Titanic: 20 Years On
I remember when I first heard of Titanic, the ship and the film. I must’ve been six, when my Slovakian nanny went to see it one afternoon, then came back later to inform me that it was a sad movie where the ship sank and all the “sailors” drowned.
My mum eventually bought the film on a one cassette edition that contained the whole film (as opposed to the double cassette version Americans apparently had). We became hooked; we’d watch it several times, and she’d always skip over the sex scene, though not the drawing scene, at first at least. (She doesn’t recall why she changed her mind on that.) I think she was an avid enough fan to also buy James Horner’s soundtrack, although she didn’t think much of DiCaprio’s performance and was more impressed by his subsequent performances under Spielberg and Scorsese.
I became as obsessed as James Cameron with the sinking, though I was more fascinated by notions of raising the ship, what it would be like to walk around it, and whether it was as big as the oil tankers my grandfather captained. I’m certain the Hitachi Venture was bigger than Titanic, but it definitely couldn’t have been as fun to be on, nor as pretty. I loved drawing the Titanic’s lines, funnels, masts, portholes, and rivets: she’s certainly far more striking and beautiful than modern cruise ships.
I always enjoyed drawing with felt pens, so Titanic inspired my mother to hire a tutor to teach me to sketch like Jack Dawson. I’d say Jack was my Han Solo, an aspirational figure who lived to “make each day count”, and I like many engaged in Leomania. I learned how to pronounce his surname (I still remember calling him “DeCuprio”), and I got a poster of him to hang over my bed (something I was inevitably taunted about).
When this article on DiCaprio’s status as the childhood crush of a generation was being solicited, I responded that I wasn’t “sure what the aftermath was, though thinking on it I do find androgynous women with short hair somewhat attractive, and maybe he [DiCaprio]’s why I can acknowledge another man is good looking.”
Learning the story of the Titanic also taught me a lot about class. Though I was enamoured by the first class decks on the ship, my mother reminded me its occupants were people who did nothing and got paid, while those in third class worked and got paid nothing.
Like many I participated in the inevitable Titanic backlash, probably in some failed attempt to ingratiate myself with other hypermasculine boys my age, and probably because I felt I’d outgrown it with Power Rangers and Pokemon. But by 2005, when the film received a special edition DVD, I’d realised, hang on, no, James Cameron is a bloody genius, and Titanic is masterful, despite some clunky dialogue (do not play a drinking game with the lines “Jack” and “Rose”). I’ve even formed an opinion on whether Rose dies at the end or not.*
Time well and truly seems to proven Cameron’s naysayers and critics wrong. With the film being inducted in the US National Film Registry on the eve of its birthday, and the neverending debate as to whether Jack could’ve survived or not, it seems Titanic’s popularity, like Celine Dion’s heart, will truly go on.
*It’s slightly obvious when you remember James Cameron’s an atheist.