The Unsinkable Dream
by Sebastiano Bazzichetto
(I Salonisti. Song Without Words)
TORONTO – For many, April is the month that inaugurates spring; for me, it has always been the month to muse on RMS Titanic’s maiden voyage.
Nearly everything has been said and written about the doomed White Start Line’s steamship that sailed the Atlantic only to meet her fate one freezing, calm night of April in 1912, when – as we all know – she struck an iceberg and sank. At the time of her construction, Titanic was the largest moving object ever built by human beings and she was advertised as such. What is more, she was said to be unsinkable. She was undoubtably the most luxurious ship sailing the sea at the time, and the pride of the British steam navigation company that succeeded in creating such a floating wonder for the pleasure of its wealthiest customers.
After the tragedy, every year a memorial wreath is thrown into the sea on the spot where Titanic sank during her first, and last, voyage, bringing death to 1,500 people, many of whom were women and children, mostly third class passengers.
Despite the fact that her catastrophic end shook the world’s consciousness, Titanic has maintained her status as “the ship of dreams”, as James Cameron’s movie fans may recall. Rose Dewitt Bukater’s fictional character, portrayed in 1997 by a young and exceptionally talented Kate Winslet, allowed the audience to dive into the gilded world of the golden society that was travelling aboard the ship. Before Cameron’s movie and its numerous Oscar awards, the list of motion pictures and books about that fatal night is fairly long. First and foremost, Walter Lord’s A Night to Remember must be mentioned as the classic account of the final hours of the British liner. Seamless and skillful, published in 1955, Lord’s book received widespread praise from contemporary critics and still is the prime source that chronicles and collects facts, emotions, opinions and memories of the survivors interviewed in the ‘50s. Key to the success of Lord’s book is his ability to engage the readers with a vivid storytelling that moves back and forth from the time of the collision, recalling the previous days of the voyage, describing what life was like on such a dreamy ship. After Lord’s book, an eponymous movie was released in 1958. Adapted by Eric Ambler and directed by Roy Ward Baker, it was filmed in the United Kingdom.
Some ten years prior, in 1943, Nazi Germany released Titanic, a propaganda film by Tobis Productions. Although a German-language film about the RMS Titanic had already been released in 1929 by a British company, the motion picture was commissioned by the Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels with the intent of showing that British and American avidity (and capitalism) was responsible for the disaster. Nonetheless, it was also the first movie that mingled fictional characters and plots with real events to emphasize some despicable features of the British (and American) enemies.
In 1997 James Cameron brought new life to the RMS Titanic and her story. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet became the unforgettable protagonists of a love story that could not be more enthralling than that aboard the cursed passenger steamer. Eventually, in 2005, the TV movie Titanic: birth of a legend shed light on the lives of the men who designed and were responsible for the construction of both Titanic and Olympic at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast.
When Titanic sank, an entire world was shaken and brought to the verge of collapse. Her ill-fated voyage was just the prelude to another, this time gigantic, catastrophe: the First World War, that roused the souls of the whole of Europe and its children, sent to die at the front lines. Titanic represented a watershed: before and after her the world would not have been the same. The Edwardian era witnessed its own sunset, while the world had to wait awhile for another aureate period of (illusory) peace, the two decades between the World Wars. Lost forever, Titanic continues to cast her spell on the people who never boarded the unsinkable ship, and venture into her opulent interiors. Sunk not by God but by a large piece of ice (and many other factors), Titanic lives on in the dreams of modern voyagers, as a new unsinkable entity: a legend.