Titanic: A century in film and television

    The Ti­tan­ic set sail from South­hamp­ton, Eng­land, on April 10, 1912, an em­blem of mod­ern­ity. The ship – the largest mov­ing ob­ject in the world – was 46,000 tons of lux­ury and tech­no­lo­gic­al in­genu­ity. Four days later, the “un­sink­able” ves­sel struck an ice­berg. The fate of the Ti­tan­ic has cap­tured pop­u­lar ima­gin­a­tion for the last cen­tury. Here’s a look at the story on film and tele­vi­sion:

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    April 10, 1912

    Maiden voyage
    (Associated Press / Frank O. Braynard Collection)

    Titanic departs Southhampton in its maiden voyage amid fanfare and news coverage. Aboard the ship are about 2,200 passengers and crew, including American millionaires, Golden Age tycoons, artists, men of letters and tourists and emigrants from all parts of the globe.

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    April 15, 1912

    (Los Angeles Times)

    After striking an iceberg that leaves a 300-foot gash in the hull of the “unsinkable” passenger ship, the Titanic splits apart and falls to the ocean floor. In all, 1,522 of the 2,200 people aboard perish.

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    May 14, 1912

    First reenactment
    (Wikimedia Commons)

    Among the Titanic survivors is 22-year-old silent film actress Dorothy Gibson. Within a month of the tragedy, her paramour, Jules Brulatour — a pioneer of silent film — releases “Saved From the Titanic.” The one-reel film features Gibson in a fictionalized version of her ordeal — costumed in the white evening dress, long sweater, gloves and a pair of black pumps in which she actually abandoned ship. No known copies of the film exist.

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    June 1912

    Second feature

    In Nacht und Eis,” a 30-minute silent film, is made in Berlin just two months after the famed ocean liner sank. It is directed by a man named Mime Misu. The film is long-believed lost until Horst Lange, a retired film archivist, comes forward in 1998 with a copy he had purchased in the 1970s.

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    Jan. 1, 1943

    Nazi propaganda
    (cruisingthepast.com via YouTube)

    The Nazis cast the sinking of the Titanic as a failure on the part of the British. Written in German at the end: “The deaths of 1,500 people remain unatoned for … an internal condemnation of Britain’s quest for profit.” The propaganda film ends up being shelved at the time of its 1943 completion.

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    April 1953

    Technical triumph
    Clifton Webb, right, and Harper Carter.
    Clifton Webb, right, and Harper Carter. (Unknown phototographer)

    Jean Negulesco’s version of “Titanic,” starring Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck, premieres. A Times review calls the film’s technical realism a “triumph.” Webb and Stanwyck play fictional characters, an estranged couple returning home, but the story is based on inquiry records of the disaster.

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    Jan. 1, 1958

    A Night to Remember’
    Actor Kenneth More, playing Second Officer Charles Herbert Lightoller, fires his pistol into the air in a scene from the 1958 film.
    Actor Kenneth More, playing Second Officer Charles Herbert Lightoller, fires his pistol into the air in a scene from the 1958 film. (John Pratt / Getty Images)

    Made with what The Times reviewer calls “documentary realism,” the film directed by Roy Baker features more than 180 speaking roles. It is considered the definitive work on the disaster until James Cameron’s blockbuster is released decades later.

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    Unsinkable Molly Brown’
    Movie poster on display at the Molly Brown House Museum in Denver.
    Movie poster on display at the Molly Brown House Museum in Denver. (Ed Andrieski / Associated Press)

    Debbie Reynolds stars in the film adaption of the popular stage musical. Reynolds earns an Oscar nomination for her role as Titanic survivor Molly Brown, whose husband had struck it rich in the gold mines of Colorado two decades before the fateful voyage.

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    September 1985

    Titanic’ wreck found
    An underwater image of the Titanic wreck.
    An underwater image of the Titanic wreck. (National Geographic / Ralph White)

    The wreck of the liner Titanic is found by a joint U.S-French expedition off Canada in waters more than 13,000 feet deep. In an announcement from the government-run French Institute for Research and Exploitation of the Sea, explorers said that the wreck, about 370 miles south of Newfoundland, was positively identified by the French-made SAR submarine sonar system and American-made ARGO underwater cameras.

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    A&E documentary

    A&E, a cable television network, airs the documentary “Titanic.” The four-video boxed set, released on video, sells fewer than 60,000 copies. A re-release four years later, after the record-setting James Cameron film came out, quickly becomes A&E’s biggest-selling title ever.

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    Dec. 19, 1997

    Cameron’s ‘Titanic’

    Clocking in at 3 hours and 14 minutes and costing $200 million to make, James Cameron’s “Titanic” premieres. Times film critic Kenneth Turan credits the epic’s production, noting the movie uses a 775-foot, 90% scale model of the doomed ship and sinks it in a 17-million-gallon tank. But he knocks the script. The film goes on to earn nearly $2 billion and 11 Oscars.

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    February 1998

    Fox documentary
    (Twentieth Century Fox)

    This Fox television documentary looks at the real-life events of the Titanic’s doomed voyage. Features include interviews with director James Cameron and the stars of his blockbuster movie — produced by the company’s film division — Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. It airs the same month “Titanic” ties the record for most Oscar nominations ever.

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    April 2003

    Ghosts of the Abyss’
    A chandelier dangles in the area that once housed the grand staircase.
    A chandelier dangles in the area that once housed the grand staircase. (Walt Disney Pictures)

    James Cameron’s $13-million digital, 3-D documentary “Ghosts of the Abyss” is released in Imax and other theaters. The one-hour film exploring Titanic’s rusting ruins marks the director’s first step into 3-D moviemaking.

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    April 3, 2012

    Titanic’ is re-released in 3-D
    EPA / Franck Robichon
    EPA / Franck Robichon (Director James Cameron at an event in Tokyo promoting 'Titanic 3D.')

    Titanic” returns to theaters in 3-D, in the U.S. and more than 100 other countries. In re-releasing his romantic disaster epic, James Cameron is courting a broad audience of nostalgia-driven adults, fans who were too young to see “Titanic” on the big screen the first time around and moviegoers in countries such as China and Russia, where theaters were few and far between during the film’s initial run.

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    April 2012

    TV remembers
    A scene from the four-part ABC miniseries "Titanic."
    A scene from the four-part ABC miniseries "Titanic." (Laurence Cendrowicz / ABC )

    Among the various television shows planned to run around the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking: Julian Fellowes’ ABC miniseries “Titanic,” PBS’ “Saving the Titanic” and a James Cameron National Geographic special.

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    Published: March 29, 2012
    Sources: Los Angeles Times research
    Credits: Megan Garvey, TimelineSetter
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