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Sinking Spectacle

I’ve been keeping a blog sporadically since 2002, which is a plenty long time, though sometimes it seems like I’ve kept one for much longer. Back in the day, I used to post on this message board called Hissyfit quite a lot, and sometimes I’ll think, “I know I blogged about that some while back,” and try to find it in my archives, and lo, it’s something from 1997-2000, from the Hissyfit heydays. One of those phantom blog entries would have dated back to 1998, and would have been my extremely mixed review of the blockbuster hit movie Titanic.

I remember my impressions of Titanic from ’98 because they remain static: it’s not much of a movie, but damned if it ain’t pretty! The storyline is predictable, the dialogue is unrealistic, a lot of the acting is simply lousy, but the sets, costumes, and props are marvelous. I didn’t go to that movie to get all mooshy over a sentimental romance story, nor did I go to gaze upon Leonardo DiCaprio’s callow pumpkin head. I went to enjoy seeing Kate Winslet in complicated yet diaphanous dresses. I went to vicariously explore the poshest ocean liner of all time.

Titanic was the kind of movie that if you went in with nothing but superficial expectations, you would come out satisfied. If you went in wanting a bombastic cheesy romance, then you got it in spades. If you went in to ogle great set design and costuming, then your desires were gratified. But if you had really big expectations for a Great Cinematic Experience, then you probably left disgruntled and unfulfilled. I freely admit I went in to that movie because I’d heard about how meticulously Cameron had tried to re-create the look and feel of the RMS Titanic. I remember having read the National Geographic article after they found the wreckage of the Titanic and seeing archive photos of it in its original grandeur. I was excited about the movie because I figured it would bring those old black-and-white photos to life. Then, there was also the attraction of the costumes.

I think 1912 is one of the most exciting years in fashion; it represents a true demarcation between the fluffy, pouter-pigeon silhouette of the first decade of the 1900s and the “modern” silhouettes of the 1910s, with their shorter skirts and more asymmetrical design. Starting around 1909, more avant garde ladies started experimenting with their waistlines, dabbling with a high-waisted “Empire” silhouette with cropped jackets and raised waistlines. Circa 1911, the masses began to warm to the draped-tunic-over-pegtop-skirt as conceived by Poiret & Lucille. Intricate Art-Noveau-inspired beadwork, appliqué, and embroidery embellished elaborate ensembles; dainty filigree and enamelwork accessories added their charming details. The overall look was bold, exotic, costly, and colorful. The costume designer for Titanic truly did her homework; the dresses were true to contemporary fashion plates and photographs. Even the outfits for the herds of extras did not come off as anachronistic, inappropriate, or anything less than lavishly and carefully planned out.

Because the movie met and exceeded my few expectations of it, I can honestly say that I like Titanic. You don’t go to an Andrew Lloyd Webber play because the music is going to be good. You go for the elaborate production values. Much the same can be said of watching Titanic. You don’t watch it to see a great movie; you watch it for its spectacular set and costume design.

At least that’s what I did!

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