My Ship of Kate

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My Ship of Kate by Barry Yourgrau

finally saw Titanic.


Hadn’t been all that interested, but then I laid eyes on Kate Winslet’s round shoulders for
the first time, through my TV static,

at the Golden Globes.


“You’re a dirty old man!” said my girlfriend, when she got back from a week out of town and
heard me carrying on. “Lusting after chubby young girls!”


Which is true.


“And you probably jerked off thinking about her!”


Which is going a bit far, as my girlfriend is wont to do.


This “young and pudgy fetish” of mine used to be an intimate boast. I’d confess it with a good-natured,
roguish little grin, to show my tastes were sort of offbeat. An R. Crumb kind of guy, not your
average Hugh Hefner Joe.


But now my hair is running gray — and grayer — and the age gap is starting to turn “old enough
to be her father” into more than a figure of speech. And, unlike Bill or Woody, I’ve started
getting a bit red in the face about it all. A few years ago I showed up at a party thrown by
friends my age with a short, sturdily voluptuous Irish schoolgirl-type I was in a swoon over; their
responses left me feeling like a loony bird, tolerated by my pals, who looked on my
“proclivity” with amused affection, at best.


I tried mightily to get said Irish girl to take her clothes off, but no go. Too many years
between us. Now I wonder: is there something off-putting to girls about a man being a lot older,
but still puppyish and crush-happy?


Questions, questions! But back to Kate. There I sat alone in a dark cineplex, my yen for chubby
young women fully stoked, my heart tolling, tears positively pouring down my face (noting
too the echoes of fellow sob-sisters around me, and how our bobbing heads and shoulders were a
curious mirror to those in the icy waters on screen).


All this, on my part, because I have this thing for Kate Winslet, whose father I am old enough
to be.


Let me say that I’ve never been so overwhelmed by a film as I was by Titanic. Only
two other movies came close: Imitation of Life and Dangerous Liaisons — both
tearjerkers, which I saw while in distress over a broken romance (she was younger, surprisingly, and not thin).


Yet the first half hour promised none of this. Those celebrated undersea shots of the actual
wreck lacked scale; the splendors of the magically recreated ship looked air-brushed and tackily
spanking new: Disneyland stuff.


And who was this ginger-haired dame grumbling away in thin-voiced American with all the grace of
a junior college transfer? My glorious Golden Globes’ Kate? And the dialogue, for God’s sake! Not
to even mention Kate and Leo’s first encounter, which would have smelled up a freshman acting class.


But Titanic, of course, is not about its clunky script, its Picasso/Monet chatter, or
the faulty dramatics of many scenes. It’s a film about the horsepower of spectacle: a monster of
techno-enhanced grandeur blasting a new way of telling an intimate drama. Not only is it a love story, it’s a meditation
on loss, on the consolations of memory, and on growing old (God help me). It’s a sterilized
sledgehammer wielded with the accuracy of a heart surgeon.


I still can’t shake certain images: the ship rising on end, propellers aloft, like a dread
behemoth from a Jungian dream exposing its primal parts; the bodies plummeting down the vertical
deck with documentary-like starkness; the watery, dim battlefield of gray floating corpses under the
chill glitter of the stars. All this and Kate too!


Let other critics talk of the chemistry between the two young stars; what drove me into
paroxysms was the chemistry between the heroine and myself. (DiCaprio was, I must say, a fine
onscreen surrogate for me, even emitting a well-behaved gulp when Kate dropped her robe).


Then I noticed, further, that Kate changed appearance in the close-ups: from a classic
Belle Époque dish to the occasional coarse matron in the making. A pre-Raphaelite co-ed Ethel
Merman, if you will.


These fluctuations began to evoke, suddenly and acutely, another woman, slightly older,
with whom I once spent a memorable naked afternoon. Barbara was her name. She too could look heart-stoppingly fawnlike and
opulent one moment, writhing in pillows, then dowdy and ungainly the next.


So whenever Kate bounded onto the screen, I saw triple: Kate, the Irish girl and Barbara of
the afternoon.


As if all this weren’t enough, I’m also a sucker for films where the lover swipes the heroine
from a villain, as Leo did from Billy Zane. Perhaps it’s because I’m a twin, and sibling rivalry
runs deep.


But beyond my idiosyncratic absorptions, it must be noted how poignantly (that word again)
Kate rewrites the Hollywood physical stereotype of the heroine. Her plump neck endows the Hollywood epic

with believability, as if a baby-fatted extra wandered onscreen and stole the cameras’ affections
with her peaches and cream. (It’s skin-and-bones Leo who’s the Gwyneth Paltrow here.)


Kate’s character brims with deliciously cornball high spirits: when she yanks my surrogate
into the back seat to finally do what the Irish girl wouldn’t, the position of her hand clawing at
the steamy window suggests that she’s either on top or on her knees — this viewer, for one, would
be happy to speculate on either . . .


Titanic, at its heart, is about a young woman who comes into her own through a
sexually symbolic catastrophe — that rearing ship, those dangerous waters — in a night of love for
the ages (surpassing, even, my afternoon with Barbara). Serving up the rankest — and most
effective — clichés of storytelling, it propounds the hoary and noble idea that knowledge comes only
through suffering: big budget Sophocles.


It also delivers another enduring truth: the only true paradise is a paradise lost. It’s this I was
thinking — a dirty old man swooning and blubbering away, with my girlfriend out of town and
memories of long-ago romantic traumas hotly renewed — while watery Leo and my sweet darling dish
shivered and promised and parted. And I kept on blubbering, I confess, well after the credits came


A week later Monica Lewinsky came swimming into my life. And I swear it’s the truth: yet
another disaster-spectacle has me on board.

Barry Yourgrau
and Nerve.com