Historical Inaccuracies to historical characters in the last two Titanic films


Jerry Nuovo

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I have learned that CBS will now not show the made for TV movie about President Reagan which wrongly depicted Reagan as a idiot which I think is a good decision by CBS.This controversy makes me think of the last two Titanic productions which are the 1996 made for TV movie which also aired on CBS and of course the James Cameron film,In which both films wrongly depicted Titanic's First Officer William Murdoch as being a trigger happy goon shooting down some steerage passengers and then committing suicide.There is no evidence that First Officer Murdoch did this.Also that in the 1953 Titanic film and in the film A Night to Remember,Murdoch was not depicted as a trigger happy goon.I hope that any future Titanic film is historically accurate in its depiction of historical characters.Anyone else with an opinion on this? Sincerely,Jerry Nuovo
 
Jul 11, 2001
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Well, somewhere I have an interview with James Cameron regarding why he put that into his film. I'll keep looking for it but until then, here is a recap from memory. Essentially he felt there was enough evidence from witness testimony to include it as possible. Several independant witnesses wrote about an Officer shooting himself as the last boats were launched. Some of the accounts were in private letters to family members written at the time, not interviews with the press that can often be embellished. With so many unrelated passengers telling a similar story, Cameron felt it was certainly a possiblity that it did happen. A lot of facts were White-Washed over during the hearings, not to mention surviving Officers didn't want to tarnish the image of Murdoch or the White Star Line then. Yes, the CBS version was pretty cheesey. But as Dr. Robert Ballard pointed out, the story of Titanic has been revised as History uncovers itself. The earlier Titanic movies may not have depicted Murdochs behavior, but then they also didn't depict the ship splitting in two as it really did. Loking back on Passenger and Crew testimony now reveals that there were many many witnesses to the breakup. That was covered up by White Star and the Officers too.

Dave Smith
 

Jerry Nuovo

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But there is still no strong evidence that Murdoch shot at steerage passengers and then pointing the gun at himself.And yes I've heard of some passengers claiming that they saw an Officer shooting at himself.But if an Officer did it was it Murdoch? I saw in an interview that Walter Lord thinks it might have been Chief Officer Wilde that might have done that if it happened at all.A lot of the passengers did not even know the names of Titanic's Officers.Is also possible that some of the surviving passengers aboard the Carpathia could have schemed with one another to just make false claims against the Titanic's Officers because they the passengers were angry at just what happened? Sincerely,Jerry Nuovo
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Anyone wanting a good overview of the historical inaccuracies in the film would find Bill Wormstedt's website to be a useful resource to go over. Just click on Historical Inaccuracies In James Cameron's Titanic and for the ever popular officer suicide debate, click on Shots In The Dark.

Like a lot of people who might be considered "Purists", I wouldn't mind seeing a film that was as true to the history as it really was as possible, but I'm also realistic enoungh to know that it's not likely to happen. Hollywood is a business first, and has to produce films that appeal to the widest possible audience. As something that's entertaining enough to sell tickets at the box office comes first, historical accuracy is invariably going to take it in the shorts.

Mores the pity.
 
Mar 3, 1998
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Those who are familiar with my arguments in the past regarding Murdoch know that I do not believe that Titanic's First Officer shot anyone, much less himself. However, I cannot prove that he didn't. Nor could Don Lynch when Cameron pressed him on the issue during filming.

I don't like the fact that Cameron chose to depict Murdoch shooting a passenger (even through a misunderstanding) and committing suicide. However, neither I nor anyone else can claim with absolute credibility that those scenes are historically inaccurate, because no one really knows what happened. Cameron doesn't know, nor do his historical advisors, which is why Cameron felt that he could take what little facts there were and from them fashion a dramatic scene that served his storyline. To my knowledge, if either Don Lynch or Ken Marschall said that the history was solid on any given point, then Cameron deferred to them. If, however, there were gaps in the evidence that no one could realistically address, then Cameron filled them in himself, using his best judgment on what would make for a successful film as a guide.

I know from my own personal experience during the filming of Ghosts of the Abyss that if I had evidence to back my assertions, then Cameron would not disregard what I had to say. There were times when I directly challenged a firm conviction of his, but armed with evidence to back my claim, Cameron would first defer and then thank me for bringing it to his attention. Of course, there were times when he shot down a few of my own convictions with his surprising depth of knowledge of the subject.

But, back to the issue of Murdoch. You cannot even find consensus on Murdoch's last moments among the "experts" in the Titanic community. Personally, I believe Lightoller's eyewitness testimony regarding Murdoch, but whenever I bring that up, there are plenty who attempt to rebut by bringing Lightoller's truthfulness and/or motives into question. A read through Bill Wormstedt's site will highlight the confusion and contradiction in the testimony. If the eyewitnesses to the event and subsequently the most thorough historical analysts cannot agree on what happened, then who can rightfully call Cameron wrong?

Parks
 
Nov 30, 2000
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I too don't think it was Murdoch who killed himself. I shall explain why in the paper I am drafting about wether or not the shootings/sucide was at Collapsible A or not.
Also, unless further evidence comes to light that Murdoch was indeed the one, in the Titanic historical novel I have had on the drafting board since 1999, I shall depict Murdoch as being swept from the Boat Deck whilst struggling with the lifeboat falls.
Note about A: It IS a true fact that Collapsible A was parked right in the middle of the starboard boat deck at the end due to the Titanic's list to port, which was severe enough to inhibit getting A all the way to the davits, so the falls were slackened and made fast to the boat. Collapsible A being shown in the davits in both 1990's Titanic films is a bit of dramatic licsense.

Richard
 

Eric Paddon

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For something as sensitive as Murdoch and his supposed suicide, and the uproar it was capable of causing, it took a lot of poor judgment to include that in a movie intended to have the biggest possible audience of any Titanic production ever. Debating whether Murdoch shot himself or not should be for documentaries, not big budget feature films. And certainly not embellished with a twist that isn't even alleged in the circumstantial evidence pointing to it (gunning down a steerage passenger; and then of course showing Murdoch taking a bribe)
 

Jeremy Lee

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What about the bribing of Murdoch by Cal, it would also cause an uproar, which coupled with the shooting really spoils his reputation. It is unlikely that any corruption took place on the REAL Titanic.
 

Bob Godfrey

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Within the ethics of fiction, it is often acceptable to speculate on the possible interactions of real people, but fictional characters should not interact in any significant way with real characters when that interaction impinges upon the reputation of those who lived and breathed. With that in mind, it was with the bribery scene that Cameron stepped furthest over the line, doing severe damage to the reputation of an honourable man (and, in my view, to his own as well).

If it were proved beyond reasonable doubt that Murdoch took lives in an attempt to save a larger number this would not diminish my respect for the man. If I knew for sure that he had taken his own life then I would feel sympathy rather than contempt. But if evidence emerged that Murdoch had even considered making selections for life or death on the basis of personal gain, as suggested by Cameron's screenplay, then for me his reputation would be destroyed beyond redemption. It's perhaps fortunate that most people who view these scenes believe that Murdoch (and even the ship) are no less fictional than Cal.
 
Jan 28, 2003
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"It's perhaps fortunate that most people who view these scenes believe that Murdoch (and even the ship) are no less fictional than Cal."

I'm not sure so about that, Bob. I had some Events Management students who were planning a Titanic Party (??) and from what I could gather, they regarded the Cameron film as the last word in historical accuracy. People do think films get it right, most depressing, as we've touched upon before regarding WW2 movies. They know the Rose & Jack thing is fiction, but in some weird way this seems to convince them even more that all the other events in the film must be true. And they thought the Jack / Cameron sketches were great art ..... grrr.
Monica
 

Jeremy Lee

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>>last word in historical accuracy<<
Is there another film on Titanic which is more accurate? If not, I guess they would have no choice....
 

Jerry Nuovo

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Well there is a more historically accurate Titanic film than Cameron's Titanic and that more historically accurate Titanic film which I think is the best Titanic film is "A Night to Remember". Sincerely,Jerry Nuovo
 

Jeremy Lee

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Unfortunately, "A Night to Remember" does not have the detail and almost full size replica of the Titanic like James Cameron's and also no special effects which make the ship look so much more REAL. I agree that things such as the shooting of passengers, bribing etc. might be made up but it is the realisticism of the ship and set in the movie that counts.
 

Jerry Nuovo

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Well Bill MacQuitty who was the producer and Roy Baker who was the director of A Night to Remember did not have the computerized special effects technology available to them in the late 1950's when A Night to Remember was filmed and of course James Cameron did have computerized special effects technology available to him.MacQuitty and Baker did get the first class dining room right and they also got the first class grand staircase right also and the model of the Titanic sailing in the water is accurate too.In my opinion accurate movie sets and computerized special effects are not the Number 1 reason for a good film.It is the script that is the Number 1 reason for a good film and the script for A Night to Remember is still a far better script than the script for Cameron's Titanic. Sincerely,Jerry Nuovo
 

Jeremy Lee

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Obviously, because A Night to Remember is more of a documentary while James Cameron's Titanic is more of a love story. Well, throwing all this stuff about shooting of passengers, a love story, bribing of the officer etc. will attract more people. James Cameron's motive was not to make an effort to recreate Titanic, but more to draw crowds to the box office.
 

Jerry Nuovo

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Cameron's Titanic film did win 11 oscars out of 14 oscar nominations but his film did not win an oscar for an important oscar category which is Best Screenplay and screenplay is another word for script.A Night to Remember did not win any oscars and I don't think that A Night to Remember even got any oscar nominations.A Night to Remember did win a Golden Globe for Best English Language Foreign Film.And the popularity of a film is not and should not be a determination of how good a film should be.I will choose the docu-drama style of A Night to Remember over the historically inaccurate and fictitious love story in Cameron's Titanic any day despite the fact that A Night to Remember may not be as popular as Cameron's Titanic
 

Kyrila Scully

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Jerry and Jeremy, you both make excellent points, and the bottom line you should keep in mind is that "to each his own." Everyone will of course have their own favorite Titanic movie and for various reasons. It's all purely subjective to state one movie is more accurate or better than another. I love both movies for different reasons and I also have disappointments with both movies for different reasons. But that's okay, too. So is everyone else's opinions of the films, or maybe they prefer another film entirely. And besides which, this subject has been hashed and thrashed in other threads so many times. Let's move on to something else.

Kyrila
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Jerry, as Kyrila pointed out, it's all a matter of taste. I don't take my measure of a film by how many Oscars or any other award it wins. I've seen a few Oscar winners...like Apocolypse Now...which I found to be so dreary and boring that I walked out of the cinima halfway through. I enjoyed Cameron's Titanic enough that I went back to see it several times and bought a copy when it came out on DVD.

When you get right down to it, whether or not you enjoy it is the only litmus test that matters. If you like it, have fun with it. If not...well...there are other fish in the sea.
wink.gif
 

Jerry Nuovo

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Jeremy,Kyrila and Michael, I do happen to think that Cameron's Titanic is a far better film than the dreadful CBS mini-series Titanic that had Catherine Zeta-Jones in it. Sincerely,Jerry Nuovo
 

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