Today, the 15th of April, marks the 98th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. With the Titanic sank 1500 people and the hopes and dreams of many, but through such tragedy, a single man came forward some eighty five years later to bring the ship’s sweeping grandeur to the silver screen. By coincidence, I happened to have given the epic glory of James Cameron’s vision another go last week, and it was just as exciting and loathsome as I remembered. Little did anyone know as news spread of the ship being swallowed up by the ocean that such a catastrophe would become the divine inspiration for Mr. Cameron to take his critical eye to class struggle and prejudice. If I learned anything from having to listen to Cameron speak at awards shows, it’s that the man says whatever pops in his head. And most of what pops in his head is dumb. James Cameron, the awkward acceptance speech giver, is exactly the same as James Cameron, the ignorant, dense screenwriter. Because he lacks that filter between the mind and the mouth, Titanic is littered with cringe-inducing lines of dialogue (“that Anna-steez-ya chick,” “Something Picasso? He won’t amount to a thing”), lame stereotypes (remember that Jack did a lot of his artwork in Paris because French girls are very willing to take off their clothes), laughably treacherous characters (like that asshole who planted the diamond on Jack as the ship starts to sink) and one of the shallowest head-first analyses of class… ever. The terrible dialogue (not to mention the character of Bill Paxton’s fat, hairy assistant) can never really be overlooked (the same can be said for the piss-poor performances from most of the otherwise fine actors… and I won’t even get into all that’s wrong with Billy Zane), but the earnestness of Cameron’s futile attempts to say anything intelligent about class really places Titanic into prime camp territory.
However, as both Titanic and Avatar’s box office receipts confirm, Mr. Cameron is a director of size (I joked to my friend that the ship made for a humorous, if dead-ended metaphor for Cameron), and that he operates at such a phenomenal, effective scale when dealing with all things “big” makes Titanic an absolutely bewildering film. I almost felt a bit silly getting consumed by the panic of Titanic’s second half, even as Jack and Rose illogically stagger through the bitterly cold North Atlantic waters flooding in the lower levels of the ship, but that’s because Cameron has no middle ground. He may have failed to elicit convincing performances from Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet or to effectively develop their characters or relationships beyond the surface level, but when he gets to the sinking of the ship (also known as his A-game), I’ll be damned if I didn’t start to care for a pair of bland lovers who’d been irritating me for the previous hour and a half. It’s funny how Emanuele Crialese’s Golden Door [Nuovomondo] takes all of Titanic’s weaknesses, of which there are many, and turns them into something lovely and affecting without tarnishing any of what Titanic does well. When Rose joins Jack in the lower quarters to dance with the poor folk, I immediately thought of a comparable, superior sequence in Golden Door, but I suppose the fact that the ship in Golden Door reaches its American destination makes a close side-by-side comparison with Titanic unfair. “Subtle,” as we all know, is not a word James Cameron could ever define for us, and while that might be a condemnation for others, it is just the opposite in this case. I wonder if anyone takes any gratitude in knowing that those 1500 people didn’t perish in vain… for their memory will always be captured in James Cameron’s amazingly confounding art. Cue those flutes. Cue Céline Dion.