Saturday, May 26, 2012


The other day I read an article in Smithsonian magazine about the Titanic (I know, I'm way behind on my magazine reading), and I can't help wondering why, of the myriad of shipwrecks throughout history, the sinking of the Titanic has captivated the public's attention more than any other.  I've spent recent days going through it in my mind, trying to figure it out, but so far I'm coming up empty.

Unlike the sinking of the Lusitania, which compelled the United States to join the fighting in World War I, there is no particular historical significance to the Titanic sinking.  Nor is there the political intrigue - the Germans claiming they were justified in torpedoing the Lusitania because the US was using it to supply munitions to England, a claim that proved true in 2008 when divers explored the wreck and found about 4 million rounds of ammunition.  The sinking of the Indianapolis is also far more historically significant and, in my mind, far more deserving of a film.  I'm actually kind of surprised and disappointed that no film has ever been made about the Indianapolis.  And come to think of it, the same could be said about the H. L. Hunley, the Confederate submarine which sank the Housatonic - that's a buy one, get one free nautical disaster.

My next thought is that perhaps it was Hollywood that pushed the Titanic into the forefront of the public imagination.  Other shipwrecks featured in the media haven't generated the same hype, however.  The Perfect Storm failed to cement the name Andrea Gail in people's minds (I had to look it up).  U-571, while largely fictitious, is based on some historical fact and the sinking of the Bismarck is rarely thought about.  Several books and Seinfeld reference are not enough to make the Andrea Doria a household name.  Even Gordon Lightfoot singing about the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald only managed to drum up temporary interest. 

It's not the number of passengers lost in the disaster.  According to the internet, which would never lie to me, the death toll on the Titanic only ranks it fifth in maritime history.  While some rich, powerful, and famous souls were aboard the Titanic, the same could be said of the Lusitania.  And again, the Lusitania was every bit the luxury liner that the Titanic was. 

The only unique facts I can think of regarding the Titanic are that it sank on its maiden voyage and the hubris of the owners who called it unsinkable.  So where does this all leave me?  I can only conclude that rather than one thing it is the multitude of factors that combine to make it memorable.  And since it's never been overly interesting to me, I feel that Hollywood owes me films about the Indianapolis and H. L. Hunley, both of which I find more interesting.  So if you have any sway with the film industry, do me a favor and get them started on one or both. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Who was William Shakespeare?  Was he truly the author of the plays that bear his name, did he take credit for the work of an anonymous author, or is the man we know as the bard a complete fabrication.  This his been debated for years by the likes of Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Sigmund Freud, and others.  Consider this:  no play in his hand writing is known to exist, his parents and children were illiterate, his own signature nearly illegible - sometimes spelled Shaksper, sometimes Shaxpeare.
It is inferred from the plays that the author was well educated - very knowledgeable in history, well versed on the law, most likely able to speak multiple languages. It is also thought that he was well traveled, probably having lived in Italy for several years since many of the plays are set there.  He would have to have inside information on royal affairs and courtly procedures.  None of these attributes can be verified in regards to the man from Stratford upon Avon that history has come to accept as the author of the plays.

So who did write the plays?  Some think it was Francis Bacon.  Some think it was the Earl of Oxford.  Some think there were multiple authors. The supposition of the movie Anonymous is that the true author of the Shakespearean canon was Edward DeVere, Earl of Oxford.  That due to political machinations, he had to keep his authorship a secret.  Many of the negative reviews complain that the film is historically inaccurate, but it's not meant to be.  If you keep in mind that it's a work of fiction, that the majority of scenes are complete fabrications and not intended as historical fact, it is absolutely brilliant.

First, let me say that the film is visually gorgeous.  The CG, costumes, etc really transport you back to 16th century England.  The dialogue is sparkling and the political intrigue is thrilling.  The acting is top notch, and I found the portrayal of Edward DeVere by Rhys Ifans particularly captivating.  The film jumps around in time a bit, and there are younger and older versions of characters, so you really have to pay attention or it will get confusing quickly.  If you stick with it, though, you will be greatly awarded with a very interesting movie that will likely stimulate you to learn more about who really wrote what are considered by many to be the greatest works of the English language.