There is a scene in James Cameron’s teeny – bopper – beach – blanket – quasi – semi – hysterical drama – ‘TITANIC”, in which a crewman assigned to con one of the lifeboats tells passenger Molly Brown [ the unsinkable ] to ” sit down and shut the hole in your face”. Those words were actually spoken on that night, by a crewman, to a passenger in one of the boats. But they were not said to Molly Brown. They were not even said in the same boat she was sitting in.
Of the events of that night, a hundred years ago, this would rank near or at the bottom in relative importance. The largest passenger liner in the world, only months old, struck an iceberg and sank in the North Atlantic on a moonless night. Millions of dollars were lost. Over a thousand people were torn from their warm bunks and thrown into the icy waters to die in minutes from exposure; frozen alive. What difference does it make a hundred years later who said what to who?
It Tasks me. I think that anyone who makes their fortune on the borrowed tragedies of his fellow human beings owes them the courtesy of a least getting the facts straight.
Movies are the closest thing to real magic that we have in our lives. Events, people, and all of the material substance that make up a time or place long gone from our grasp can be made to appear in their fullness right before our eyes. The Titanic, laying twelve thousand feet down, shattered in a million pieces and scattered across the sea floor, can be seen in all of its new built glory, steaming across the screen under a clear blue sky. Events and people who vanished from the earth before most of us were even born, live and breathe and act out their history right before our eyes.
When you watch a movie, you have to keep firmly in mind that every thing you see and hear is carefully and deliberately chosen by the filmmaker to serve his purpose; be it entertainment, persuasion, or deception. James Cameron, who wrote, produced, and directed “Titanic”, composed the scene I’ve described involving Molly Brown. Mrs. Brown was a real person, who lived a very extensive and public life. Her qualities as a human being are very well attested to by hundreds of reliable witnesses. Her actions on the “Night to Remember” can be accounted for literally minute by minute from the testimony of other survivors. Cameron, for reasons known but to him, decided to shift the facts of that night around in order to give her a slap in the face. Why?
I find it puzzling. It is an irritation. But what he did ,in his little three-hour sea going soap opera, to the memory of First Officer William McMaster Murdoch, was an obcenity.
The son and grandson of sea captains, Murdoch earned his stripes in sail and steam on every ocean of the world thru sixteen years of unblemished duty as mariner and officer before he took up the post of First Officer on the Titanic, second to the captain. His competence and courage in the many emergencies of his career are a matter of record, testified to by those who served under and above him thru – out his career.
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During 1903, Murdoch finally reached the stormy and glamorous North Atlantic run as Second Officer of the new liner Arabic. His cool head, quick thinking and professional judgement averted a disaster when a ship was spotted bearing down on the Arabic out of the darkness. He overrode a command from his superior, Officer Fox, to steer hard-a-port, rushing into the wheelhouse, brushing aside the quartermaster and holding the ship on course. The two ships passed within inches of one another. Any alteration in course would have actually caused a collision.
In his movie, Cameron composes a scene on the Boat Deck, during the chaos of loading the lifeboats, in which the First officer, Murdoch, shoots two men trying to rush the boat. He then shows Murdoch turning the gun on himself, blowing his own brains out, then falling into the sea.
By the code of the time, governing men in general and merchant officers in particular, this would have been an act of ultimate cowardice; the abandonment of ones sworn duty to protect the lives under ones charge. It flies in the face of everything known about Murdoch’s well-tested character and experience, but it fits Cameron’s dramatic narrative nicely. In Hollywood, if the truth gets in the way of the plot development, then the truth must go.
The best evidence we have of the actions of all of the people on board that slowly sinking ship come from the testimony given before the American and British Boards of inquiry by the survivors when the events of that night were still fresh. Their words place Murdoch at Collapsible Boat A, rushing to launch the last of the lifeboats, when the doomed ship took its sudden final plunge. The collapsible boat and the men struggling to launch it were swept into the sea. The First officer was later seen dead and floating near the up turned boat.
First Officer William McMaster Murdoch, 39 yrs. old, died struggling against impossible odds to do his duty to the bitter end. He does not deserve to be trashed by ‘Men of lesser breeding’ such as those who infest the movie business.
There is a very shabby practice among moviemakers and other such people who mine the rich history of this sad old earth for profit. By picking and choosing the pieces of any given moment in time, rearranging their order, and shifting words actually spoken from one mouth to another, they can trick people into believing that they have mastered the real truth of the matter. By shuffling the pieces of other people’s lives around they try to persuade us that what actually happened, didn’t, and what never happened , did.
It might be dramatic, or entertaining, but it is not truth. If you have to reorder reality to prove a point, then your point is not valid.
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