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TITANIC : FACTS, ERRORS & OMISSIONS

As far as telling the story of Titanic, A Night To Remember is far more accurate but Titanic, by the sheer scale of its production and extraordinary special effects, conveys more of the horror of this spectacular tragedy, says Titanic ‘buff’ PAT CONLAN. Here, he covers some of the factual ground. . . er, ocean?

Sister ships, Olympic and Titanic were the biggest ships of their day, with a length of 882ft. 9in and extreme breadth of 92ft.6in. The Olympic had been launched a year ahead of the Titanic and actually was about to go on her maiden voyage when the Titanic was launched. While Titanic was being fitted out, some adjustments were made, based on practical experience on board the Olympic, and the forward promenade deck was enclosed, an easy way of telling the ships apart.

Additional first class accommodation, private promenades, a new restaurant and a new reception room, all contributed to Titanic reaching a gross tonnage of 46,328, making her the largest ship in the world. The Olympic's gross tonnage was 45,000, (compared to the Mauretania's 31,938 gross tonnage and the Lusitania's 30,892, both 760 ft. in length and five years old at the time.) The Olympic and Titanic were about the same length as the QE2 is today - they were 11 storeys high and a sixth of a mile long. The Olympic class was designed for a top speed of 21 knots but exceeded this in trials. There are relatively few photographs of the Titanic and most photographs, particularly of interiors, are actually of the Olympic. Olympic received a lot of publicity at the time of her maiden voyage while Titanic, as number two, did not produce headlines although she still attracted crowds of onlookers.

THE MOVIE - OMISSIONS
Apart from adding the fictional romance on board the ship, writer/director James Cameron has omitted several factors or events that were significant to the story - that ice had never been seen that far south before; that some ice warnings did not get to the bridge, that nevertheless, some additional precautions had been taken; that the radio operators were among the first to use the SOS call sign; that the rescue by the Carpathia was quite a remarkable achievement despite it arriving too late; that a ship was stopped about ten miles away, that each ship could see the other, and, despite the distress rockets, the ship did not respond.

ERRORS
The Titanic did not speed away from her berth at Southampton - she was escorted by tugs and in fact, caused a near collision by ripping another ship from its moorings. Although the Titanic had been increasing speed, she still did not have all her boilers lit. The film leaves the impression that all exits to the Boat Deck were barred for Steerage passengers - only some were. Only the officers were issued with firearms, (not stewards), and nobody was shot, passengers or officers themselves. (Officer Lowe once drew his pistol and on a second occasion, fired three warning shots along the side of the ship when it looked like some passengers were making a surge towards a lifeboat.)

The lights seem to be flickering on and off a lot. On the actual night, the lights burned continuously, thanks to work by engineers down below to keep the dynamos running as long as possible. Towards the end, the lights began to dim as power was fading and with about 35 minutes to go, were beginning to glow red. It was only in the last 5 minutes or so, as the ship was rising to the perpendicular, that the lights went out, came back on, and then went out for ever. Contrary to what old Rose says, 13 survivors were picked up from the water. The actual number on board was 2,207 (1,316 passengers and 891 crew), and only 711 survived (499 passengers and 212 crew.)

BACKGROUND DETAILS
With copies of the original plans, photographs from both the Olympic and Titanic, and a couple of experts Don Lynch and Ken Marschall on hand, Cameron and his team of artisans, physical and digital, have recreated the ship in authentic detail, right down to the tiled floors and wall papers. Even the boilers in the engine room are the correct design. And yes, there was a car loaded into the hold.

Apart from some of the historical characters we meet, there are many more historical characters to be seen in the background. One of the most fascinating is chief baker Charles Joughin, who had been drinking during the sinking, in between helping to load people and bread into the lifeboats. He was in the pantry as dishes started to fall down, about ten minutes before the end. He ran, much like Jack and Rose do in the film, through the kitchen, on to the stern end of A Deck, down to B Deck and the Well Deck when the shipped lurched to port, at the same time as it was rising vertically. He climbed over the rail and walked up the outside of the ship, hanging on to the railings. He stood on the outside of the stern as it reached the perpendicular. As the ship went down below him, he simply stepped off into the ocean and didn't even get his hair wet. Fortified with liquor, he paddled around in the freezing water alongside one of the lifeboats until picked up by the Carpathia. That's Joughin standing next to Jack and Rose as the ship goes under.

TITANIC V CLEOPATRA
There's a sense of deja vu about 20th Century Fox's new TITANIC now being 'the most expensive movie ever made', with its budget exceeding US$200. Back in 1963, Cleopatra cost US$44 million, (estimated to be around US$300 million in '97 dollars). This was at a time when the average movie cost US$2 million to make. It's budget excesses had much to do with the sheer size of the prodution but was exacerbated by the illness of star Elizabeth Taylor.

Cleopatra was four years in the making, in the TODD-AO 70mm process. Production began in London with director Rouben Mamoulian. After nine months shooting, at a cost of US$5 million, production moved to Rome under director Joseph Mankiewicz. Taylor's difficulties included union action over her hairdresser, a bout of double-pneumonia which lead to an emergency tracheotomy in a near-death situation and her romance with co-star Richard Burton.

Some other excesses on that budget included US$130,000 for Taylor's 65 costumes, US$64,800 for 40 costumes that were in scenes that were cut. The gold dress she wears for her entry into Rome cost US$6,500. Her salary was US$1,725,000 plus 10% of the gross over $7,500,000. At its premiere, it was the longest US film ever made - 243 minutes - but it lost 22 minutes within its first week and was later reduced to 180 minutes. (It was this much reduced version that was shown in Australia).

Prior to its NY premiere at the Rivoli Theatre, it sold US$14 million in advance ticket sales. There was controversy over the giant original billboard display over the Rivoli which ommitted Harrison. Nominated for Best Picture, Actor (Harrison), Cinematography Color (win), Art Direction - Set Direction Colour (win), Sound, Original Score, Film Editing, Costume Design Colour (win) and Special Visual Effects (win.)

Cleopatra grossed US$26 million in North America which compares favourably with the average gross of a movie at that time of US$9 million. (International revenue from that period is difficult to obtain but was still insufficient to cover the budget). A couple of years later, THE SOUND OF MUSIC was to rescue Fox from its financial doldrums. However, a few years later again, losses on other big budget films, such as Star!, TORA! TORA! TORA! and Doctor Dolittle, squandered the profits from THE SOUND OF MUSIC.
That’s showbiz.
Pat Conlan

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PATRICK CONLAN first became interested in the Titanic as a schoolboy, a year or two before A Night To Remember was released. Since then, he has collected about twenty books on the ship, including one on the engineering plans; he has assembled a model of the ship, has seen most of the movies and documentaries, met Bob Ballard who found the wreck, and has seen the Tony Award-winning musical ‘Titanic’ which is currently a hit on Broadway. For the last four years, he has been associate editor of Movie Trader, a trade publication for film exhibitors and distributors in Australia.

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EPILOGUE
Following the disaster, offical enquiries both in America and in Britain, stated the obvious, that there should have been room in the lifeboats for everyone on board. The regulations at the time couldn't cope with ships that huge and merely stated that a ship over a certain size should have a certain cubic capacity. Although the Titanic could carry a total of 3,547 passengers and crew, the regulations specified a capacity of 962 people. The White Star generously exceeded that by providing room for 1,178, but still far less than the actual number on board of 2,207.

A third ship, the Gigantic, was under construction at the time of the disaster and had its named changed to Brittanic. She was launched as World War I broke out and saw duty as a troop ship until being torpedoed. The Olympic sailed until 1935, having completed 257 round crossings of the Atlantic - about 1.5 million miles. During the war, she also served as a troop ship.

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