TITANIC, A NIGHT TO REMEMBER and THE WIZARD OF OZ

Video Picks & Passes
by STEVEN D. GREYDANUS | Source:
TITANIC: PASS

(Special; edition 1997)


A NIGHT TO REMEMBER: PICK

(1958)


THE WIZARD OF OZ: PICK

(Special & Collector’s Edition)


This week, two of the most popular films in history return in three new DVD editions. James Cameron’s stunningly successful Titanic gets a special edition loaded with extras, while one the most enduring of Hollywood Golden Age classics, The Wizard of Oz, has been newly restored and comes in two new DVD editions.

Give Cameron his due: Whatever else can be said, and rightly said, against his bloated, pandering, at times contemptible magnum opus, Titanic, the director knows how to play his target audience like a Stradivarius, and he does so here like nowhere else and no one else.

A masterful exercise in manipulation, Titanic’s celebration of forbidden love bringing liberation from social constraints resonated profoundly with a generation of young film-going romantics.

With its populist dichotomies — repressive, arrogant, rich upper-class British vs. free-spirited, oppressed poor non-British; arrogant, contemptible or at best ridiculous men versus victimized and repressed women — Titanic is ideally attuned to contemporary cultural attitudes regarding the politics of privilege, victimization, gender and the evils of historic Western culture.

As crises often do, the Titanic disaster exemplifies both the best and the worst in human nature. Alas, Cameron’s film revels in exposing cowardice and hypocrisy while robbing heroism of its nobility.

The nobility of first-class men willingly remaining behind while second- and third-class women and children got into lifeboats is almost entirely subverted. (Fewer than a third of first-class men survived, compared with nearly half of third-class women.) Even in depicting gentlemen in eveningwear calmly resigned to going down with the ship, Cameron makes them ridiculous rather than noble.

The heroic picture of the band playing on deck to help maintain calm is also sullied; Cameron depicts the musicians concluding that no one is listening to them anyway, but playing nonetheless.

For a far better portrayal of the Titanic disaster, the 1958 docudrama A Night to Remember, based on the 1955 bestseller by Walter Lord, remains the film to watch.

Though it omits the striking fact, vividly captured in Cameron’s film, of the ship breaking in two as it starts to sink (an event disputed by eyewitnesses but confirmed in 1985), A Night to Remember is much clearer than Cameron’s opening-act CGI “post mortem” about why this supposedly “unsinkable” ship sank, and why the bulkheads were thought to be high enough but weren’t. It’s also a far classier, more plausible depiction of how people in 1912 faced life and death in the fabled disaster.

Fans of The Wizard of Oz rejoice: Not only has the Vatican pick been treated to an “ultra-restoration,” but it also comes in two new DVD editions: a two-disc special edition and a three-disc collector’s edition. I’ll be picking up the latter, which includes the long-neglected 1925 silent feature version starring Oliver Hardy as the Tin Woodman.

Like all fairy tales, The Wizard of Oz has suffered countless attempts by critics and commentators to explain its meaning and power, from almost every conceivable angle: political, economic, religious, Freudian. But is there any “explaining” this story? Baum himself professed that his story was intended “solely to pleasure children of today.”

That it does, and will for generations to come.



CONTENT ADVISORY: Titanic includes much objectionable language, partial frontal nudity, an offscreen sexual encounter, a suicide, and much disaster violence; it is not recommended. A Night to Remember is a restrained depiction of large-scale tragedy, and makes for fine family viewing. The Wizard of Oz contains some menace and frightening images, and offers fine family viewing.


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