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Monday, January 16, 2012

Somewhere in L.A., James Cameron is rubbing his hands together and counting his money already
Posted by Jill | 6:43 PM

Gregorio Borgia/AP

I don't know what it is about shipwrecks that we find so compelling. Our age is one of air travel, not sea travel. When planes crash, we are horrified, but the horror seems somehow mundane. Yes, we were all appalled when Air France Flight 447 crashed, and when EgyptAir Flight 990 crashed, and TWA Flight 800 crashed. But for those of us who didn't know anyone on those doomed flights, life returned to normal in a matter of days, and we stopped thinking about it.

Somehow I don't think that's going to be the case with the wreck of the Costa Concordia. And that's where James Cameron comes in.

The only thing that would have made this better for Cameron would be if this wreck had occurred next March, because his billion dollar shipwreck epic, Titanic, has been re-engineered for 3-D and re-released next April, just in time for the 100the anniversary of the most famous shipwreck in history.

The Concordia was no Titanic. No one made claims that it was the most luxurious cruise ship in the world, that it was some kind of quantum leap forward in technology. It didn't usher in a new age and mark the end of one. On the plus side, it didn't hide its lower-income passengers in the bowels of the ship, dining on lamb stew and rough bread while the toffs feast on aspic and quail. Today, steerage-type travel is reserved for air passengers.

Looking at photos of the Concordia in happier days, it was your pretty standard small city-at-sea, with pools, a glitzy lobby, and ornate dining rooms. And yet, the ghosts of the great White Star and Cunard liners pervade the design of all of these monuments to ongepotchket. Giant ships are now about vacationing, rather than getting from one place to another, but no one boards one of these behemoths without standing on deck thinking of all those passengers who came before them, and no one arrives in New York Harbor at seven in the morning, with the sun gleaming down on the Statue of Liberty as she beckons, "Come on in, there's plenty of room here" without thinking of the teeming hordes of people, some of them our own relatives, who saw that very same view a hundred years ago (give or take a few) and were filled with hope. Despite the relentless pop music and the 24-hour soft-serve and the neon lights and the open seating, there's still a sense of glamour about being on one of these giant ships.

Perhaps that's why when something like this happen, we can't tear ourselves away from it. And of course the granddaddy of all shipwrecks, the one the memory of which pervades everything, is still that giant White Star liner that hit an iceberg on its maiden voyage. The Titanic itself, but more vividly, and even more oddly, Cameron's film, hover over the Concordia wreck like an accusatory finger, invoked consistently by the survivors of the Concordia wreck.

Jonathan Paturi, a chef on the Concordia:
Looking back to that traumatic Friday evening, I wonder how much like the Titanic disaster it was. Just like the Titanic, the Costa Concordia was a luxury liner. We were hosting 4,200 holiday makers. And just like the Titanic, we were serving dinner to our guests when disaster struck. Only, the Titanic struck an iceberg and we ran into a reef.

It was 9.30 p.m. Friday evening. Friday, the 13th, I’m now told. Five of my mates -- chefs, all from Hyderabad -- and I were cooking dinner for the passengers. Suddenly we felt the ship tilt over. Such moments do occur on a ship, so we thought it was one of them. Then the crew-only alarm went off: Delta X-Ray. It meant the ship was taking in water. Then another alarm was sounded: India Victor. It meant there was a fire in the ship and that passengers had to be moved to safety.

The ship began to list even more, and I saw food sliding down the counter. Yes, just like in the Titanic movie. Then there was a complete blackout. I fought down the panic rising within me. I called my cousin and told him about the situation. He told me to be brave. I told him, “I’ll call you if I’m alive.” Tears welled up in my eyes as I felt that I might never see my loved ones again.

Photos taken of the evacuation and of huddled passengers on shore add to the eerie parallel effect, as do the reactions of passengers:

“We were having dinner aboard when we heard a loud noise, like that of the keel dragged over something. There were scenes of panic, glasses falling to the floor.” -- passenger Luciano Castro

We had to scream at the controllers to release the boats from the side.

“We were standing in the corridors and they weren’t allowing us to get onto the boats. It was a scramble, an absolute scramble.” -- passenger Mike van Dijk

"Have you seen 'Titanic'? That's exactly what it was," -- passenger Valeria Ananias (link)

Look hard enough, and you can find as many parallels as you want.

Of course there are differences. The class differences that made it perfectly acceptable for third-class passengers to have less access to lifeboats have largely been levelled, with inexpensive cabins now located on the same hallways as more expensive ones. And this time the villian role of Bruce Ismay, the White Star Line executive who hopped aboard a Titanic lifeboat in the midst of chaos is being played by Concordia captain himself, Francesco Schettino, who abandoned ship instead of standing nobly on the bridge as his ship sinks. The Concordia seems no have had no quasi-military men like Charles Lightoller, portrayed as brave and noble by Kenneth More in the 1956 film A Night to Remember and as a blithering idiot in Cameron's film. (Lightoller later recounted to family that a steering error by Quartermaster Robert Hitchins, similar to that which probably brought the Concordia aground, led to the Titanic's collision with the iceberg that took it to the bottom of the sea.) But the relentless comparisons to the wreck of the Titanic, despite the fortunately much smaller death toll, persist.

And all this just a little under three months before Titanic 3-D opens in theatres. You can't BUY that kind of publicity.

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Blogger Jimbo said...
Great post, usual. Or should I say brilliant. Bu5 the big difference I would say is that the Titanic was an accident and the Italian ship was a deliberate, reckless action.

Blogger Bustednuckles said...
Last I heard, that idiot captain
went aground grand standing to let one of the crew wave to family members or friends on shore.
Bad shit happened shortly afterwards.

The similarities between this and the Titanic can be argued about for eternity but two things stick out.
The Captain ran aground in shallow water, and he bailed out before all of his passengers had been accounted for.

He abandoned ship, which is a capitol crime, and left at least sixteen people for dead.

The best part, he got caught, on dry land, and was ordered by the port master to get his ass back on board to survey the damage and take care of damage and rescue estimates and refused.

There is some serious Pound Me In The Ass prison time coming his way and any complaining about Buggery will be summarily ignored.

In two months, you will never hear this arrogant fuckers name again, until sentencing.

Blogger jurassicpork said...
In Cameron's movie, the captain went down with his ship.