Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Talkin’ Titanic

Titanic playing cardsAnother new “Pop Poker” column is up at PokerListings, this one looking at a few connections between poker and the Titanic, including the 1997 film, the actual doomed voyage of the White Star liner, and efforts to locate the wrecked ship.

The 100th anniversary of the tragedy and all of the recent stories commemorating that inspired the idea for the column. At first I thought I’d focus solely on the film which does feature a short poker scene early on. (A new 3-D version of the movie is now playing in theaters.) If you’re among the many who’ve seen Titanic, you’ll remember Jack Dawson wins his third-class ticket to ride in a poker game.

There are a couple of references back to the game in the film as well, although no more poker scenes. As I say in the PokerListings post, the game does introduce in rapid manner what is an obvious theme in the film, namely the way luck governs our fates. And it kind of helps introduce Jack’s character, too, as this carefree wanderer-type willing to go wherever chance takes him. That’s needed, since despite the three-hour-plus running time of the film there’s an amazing lack of back story or filling in of character in Titanic.

There’s one small reference to poker that comes up later in the film that I did not mention in the post, a poker metaphor used by Ruth DeWitt Bukater, Rose’s mother, when referring to her desire that Rose forget about this Jack character she’s just met and follow the plan to marry the detestable yet rich Cal Hockley.

The reference represents pretty much all the back story we get regarding the Rose-Cal match, with her widowed mother explaining that when Mr. Bukater died he left a mountain of debt, although the family name still had enough cachet to attract upper-class types like the Hockleys.

“That name is the only card we have to play,” Mrs. Bukater tells her daughter. “It is a fine match with Hockley. It will ensure our survival.”

Doesn’t really seem all that meaningful a use of poker talk -- that is, the line doesn’t necessarily strike me as intending some sort of allusion back to Jack’s poker game, although I suppose one could pursue that argument. Besides, I had too much else I wanted to share in the column from my “expedition” (so to speak) searching for other poker-Titanic connections. If you’re curious, check it out. Take a look, also, at the second half of this post by the Poker Grump in which he helps confirm that yes, indeed, there was poker played aboard the ship during its sole, doomed voyage.

The French movie poster for 'Titanic' (1997)When Titanic came out, Vera Valmore and I were living in Lille, France. We spent a year there where she taught at the university and I pretended to work on my dissertation. There was a movie theater right in the middle of city where we sometimes went. Seemed like they almost always had mostly American films running and I remember Titanic playing for a long time.

We weren’t really too interested in seeing U.S. films during our year there, although I do remember going to see Le grand Lebowski right before we returned. So we didn’t go see Titanic, although we did stay up late one night to watch a broadcast of the Academy Awards where it seemingly won everything.

I didn’t get around to watching it until much, much later, and Vera still hasn’t seen it. I think I was put off largely because the movie just seemed like another big, sprawling example of American excess, an impression made even deeper by my walking by the big poster on the marquee in the middle of the rue de Béthune for so many weeks.

Titanic is certainly lacking in a number of ways, but it’s pretty compelling, too, in the way it combines the romance and disaster stories. And as a commercial product designed to appeal to the widest possible audience, it’s kind of a marvel.

That said, I’m still not interested in seeing Avatar. Maybe I will be in a decade or so. There’s not any poker in that, is there?

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