A bi-weekly series featuring a recommendation of a movie available in the Reeves Memorial Library DVD collection
Written and directed by James Cameron
I almost feel like this week's post should be titled "Rewatch This." Although this is an academic library blog, and most current undergraduates were only preschool age when Titanic was released in theaters, it seems hard to fathom that anyone reading this post has not seen it. After all, Titanic is one of the most popular films ever made, the highest-grossing film of all time upon its initial release, and its enduring popularity has led to a subsequent 3-D theatrical re-release and huge sales on home video. Despite this widespread adoration and overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics, the film's reputation has suffered somewhat in the intervening years (it does not even rank among the top 250 highest-rated films on the Internet Movie Database), and I have heard stories of people being ridiculed for professing their love of the film.
Of course, most popular entertainments have their detractors, and Titanic is certainly not without its flaws. Sadly, though, there are many who have dismissed Titanic derogatorily as a "chick flick," failing to realize that the melodrama is a genre with a long and esteemed history in Hollywood, particularly in the "golden age" that lasted from the 1930s through the 1950s, when the "women's film" was a hugely popular genre that attracted A-list directors like George Cukor and Douglas Sirk. This is important to remember because, despite its epic scale, extensive special effects, and gripping action, Titanic is an old-fashioned melodrama first and foremost. It is to writer/director James Cameron's credit that he was able to make a "women's film" with such broad appeal.
For those readers who may be unfamiliar with the film, its story centers on young aristocrat Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet) and artist/drifter Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio), who fall in love after meeting aboard the ship Titanic during its ill-fated maiden voyage in April of 1912 (spoiler alert: the ship sinks). Rose is betrothed to the wealthy Cal Hockley (Billy Zane), whose marriage to Rose would save her family from financial ruin. Rose does not love him, and, much to the chagrin of Cal and her mother, Rose repeatedly demonstrates an irksome tendency to think for herself, and clearly yearns for a life of independence. Fate leads to an encounter with the charming Jack, and their love quickly blossoms. However, forces outside their control (an iceberg, most notably, but also the prejudices of Rose's wealthy upper crust peers) conspire to keep them apart. Can Jack and Rose overcome the human and natural elements that seem destined to keep them apart?
We know that Rose survives the ship's sinking because the film's story is told in flashback, as a 101-year-old Rose relates her experience of the voyage to her granddaughter and the crew of a salvage ship looking to recover a priceless blue diamond from the deep-sea wreckage of the Titanic. This frame story, which includes somber, haunting images of the real Titanic in its eternal resting place on the ocean floor, is a brilliant narrative stroke on the part of the filmmakers, serving as a powerful reminder of the ship's tragic fate, and lending an air of inexorable doom to the events that follow.
Cameron uses broad strokes in telling the story (subtlety and nuance have never been hallmarks of his filmmaking style), and while he sometimes reveals a tin ear for dialogue, it is difficult not to get swept up in the grandeur and sweep of the narrative. The film is swooningly romantic, and there are some truly awesome effects sequences as the ship sinks. Cameron even manages to work in some pointed commentary on social class. Some critics have derided Cameron for making a film with such unabashedly popular appeal, but his ceaseless innovation and commercial aspirations have resulted in some of the best blockbuster films of the past few decades (The Terminator (1984), Aliens (1986), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), and the sorely underrated True Lies (1994), not to mention the game-changing Avatar (2009)).
For those who are already fans of Titanic, this post will hopefully be a reminder of all the reasons you liked the film to begin with. For those who are not fans, or who have not seen the film in many years, it's worth another look. Perhaps you will have become less jaded or cynical in your general outlook on life, and an epic love story might appeal to you more than it once did. In other words, take a page out of the aged Rose's book, and go back ... to Titanic.
Giannina Gonzalez receives the award for the Junior & Senior division for her project, "Pollution in Beijing." The evaluation panelists were impressed by her "excellent handling of detailed technical information" and "informative, well-written, concise paper" that "is publishable work."
Ashley White was chosen to receive the award at the First-Year & Sophomore level for her work, "The Impact of Fundamentalism on American Women." Panelists noted her "sound development of both the thesis and variations of the content" and appreciated her use of a "wide variety of sources."
Congratulations to both of our award recipients, each of whom will receive a $250 prize in recognition of their work, and thank you to all of the students who entered and to the faculty who sponsored them! We received a number of excellent projects, which made the judging quite a challenge. We hope that those of you who will be at SHU next year will consider entering!
A bi-weekly series featuring a recommendation of a movie available in the Reeves Memorial Library DVD collection
Safety Last! (1923)
Directed by Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor
It is one of the most iconic moments in all of silent film: a man in round glasses and a straw hat hangs precariously from the minute hand of a clock, high above a bustling city street. Numerous other buildings can be seen in the background, along with moving cars and trolleys, and the countless pedestrians on the crowded sidewalks appear as small as ants. It is clear that this scene is not the result of trick photography, or the use of miniatures, but that he is actually hanging several stories above the ground. The man in the scene is the great silent film comedian Harold Lloyd, and the scene occurs in one of the great silent film comedies, Safety Last!
Lloyd stars in the film as The Boy (his characters were rarely given actual names), who leaves his country home to find success in the big city, where he plans for his girlfriend Mildred to join him after he has established himself. He finds a roommate, Bill, and gets a job as a lowly sales clerk in a large department store. Eager to please Mildred and his mother, The Boy exaggerates his success in his letters home, stating that he is the store's manager. When Mildred shows up unexpectedly, The Boy makes a desperate attempt to improve his lot by securing his boss's offer of $1,000 to anyone who can bring more customers into the store. His idea: a publicity stunt in which Bill, a "human fly," will scale the front of the twelve-story store building. Complications arise when Bill is chased off by a police officer he had inadvertently angered earlier in the film, and The Boy must begin the climb himself, with the hope that Bill will take his place on the second floor. Of course, with each passing floor, problems keep arising that prevent Bill from replacing him, and he must overcome hazard after hazard to reach the top of the building.
Harold Lloyd is generally considered to be the third great comic genius of the silent film era, after Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. His reputation never matched that of either Chaplin or Keaton, in part because his films were not made widely available until recently, and in part because, unlike Chaplin and Keaton, he did not direct his own films, placing him outside of the ranks of the great auteur directors. However, while his talent did not match that of his two revered contemporaries, his undeniably brilliant comedic mind and daring stunt work have earned him a rightful place in the comedy pantheon.
Lloyd's skills are on full display in Safety Last!, a film which showcases his everyman appeal and the thrilling scope of his comedic vision. The film features a wonderful gag in its opening scene, which finds The Boy behind a barred gate alongside a priest and a uniformed official, while Mildred and his mother stand weeping on the outside. Hanging in the background is what appears to be a noose, and The Boy starts off in that direction, accompanied by the two men. Suddenly we realize that the barred gates are the entrance to a train station, and the "noose" is actually a trackside pickup hoop. The Boy is headed not to his death, but to the big city. Equally hilarious is the later sequence in which The Boy poses as the department store manager in order to fool Mildred, going so far as to sneak in and out of the manager's office with Mildred in tow. However, the climactic building climb sequence is certainly the film's highlight, revealing Lloyd's gift for sustained action comedy sequences.
While it has been noted that the filmed climb was achieved with the assistance of a stuntman, it is clearly Harold Lloyd himself on the side of the building in most of the shots. Lloyd, like many of his fellow silent film comedians (Buster Keaton being the most notable example), performed nearly all of his own stunts, and there is a breathtaking thrill for the viewer in realizing that he has placed himself in such grave danger to bring his comic vision to fruition.
The library's copy of the film is part of a seven-DVD box set containing nearly thirty of Lloyd's feature-length and short films, so if Safety Last! tickles your funny bone, there is a bounty of Lloyd's other work available for your enjoyment.
As we prepare to move forward into the next chapter of the Seton Hill Library, let's take a minute to look back! The academy/college/university's library has grown, moved, and changed a lot in the last 125 years.
Many thanks to the SHU Archives for all of the research and images.
The original Academy Library in Admin 311, 1889-1896
The College Library in 1922; it was located in present-day Maura 128, 129, & 130
(check out the catwalk!)
The Reference Library in 1930 in what is now Admin 206
(we still have a few of those chairs!)
Here's the General College Library in 1934. Recognize the location? It's Maura 230,
better known today as the President's office.
1950's iPod (the listening table in the General Library)
Construction began on the present building in 1956.
The college conferred its first honorary degrees in Reeves on October 28, 1956.
This year isn't the first time that the student library workers have had to strip shelves and move books! These girls are pulling the books from Maura to move to the
new location in Reeves, September 1958.
The books heading to their new home; we'll be moving them in other direction in a few weeks!
The General Reading Room in 1958. See that desk on the right?
I'm sitting at it right now as I type this blog post!
The Browsing Room in 1977. This is roughly where the main entrance is located at present.
How Reeves appeared from 1958-1987. Notice where the entrance (and ground!) used to be.
The building was renovated before, in 1987. Here are books on the floor, waiting to be reshelved.
The General Reading Room, 1988 (look familiar?)
And here's how we looked in 2013.
And that brings us to the present day. 2014 is going to add yet another new set of images to the history of the Seton Hill Library!
To ensure that renovations of the main floor of Reeves can happen on-schedule, the print and other physical collections are going to be unavailable for borrowing a little before the end of the semester.
The children's collection will be closed for boxing on APRIL 25.Make sure to borrow any kids' materials that you will need by April 24 at the very latest.
The rest of the physical collections will be closed for moving on MAY 1. Make sure to borrow any books, CDs, DVDs, et cetera no later than April 30.
To make this possible, we'll be happy to renew materials for you over the phone whenever necessary. Please check out anything you anticipate needing for the end of the semester and for finals week before the boxing dates. Faculty, please also borrow anything you expect to need for the beginning of the summer. We hope to have the collection available with a minimum of downtime, but we are unsure exactly how long it will take for the new shelving area to be available.
We realize that this is going to be a significant inconvenience and we are trying hard to minimize the disruption as much as possible. With all changes come some growing pains, so please grin and bear them with us as we take these necessary steps to a shiny new learning commons for the coming year.