Films about disasters, both natural and artificial, often capture the imaginations of global audiences like no other. Titanic is undoubtedly among the most famous disaster films ever made but the legacy of the disaster extends far beyond the 1997 epic by James Cameron which remains an integral part of popular culture after all these years.
Since the ship was initially marketed as an “unsinkable” monument of our civilisation’s technological progress, its eventual demise has been seen as a metaphor for the undeniable fragility of modernity’s achievements. This aspect has been explored in several accounts of the incident and has become its defining trait in many ways.
Over the years, the sinking of the Titanic has been referenced through several modes of artistic expression. There have been multiple exhibitions featuring actual artefacts from the shipwreck as well as the personal possessions of people who survived the disastrous accident and lived to tell their incredibly moving stories.
The journey of the Titanic has immortalised in the world of cinema as well. While the 1958 work A Night to Remember is regarded as one of the most accurate portrayals of what happened back then, the cultural impact of James Cameron’s Titanic eclipses almost everything else that has explored the sinking of the infamous ship.
In an interview, Cameron explained: “Titanic was conceived as a love story. If I could have done it without one effect, I would’ve been happy. It was definitely a goal to integrate a very personal, emotional style with spectacle – and try to make that not be chocolate syrup on a cheeseburger, you know. The cathartic experience is what made the film work.”
Many films and documentaries have been made about the subject but the first of its kind came just 31 days after the ship sank in 1912. Titled Saved from the Titanic, it was the first cinematic work that dramatised the tragic events and is still remembered because it featured one of the actual survivors from the accident.
A silent short, Saved from the Titanic starred famous film actress Dorothy Gibson who had been aboard the ship when it began to sink. One of the few people who escaped via the very first lifeboat from the ship, Gibson returned to New York City and co-wrote the script featuring a fictionalised version of herself.
The final film of her career, she actually suffered a mental breakdown when it was all over. Unfortunately, Saved from the Titanic is now classified as a lost film because a complete print is no longer in existence.