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Titanic exhibit opens today in St. Paul; researcher says hit movie about the disaster was not particularly accurate

As the Titanic exhibit opens today at the Science Museum of Minnesota — with artifacts from the 1912 shipwreck along with newly discovered articles from the ship that rescued many of the passengers — a Minnesota writer with a passion for the topic raises questions about the historical accuracy of the 1997 hit movie that catapulted the disaster into the realm of popular culture.

In a MinnPost.com story earlier this week about Minnesota connections to the Titanic, it was said that the movie, “Titanic,” was made “with much historical accuracy.” The expert quoted was talking about the layout of the cabins and the sets and much of the visual time-period effects.

But Richard Krebes, a 29-year-old freelance writer from Long Lake, says the movie is way off base on many fronts.

In an e-mail, Krebes says he has a passion for historical and maritime topics and notes that “Hollywood distorted many, many facts about the Titanic in that motion picture.”

Krebes submits what he calls a partial listing of the film’s “sins of comission and omission:

  • First Class passenger Archibal Gracie being depicted as a sterotypcial blow hard snob. That is wildly off the mark as to Gracie’s personality.  In reality, he was a gentleman bon vivant with a passion for writing and history who displayed much physical courage the night the Titanic sank.  Staying aboard ship until it dropped out from beneath his feet.
  • Legendary First Class couple Isidor and Ida Strauss awaiting the end in their flooding cabin. This flies in the face of the fact that 1. Isidor and Ida were last seen on the port boat deck shortly before the ship took her death dive and 2. Isidor’s body was recovered.  Had he still been in his cabin, the ship’s bow section would have become his tomb, as he would have ridden it to the bottom.
  • First Officer William Murdoch being depicted as an indecisive coward. While speculation continues as to just what two survivors said they saw about an officer killing himself, there is nothing concrete that it was Murdoch.  If anyone even did kill themselves to begin with. He also was not one to be trifled with by men wanting to force their way into lifeboats, the film’s sequences showing him accepting and belatedly rejecting a bribe to the contrary.  In reality, Murdoch had such backbone he drove men hiding in one of the starboard boats out with shouts and two shots into the air with his pistol during the real sinking.  And when last seen by a reliable witness was working at a lifeboat davit just aft the bridge on the starboard side before the ship plunged, immersing him and the crewmen helping.
  • Lookouts Frederick Fleet and Reginald Lee letting their attention wander before the ship collided with the iceberg. This is one of the lowest of the low points of “Titanic.”  One where history was forced into the contrived romance by having Fleet and Lee, depicted as gawky young men, gaze at Cameron’s couple as they kiss on the forward well deck. Then belatedly sight the iceberg when, historically, their attention never wandered at all. And lookout Lee was a much older man than Fleet. Being in his forties at the time and was a very seasoned salt and lookout. (If you are interested, I exploded this Hollywood depiction in detail with an article entitled “Defending Fleet And Lee”, published online.)
  • Last but not least in this partial listing, according to the film, the greatest hero of the Titanic disaster was a hunky teenager named Jack Dawson.  In reality, the greatest hero was a brave sea captain named Arthur Henry Rostron.  Master of the Cunard liner Carpathia. Destined to be the savior of the Titanic’s survivors that night.
  • Rostron’s ship was 58 miles to the southeast the night of the sinking, but even so, that did not deter him from ordering Carpathia put about to head at full steam towards the Titanic when her distress call was picked up.  And this before he confirmed that the distress call was genuine and not an error.  Marvelously decisive on his part! He also did not hesitate to dodge about the icebergs littering the scene of the sinking to rescue those in the lifeboats.  Among many, many other things too numerous to list here.”

Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Brandie Thomas on 06/14/2009 - 05:16 pm.

    Umm, DUH. Why is this news? Everyone knows that the movie isn’t supposed to be a blow-by-blow of everything that happened that night. That’s why it’s FICTION, based on an historical event, not a documentary. Everything in your list of inaccuracies has been addressed by the Cameron and the other filmmakers, who’ve openly admitted to the inaccurate bits of the film. And they’ve already been discussed extensively.

  2. Submitted by Bunnie Watson on 06/16/2009 - 02:20 pm.

    This was an interesting article, but a frustrating one to read. How about giving a few complete sentences, rather than disjointed fragments. Thanks.

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