Titanic / In Nacht Und Eis (1940 / 1912 – Cinema)

“An eternal condemnation of England’s quest for profit”

The story behind the 1940 German version of ‘Titanic’ turned out to better than the film itself. The film was supposed to be a propaganda piece showing the arrogance and greed of us Brits, supposed traits that lead to the sinking of the unsinkable. However the Nazi true believer Walter Zerlett-Olfenius who wrote ‘Titanic’s screenplay denounced his friend and director Herbert Selpin after he’d openly made some remarks about how Hitler was mishandling the war. The director was quickly replaced, imprisoned and was soon found dead in his cell from an obviously faked suicide at the hands of Propaganda Minister Goebbels. When the film was finally released the scenes of chaos and death were far too close to the nightly destruction that the population of Germany were facing from Allied bombing raids, so Goebbels had the film shelved and banned all further performances.

I imagined viewing the film now as part of the BFI’s ‘S.O.S Titanic’ season would be very interesting from a historical perspective, but the movie isn’t actually all that offensive on the propaganda side. An imaginary German central character cast as the lone voice of reason against an array of selfish British and American capitalists is about as strong as it gets. From a purely artistic perspective the movie pales in comparison to the British masterpiece ‘A Night To Remember’ but seems a clear influence on that film (‘A Night To Remember’ actually used some uncredited footage from ‘Titanic’).  It looks handsome enough but suffers from the same sort of deviations from the facts that weakened James Cameron’s 1997 ‘Titanic’.

To accompany the screening, the earliest surviving film about the disaster was shown beforehand. ‘In Nacht Und Eis’ is a short silent film released immediately after the real event in late 1212. This was accompanied by a wonderful live piano performance and the vibrantly colour-tinted print was pin-sharp (Remarkable for a film a century old) but sadly the acting wasn’t.  The wild gestures used by the characters (The first Officer in particular) as they gaze terrified at the sight of a small lump of polystyrene floating in a pond (Meant to represent the towering iceberg) elicited howls of laughter from the audience!

You can view the whole of ‘Titanic’ on YouTube here:

You can also view a poor quality and badly cropped ‘In Nacht Und Eis’ on YouTube here:

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