Newmarket Press, 1998, 234 pages, US$14.95 tpb, ISBN 1-55704-365-5
As something of a cinephile and general movie buff, I can testify firsthand that few films of the nineties have known a fate as interesting as TITANIC. It was, first and foremost, a film by James Cameron, who had already proven his superb filmmaking abilities with such great movies like THE TERMINATOR, THE ABYSS, and TRUE LIES. It was also a film that reportedly underwent a troubled production, mostly through massive budget overruns caused by Cameron’s almost-maniacal perfectionism. Before it came out, everyone was already condemning it as one of history’s biggest bombs.
I reserved judgement until opening weekend, but from my own overwhelmingly positive reaction to the film, I knew that TITANIC would be an unqualified. History proceeded to confirm this feeling: TITANIC became the highest-grossing film of all times and swept through the Oscars like a runaway superliner. Now Titanic and the Making of James Cameron is a book-length description of the making of TITANIC, from initial concept to Oscar night.
This isn’t the first time someone writes a book about Cameron. Christopher Heard’s 1997 biography Dreaming Aloud actually makes a pretty nice prologue to Paula Parisi’s making-of-Titanic account, describing Cameron from his Kapuskasing boyhood to the verge of TITANIC’s filming. This book takes off from there.
But it’s a much, much better book than Heard’s poorly-researched compendium of past Cinefex articles. Parisi has obviously spent a lot of time with the principal actors of the TITANIC story, and the book is filled by original interview quotes and interesting snippets not heard anywhere else. The style is brisk, without nonsense, and pretty much of the level you’d expect to read in Premiere magazine. I spotted a few errors (John Woo doesn’t spell his name Wu and www.aint-it-cool.com obviously lacks the -news!) but these could be attributed to poor proofreading rather than an underlying lack of research.
Titanic ironically gives a better idea of the personal qualities of James Cameron than the other so-called biography. The manic filmmaker behind TITANIC is exposed as a ruthless perfectionist, driving others like he himself works; relentlessly. The book is riddled with statements about how people will finish a Cameron film hating the director, only to come back two, three years later when offered a position on a new film. Personal interviews color the narrative, and the reader can’t help but be impressed by the selfless devotion of James Cameron for his art.
Parisi’s book has a substantial advantage over most of the “Making-of” books out there; that of being written in hindsight. Rather than only highlight the money-making aspect of the account (would anyone write a full general-interest account of a mildly successful picture like, say, LOST IN SPACE?), this allows Parisi to research her subject in-depth, and to cover areas not normally discussed in official making-of accounts (like the music, or the editing, given that those usually take place even as the making-of book goes to press). Titanic is, in this regard, geared far more toward the film-geek library than your stereotypical female teenage TITANIC fan. Parisi is scathing when she needs to be, and the behind-the-scene details are fascinating, as we see, for instance, Leonardo DeCaprio whining about how his character isn’t complex or dark enough to be interesting.
Of course, Titanic won’t matter much to those who hated the film, loathe Cameron or otherwise don’t care too much about the subject. But for fans of the film, or Cameron aficionados like myself, Titanic is a much better piece of film journalism than you might expect from the mass of cheap commercial derivates spawned by the film. As a highly-detailed look at the making of a blockbuster film and the mildly-mad filmmaker genius behind it, this is a book worth reading.