the Duck" muhc less "Heaevn's Gate." yet it was clear to me right from the start Cameron knew precisely what he was doing, for the film begins not in the past but in the present. We're in a diving apparatus going down to investigate the sunken wreck. Discoveries are made and the Fabulous Goria Stuart makes her grand entrance as Old Rose. This is one of the main reasosn why "Titanic" works so well. We know the ship sank -- no suspense there. But the computer mock-up that the explorers show Old Rose sets the stage for what's to come. For when we get to the climatic sinking we knoiw how it's going to take the different parts ot the ship down even though the characters don't.

The Jack and Rose romance is as corny as they come. But when you put a first-class girl and a steerage guy together you've granted yourself a prime opportunity to go all over the ship. Cameronknows we want to see what the most luxurious vessel of its kind was like and Jack and Rose are our means of exploring it. So there's plenty going on before the sinking, and Cameron puts it across with everything he's got.

"Titanic" isn't a film of deep insight or subtle with. Its big, brash and scremaingly obvious. And frankly it wouldn't have worked any otherway. Add to that a new generation of teenager grils who had never seen a tragic romance before. That your boyfriend would go so far as to die for you was transcendent.

Not it's not "The Rules of the Game." But as Pure Unadulerated Movie there are precious few super-spectacles than can match "Titanic."


Seeing Titanic as a 15 year-old on opening night in 1997 remains one of the most extraordinary atmospheres I've experienced in a cinema; teenage girls sobbing and teenage boys whooping as the ship went down. Seeing it again for the first time since that night, I was delighted to find that it holds up extremely well - in fact, I wonder if there will be a more satisfying blockbuster released in 2012?

In the 15 years since Titanic came out I can't think of many major films that have really delivered in the way this one does, and fewer still that have displayed the utter confidence and mastery that Cameron exhibits in the film's second half. Avatar aside, I guess The Lord of the Rings is the only one that comes close to matching this for ambition, directorial vision and mass appeal, but I'm in no hurry to re-watch those pictures any time soon, whereas I'd gladly see Titanic on the big screen again. I love Glenn's anecdote about the old woman who spoke no English being so moved by the film. For all the cynicism and snark Titanic has provoked over the years, a story like that gets to the heart of what makes this film special.


"Not it's not 'The Rules of the Game'..."

Yeah, but is even 'The Rules of the Game' 'The Rules of the Game'? I mean, critics will tut-tut at Ozu's oeuvre-spanning use of toilet humour but Renoir's extended ursine antics always seem to get a free pass. But I digress...


When I saw TITANIC on opening day, the start time was delayed by about 10-15 minutes, and then when it finally started, it stopped after one or two minutes. A manager eventually had to come in and tell us we had to move to another theater, where we could (hopefully) watch the whole thing uninterrupted. I think it's pretty safe to say the audience I was with was pretty pissed off, and were ready to trash the film. 3 hours and change later, I think most, if not all of us, were in a different mood entirely, being completely caught up in the movie. Didn't stop us from accepting free passes from the theater ushers afterwards (back when they actually did things like that), but still.

I've seen the movie a couple of times since then, and yes, the dialogue isn't great (though it's better than what Cameron wrote for AVATAR), yes, Zane gives the weakest performance of the film (though I agree with Owain Wilson Jack represents an escape for Rose, not the third of a "love triangle"), and yes, I intensely dislike Celine Dion in general and that crap song in particular, but the images, the conviction of DiCaprio and Winslet, and the sheer narrative momentum is still captivating for me today. I remember explaining to my father (who culturally speaking didn't like much made after 1960) and saying if David O. Selznick had been alive in December of 1997 (or come back to Earth then) and had seen TITANIC, he would have nodded in recognition.


I very much enjoyed Titanic on my initial viewing, with the obvious quibble of the whole Billy Zane subplot. You'd think dealing with escaping the Titanic would be enough drama, without the Billy Zane character trying to murder Leo as well. But to make a mass-market confection that both highbrows and lowbrows can equally love requires a compromise or two.


My favorite DIRECT experience of Titanic was that it ended up still playing when The Big Lebowski came out. And they were both playing in a twin cinema right by where I was living. And the timing was absolutely perfect on the last show of the night. When Lebowski ended, you could sneak into Titanic just in time for the final 45 minutes.

Brian P

perfectly articulated Glenn. Titanic is A-plus spectacle with bad celine dion anthem pasted on the end. Looking past some dialogue issues, I've always felt the film is apex of narrative film-making (and have taken endless rafts of shite from friends for expressing such) and to hear that non-native-nonagenarians concur fills me with bliss

Mr. Peel

Michael Biehn is in TITANIC?

Tony Dayoub

"What a dink. So remember, kids: it's not just in political punditry that you can be spectacularly wrong whenever it actually counts and still keep your job, as long as your job still exists."

Amen to that, especially the last part.

Now, I haven't seen TITANIC in a while. Someone please refresh my memory. When does Biehn appear?

BTW, one of the things I love about TITANIC are the actors Cameron used to fill out his ensemble: Suzy Amis, Kathy Bates, Frances Fisher, Victor Garber, Bernard Hill, Bill Paxton, Gloria Stuart, David Warner and Eric Braeden. For Pete's sake, who bothers going out of their way to cast Eric Braeden anymore?


Clearly I am not the kind of moviegoer for whom this post was intended. I'm probably the only 13 year old who preferred GANDHI to ET, and although I've seen the former several times since then, I have never shown any desire to rewatch the latter. My idea of a great looked down upon movie spectacular is AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS, and I prefer THE ENGLISH PATIENT to TITANIC (Niven and Fiennes are both remarkable, DiCaprio and Winslet are not). I'd rather show more sympathy for the unsuccessful TORA TORA TORA than the ridiculously successful TITANIC. I didn't like the movie when I first saw it. Perhaps I might want to rewatch the second half for the first time in a decade, but I'm reminded of Pauline Kael's comment about THE TOWERING INFERNO, "Oh, there's a juicy one" or words to that effect as 1500 people drown.

The way that Cameron's movies use the latest technology, enormous wealth and corporate power in TERMINATOR 2, TITANIC and AVATAR to denounce techonology, wealth and power is as schizophrenic and simple-minded as Stalinism. To me ALIENS is the only movie of his that works, because it's the only one where the core relationship is emotionally plausible. And the way TITANIC sneers at one millionaire as he is about to drown is a classic example of Clinton era liberalism: sneering at the rich and privileged 85 years ago, while squishing MOTHER AND SON into nonexistence or repealing Glass-Steagall in the present. That many people were deeply moved by it is one thing. I wish I knew more people who could be enraptured with me at A TASTE OF CHERRY, PRINCESS MONONOKE, or LOST HIGHWAY.


"The way that Cameron's movies use the latest technology, enormous wealth and corporate power in TERMINATOR 2, TITANIC and AVATAR to denounce techonology, wealth and power is as schizophrenic and simple-minded as Stalinism."

The funny thing to me is that the pitch-perfect Soviet Social Realism is a central part of the reason why Cameron's pics make billions, why they make more than ANYONE else's. And no one ever seems to talk about it.

Hell, I was hooked on Avatar the minute I realized he'd made the US Military the bad guys.

Claire K.

Partisan's comment was much more alarming to me during the few confused moments when I thought s/he was CURRENTLY 13 years old, rather than 13 years old the year GANDHI and E.T. were released.

David Ehrenstein

Maybe next time they release it cameron can CGI Mitt Romney and the Koch Brothers into the montage of drowning millioaires.


If the film has any major flaw, it's that there aren't ENOUGH scenes of David Warner playing an evil butler. And an evil butler named "Lovejoy," no less!

Tony Dayoub

Sorry to offend, but I don't know of any other way to react to Partisan's comment than to highlight my own astonishment that there is a film lover out there who likes GANDHI, AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, THE ENGLISH PATIENT and TORA TORA TORA.


L.A. Confidential is still better.


"Sorry to offend, but I don't know of any other way to react to Partisan's comment than to highlight my own astonishment that there is a film lover out there who likes GANDHI, AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, THE ENGLISH PATIENT and TORA TORA TORA."

Well, I still like THE ENGLISH PATIENT, but agree about the other three.

Owain Wilson

Mr. Dayoub, astonished is the word.


I do not like TITANIC, I have never liked TITANIC, I do not like James Cameron, and I do not feel bad about it, nor do I feel like a snob for holding these opinions.

One thing that really bugged me about the whole TITANIC thing -- and this isn't a fault of the film -- is that I remember, for instance, seeing Siskel & Ebert review it, and one of them praised the film for making it very clear what exactly caused the ship to sink. It wasn't until I'd seen A NIGHT TO REMEMBER that I realized TITANIC was hardly the first film to lay out the technical aspects of the tragedy in an easy-to-understand manner.

But speaking of A NIGHT TO REMEMBER...I mean...there are shots in that movie that Cameron was, I guess, just really, very fond of.

Owain Wilson

No one seems to have explained the Michael Biehn cameo. I haven't checked this out yet, but watching it again the other night I noticed an actor who I thought looked a lot like him, not for one second thinking it really was him until Glenn brought it up.

I guess he's talking about the scene in the pub when Jack wins the tickets in the poker game. The guy who looks like, or actually IS Biehn, is the one who loses the game, stands up to hit Jack but punches his friend instead.


I think our esteemed host was confusing Michael Biehn with another Cameron favorite, Bill Paxton -- I just saw the film again last weekend (in 2D!) and I don't remember Biehn anywhere.

I didn't remember Goldman writing about the weakness of the "triangle" (he was very good about the film's structural strengths, though), but that reminds me that I'm always bugged by romantic comedies where the heroine has to choose between our hero and a total douchebag -- where's the victory in our protagonist being preferable to a sleazeball? (that early Barry Sonnenfeld film For Love or Money is a prime example of this).

I thought the film held up extremely well on recent re-viewing, though it was only that final reel or two of the sinking that was truly gripping this time. Though it felt like a long time to sit, I did appreciate the film's deliberate pace. And I have to say, Kate has aged a lot better than Leo, though back in 97 (or 96, when probably most of it was shot), Leo was prettier than Kate. And his performance was more comfortable (though she gets a lot better over the course of the film).

warren oates

I'm just sad that Cameron stopped making movies where the story mattered more than the spectacle. I've recently rewatched TERMINATOR, T2 and ALIENS and they are all great, especially ALIENS, which is probably still the best action movie I've ever seen. TITANIC? I'll stick with my Blu-ray of THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, which bothers to offer us some real characters to care about and some actual conflict along with all the spectacle.


The flipside to Glenn's love letter:



James Cameron is an interesting guy for me. Read an interview with him and it's hard not to come away thinking he's a pretty brilliant man. And yet his filmography doesn't do much for me. I need to rewatch TERMINATOR.


I can just about get past the terrible dialogue but cannot believe in Rose and Jack as a couple. Besides diCaprio looking like a mere boy next to the splendiferous Winslet, his character is a terrible artist, no way a woman who just bought a bunch of Picassos would think his amateur drawings (by Cameron, right?) were any good.

So that sort of renders the spectacle a bit empty for me at the end.


Really? I find it hard not to come away thinking Cameron is a world-class tosser. And I say that as an unenthusiastic fan of many of his films which have all been fine but of-their-moment,failing to last too long beyond their shelf date. There are plenty of amazing set pieces but his stuff lacks poetry.

Dan Coyle

I've only seen Titanic maybe once or twice, and while I WANT to hate it, it's very difficult. (Avatar, however, I have no problem hating with all my heart)

What I don't get is, the last section of the film is so horrific, it's hard to stomach, at least hard for me to stomach. I don't think Cameron intended it to be pleasant (I don't think he intended much of anything, really, but that's another story), but I'd hear people going to see it multiple times, and I don't care how romantic that film is, seeing all those dead, bloated corpses that minutes ago were human beings trying to scramble for something, anything to keep them afloat, that harshes my mellow.

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