Depictions of the Deceased before James Camerons Titanic


Sep 14, 2009
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Hello all. I am a college student doing a research paper on why there were no depictions, or if there were depictions, of the deceased before James Cameron's film of the Titanic. I was hoping for any information or anyplace I can find information on this. Thank you! :]
 
Dec 2, 2000
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I'm not quite sure I get what you're driving at either. If you're wondering why there were no portrayals of the dead in the water, especially graphic portrayals, it may well have been considered a bit more then would be acceptable to the sensibilities of the audiance at the time.

More likely...in my opinion...it never fit into the way a given producer or writer wanted to present the story, so they just didn't go there.
 
Sep 14, 2009
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Thank you.
Yes this does help.
But as to what I am getting at, my paper is about depictions of the deceased. Wether it be movie, paintings or anything. We had been reading in class a book with a lot of images in it and I started to notice there were none of the people in the water dying. There were many looking from the lifeboats at the Titanic as it sank, and some even looking from the Titanic at the lifeboats. I was curious so I continued to look and there seems to be none. This then came to be the topic for my paper. I hope that explains it better.
Let me know :]
 

Bob Godfrey

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The Victorians and Edwardians certainly had no aversion to viewing images of the dead, but in the case of the Titanic there were many dramatic events connected with the experiences of the living during the relatively slow sinking, and the artist's impressions which appeared in the newspapers of the time tended to concentrate on those rather than depictions of floating bodies, which was an element perhaps rather too obvious to require illustration. Moreover, while many survivors had commented on the harrowing experience of hearing the dying (and the silence that followed), few reported seeing bodies, which by daylight had been dispersed by the currents and it was thought that most had gone down with the ship.

Likewise, most of the feature films concentrate on the dramatic events of the sinking rather than the aftermath, and while all feature scenes of people dying in most cases the producers saw no reason to labour the point (and squander running time) by showing them dead. To some extent there were also considerations of 'good taste'. In A Night to Remember, for instance, a scene was shot in which the body of a baby is taken from the water by men on a lifeboat, found to be dead and gently returned to the deep. This was cut from most release prints on the grounds that the scene was particularly distressing to preview audiences. It was also decided that behind the final credits the deaths could be implied by showing not bodies but pathetic items of floating debris like a child's rocking horse, thus tugging at the audience's heartstrings in a more subtle fashion.

Today's audiences, perhaps, respond less to subtlety. Unlike the makers of ANTR, Cameron introduced a dead baby scene specifically to distress the audience at a dramatically suitable point. In reality, Officer Lowe testified that he saw only adult male bodies in the water. Distressing enough, no doubt, but not quite the desired emotional impact for the screen. There will always be artistic choices about what to show, and what not to show. And what to invent.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>But as to what I am getting at, my paper is about depictions of the deceased.<<

I think Bob pretty much covered it. Death was close and ever present in the Victorian and Ewardian age, but it seems a curious paradox that the people of the 1950's were not made of such stern stuff.
 
Sep 14, 2009
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Thank you so much for your comments on this. This is proving to be a very interesting topic and I can't wait to see what the class thinks! :]
 

Jim Kalafus

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And, actually, the Titanic was fairly atypical as far as Victorian/Edwardian disasters went, in that (to the best of my knowledge) no post-mortem photographs were run in either the press or the memorial books.

The trend seems to have started around the time of the Johnstown flood (May, 1889) and the famous stereocard of the squeaky-clean barefoot "victim" in a white shirt (improbable for a man who died in muddy water) artistically sprawled amongst some shattered Victoriana. 99% certain that this image was a fake. None of the memorial books for that disaster ran graphic photos, although some were taken, and a few have survived.

The 1900 Galveston Hurricane books and newspapers demonstrate how standards of what was acceptible had changed since 1889. Several dozen victim photos were syndicated for international newspaper use, and one of the most commonly reprinted showed a decomposing man, well blacked and with the skin peeling off his head, laying on a cremation pile with the fire burning towards him in the background. It ran in virtually all of the memorial books.

1903 Iroquois Theater victims- most crushed to death on the staircases- were all over the newspapers, and were soon available in better quality reprints via some VERY lavish memorial books.

1904, General Slocum fatalities, by nature of dying less than 5 miles from the heart of the United States' most aggressive Newspaper Row, were massively photodocumented. To the extent that possibly a third of the 900+ victims had the dubious honor of appearing in print post-mortem.

The 1911 Triangle Fire happened several miles closer to Newspaper Row, and subsequently a staggering number of photos were taken of those who jumped, while they still lay twisted and bloodied on the sidewalk, and were run over the following days. The press did not shy away from jumpers who died of skull damage, to judge from what can be seen in the photos, nor did the public object to the images, to judge from the complete lack of "How COULD you?" letters in the Voice of the Public sections.

The Titanic, therefore, is notable for the complete absense of disturbing images in the popular press. As far as I know, no one snuck (or boldly walked) a camera into the Mayflower Curling Rink, and the two or three Mackay-Bennett photos which eventually "went public" showed victims at a respectful distance.

This... perhaps reverence is the word... was specific to the Titanic. The Empress of Ireland, 1914, saw a return to livid and disturbing images, and the Lusitania, 1915, ALMOST matched the General Slocum when it came to post-mortems syndicated for international news.

Post-mortem disaster photos have never ceased to be a newspaper staple, but over the years a certain sensitivity to the subject has evolved. One can contrast 9/11/01 with the Triangle Fire to show how far this aspect of journalism has evolved. Photo WERE taken of the jumpers, post impact, but with the exception of a solitary image, used a year later in a TV documentary and showing several piles of clothing that were once people sprawled at the base of a wall, none were made public. So, in that regard- at least- our world is considerably more sensitive than that of 100 years ago.
 

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