Monday, August 5, 2013


Ask any knuckledragger and they'll tell you that "odyssey" is just another word for a long trip.  They're knuckledraggers for a reason, after all. We, the well-read, know better.  It's not just any long journey: it's THE journey of literature, taking a decade through mire, tribulation, temptation, age, battle, and exhaustion.  The contrast of this is a voyage, a word spinning up connotations of journey, excitement, a bright sun and salt air.

There is, of course, a long, drawn out, LDS-infused nonsense-wander which is the the great overrated film in all of celluloid.  It's well titled: 2001: A Space Odyssey.  In it, Stanley Kubrick puts form over function, style over substance, and special effects over that which could be emotionally palatable.  Yes, it's iconic--the zero gravity; the glimpse into technology; the openings of pod bay doors, Hal. But it's just so damned... boring.  Now you might think I haven't given the film a fair shake.  There are great films that I've tried to watch a number of times, but keep coming up with the same reaction (stick a bomb in the trunk of my feelings for Touch of Evil too (Charlton Heston, a Mexican.  Indeed!)).  Yet its 2001 which stands atop the critical pile in so many ways.  I mean, #15 of the AFI list?  Better than Sunset Blvd? It's a Wonderful Life?! China-fucking-town?!?  High Noon? Annie Hall?  The list goes on and on--literally, since there are 85 more films that are found beneath it on the AFI list.  Even with some quibbling about the placement of others, it's a list of better films than the drivel that is 2001. Go get high with Timothy Leary, man, and drop your LSD.  It's the only way to enjoy the endless Odyssey.

Now as for a voyage, ah, there's but one film that fits that definition.  Its journey is an odd one: it was, in its gestation, derided as a sinking folly; in its birth, it garnered a review from Janet Maslin in the New York times that proclaimed that it was the first film in years to "honestly invite comparison" to the great films of the 1930s and 1940s.  It was, at its most mature in Oscar season, an unsurpassed nominee with 14 nominations as well as an unsurpassed Oscar winner, with 11 wins, including Best Picture, Director, Editing, and so forth.  It is, of course, the greatest color film ever made: Titanic.  Since, however, that fateful Oscar night on March 23, 1998, this cinematic masterpiece has lost a bit of bloom from its rose.  I propose that the reason is its own popularity, like many blockbusters before it, Titanic's reputation has suffered from "the wrong sort" of people who went to go see it--wrong sort as defined by shallow Hollywood types and faux film fans.  "The 14 year old girl," they say while smelling meat at a restaurant (for Hollywood types do not eat meat, lest they pass out of emaciation), "that isn't who decides films are great."  They pause, sipping their Organically Certified Water, and say wisely, "I'd rather make a film where 20 people have come in from the worst January rain and see the theater as an escape."  They pat themselves on the back for being so original... having forgotten that they've seen Tootsie.

The real magic of Titanic is the magic of all great cinema--indeed, all great art: its universality.  In its long, long box office run into the spring of 1998, a news article made its way around the internet about how the film was as big a hit in China as it was the United States.  A semi-authoritative response was that China saw in the film the fall of a decadent high class, killed by its own folly, whereas Americans saw determination triumphing against the odds of class.  A Chinese viewer saw themselves on the ship, and so did an American.

Indeed, cannot we still see ourselves in Titanic even now--especially now, especially post-2008; that year brought us an unmistakable (economic) calamity brought on by the richest of the rich, and it also brought us a determined president triumphing against a hierarchical structure, parts of which have been sewn into the very fabric of this nation.

This April, Titanic will be re-released, noting the 100th anniversary of its fateful launch.  Expectations are that the film, digitally restored and enhanced, will once again soar to its box office heights.  In related news, no one will be re-releasing 2001: A Space Odyssey anytime sure, for it was the true disaster.

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