Titanic: That Sinking Feeling

by Roberto Friedman

Bay Area Reporter

Thursday April 19, 2012

This weekend, the 100th anniversary of the fate of that little toy boat called the Titanic is set to sweep American media culture. On movie screens, bloviating director James Cameron's Titanic returns in 3D. On TV screens, writer Julian Fellowes moves his Downton Abbey to Titanic, the high-end, four-part ABC miniseries.

This Sunday, April 15, also marks the publication of Titanic: The Untold Tale of Gay Passengers and Crew, 100th Anniversary Collectors' Edition (Palm Drive Publishing, paperback & e-book), literary erotica by author and editor Jack Fritscher. "For a number of years, I have been planning on this 100th Anniversary to publish my short novel which reclaims and transforms Titanic history because, in all the Titanic stories told as far as I know, that history has always been straight," said Fritscher. "Although nothing in the text makes the connection, I was personally impelled to write the novel years ago, in 1986, as a subtle parable of us gay people struggling to save ourselves during the onslaught of HIV.

"In movie-newsreel footage shot three days later on the deck of the rescue ship Carpathia immediately after it docked in New York, a dozen of the surviving Titanic crew, mostly sailor lads in tight white pants hiding little, showing lots, can be seen in very intimate horseplay, camping around, and posing in life jackets, pretending to faint. Of the 885 male crew on Titanic, 693 (or 78%) died. Altogether, 1,352 men perished. If, according to Kinsey, one out of six ordinary men is gay, then 225 gay men died. If two out of six in the travel industry are gay, 450 gay men died, making the Titanic an overlooked but essential chapter in gay history."

Here's more, from publisher Mark Hemry 's preface to the book. "Breaking the straight trance of received Titanic history, San Francisco author Jack Fritscher reclaims gay history by writing a pitch-perfect sex epic of gay survival. Titanic outs the forbidden gay love story of the world's most famous cruise, featuring the Unsinkable Molly Brown, the posh lovers Michael Whitney and Edward Wedding, and the working crew including the rugged Balkan Stoker , the redheaded Royal Purser Felix Jones , and the ship's second carpenter Michael Brice and Third Officer Sam Maxwell.

"Titanic was first published in Honcho magazine (1988), where it was reader-tested as a serial novel nine years before James Cameron's Titanic (1997), and 24 years before Julian Fellowes of Downton Abbey filmed his own Titanic (2012). It's available in trade paperback ($9.95), Kindle or Nook edition ($2.99). The e-book has active links to YouTube footage of Titanic survivors and crew 'camping about' on the rescue ship Carpathia immediately after docking at Chelsea Piers in New York."

Fritscher designed the book's cover, seen here, as an homage to the huge rainbow scarf trailing from the roof of the bus in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. We'd say it does Titanic lore proud. Meantime, if you're the type who loves to do artsy-craftsy things, then Taschen has just the book for you: Build Your Own Titanic, a do-it-yourself model kit in the form of a softcover book ($14.99). "Calling all Titanic buffs, hobbyists, and ship-lovers," says the ad copy: "You're invited to build a cardboard model of the formidable and notorious vessel!

"Vast sums of money have been spent and enormous efforts have been made in order to explore the wreck, now lying 12,000 feet under the sea. However, if you are a Titanic enthusiast and enjoy making things with your hands, then there is a far less troublesome alternative that will allow you to explore the ship in detail: a 1:200 cardboard model measuring 135 cm/53 inches (don't worry, it has precut components and comes with detailed instructions)." We've heard that before. Still, the toy ship does look tres formidable. You could say she's this year's model.

Irish eyes

Gone to Amerikay (Vertigo), a new graphic novel written by Derek McCulloch and illustrated by Colleen Doran with coloring by Jose Villarubia, tells three interlocking stories of the Irish and their voyages to the U.S. We didn't know until we reached a key plot-point in the story that it has a "gangle" (gay angle), and none of the press materials or book-cover blurbs make any mention of it. Perhaps they didn't want to spoil the surprise. Vertigo is an imprint of DC Comics, which is a division of the Warner Bros. Entertainment Company. In any case, so that we don't give anything away, we'll just say that there's more than one gay character in the book - even a steamy gay sex scene, although it transpires off-stage. No-one in the tale would so identify.

In 1870, immigrants Clara O'Dwyer and her daughter Maire arrive in New York harbor and go to find their cousin in the sketchy Five Points neighborhood. In 1960, young musician Johnny McCormack also docks in NYC, hoping to find work on Broadway, and finding himself in the Greenwich Village folk-singing scene. And in 2010, Dublin billionaire Lewis Healy jets into town, hoping to find the back-story to some music, composed there, that inspired him. Their paths all do intertwine, in tales of love, death, treachery and ghostly apparitions. The illustrations are colorful and historically informed; the characters appealing - all those high Irish cheekbones! - and the degradations and abuses of grinding poverty are never downplayed. In true cliffhanger fashion, the key to the stories' through-line is not revealed until the book's final pages. It's a satisfying spellbinder that speaks truths about the 20th-century immigrant experience - even the gay one.

Cinderella story

This week San Francisco Ballet announced the repertory for a 2013 season, its 80th, that seems full of excitement. Highlights will include the U.S. premiere of Christopher Wheeldon's full-length Cinderella; the Northern California premiere of Nijinsky by Hamburg Ballet Artistic Director and Chief Choreographer John Neumeier, performed by the renowned Hamburg Ballet ; the SF Ballet premiere of Serge Lifar 's Suite en Blanc; plus world premieres by Wayne McGregor, SF Ballet Choreographer in Residence Yuri Possokhov, and Alexei Ratmansky. The season will also feature works by acclaimed choreographers such as George Balanchine, John Cranko , Edwaard Liang, Mark Morris, Rudolf Nureyev, Ashley Page , Jerome Robbins , and San Francisco Ballet Artistic Director & Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson. Find the schedule at www.sfballet.org.


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