Werner Franz, the last surviving crew member of the ill-fated German dirigible Hindenberg died a couple weeks ago. Franz was a 14-year-old cabin boy working in a lower deck of the dirigible who managed to kick open a hatch Indiana-Jones style and jump a few meters to the ground just before the flaming aircraft touched down.
Dead at 92, Franz was not quite as old as the fictional Rose Bukater, star of the movie “Titanic” when she was introduced to the world on a thousand silver screens. Like Werner, Rose was a disaster survivor. Her story of the sinking of the Titanic was told in real time (by actress Gloria Stuart) and in flashback (by Kate Wislet). It was a story of forbidden love no doubt inspired like countless others by “Romeo and Juliet,” set upon the stage of the most famous nautical disaster of all time, presented by a director-technician, James Cameron, who sought to ground his movie with scientifically-based facts culled from his personal under-water investigations of RMS Titanic’s final resting spot. The movie went on to win 11 Oscars including Best Picture and amass three-quarters of a billion dollars at the box office.
In some ways the fate of the Hindenberg mirrors that of the much more deadly disaster that befell the Titanic, an elite ocean liner that sank to an icy grave on its maiden voyage in 1912. Each vessel was a form of transport built for the upper classes who demanded a civilized way to cross the Atlantic from old Europe to the modern, future-facing United States.
Decades ago, in early May of 1937, the Hindenberg – pride of Germany and of the upwardly mobile Nazi party – disintegrated in Lakehurst, NJ in a famously-photographed hydrogen-fueled conflagration. The huge, phallic-shaped floating Zeppelin, which at 800 feet long was more than three times the length of a Boeing 747, collapsed slowly like an empty gift box tossed into the fireplace on Christmas morning. Thirty-five of the 97 passengers on board died, as well as one unlucky bastard on the ground. (Although it might seem inevitable that a huge tube filled with flammable hydrogen would succumb to an errant spark or inconvenient lightning bolt, in fact the Hindenberg flew 62 uneventful trips before exploding ignominiously near its earthbound tether.)
Unlike the Titanic however which was feted in an Oscar-scarfing movie driven by the lusty narrative recalled by nonagenarian Rose, the Hindenberg was the subject a mediocre thriller film that hit the screens in 1975. It’s received a grade of 40 percent on Rottentomatoes.com.
Given the dramatic opportunity to develop a romantic plot between a lowly occupant of the doomed Hindenberg and a famous passenger, their desire to fall in love thwarted by evil fascist antagonists, the producers of “The Hindenberg” settled instead on a run-of-the-mill story of intrigue that blames the explosion on sabotage perpetrated by a disgruntled Nazi. The cast is actually quite impressive: George C. Scott, Anne Bancroft, Burgess Meredith, Charles Durning and Gig Young. But the movie proceeds like an obvious game of Clue, introducing several characters designed to be suspects who are transparently not suspects, and ending with an unlikely twist in which the agent charged with protecting the Hindenberg decides to abet the perpetrator. Too bad.
With the passing of Werner Franz, perhaps some renewed interest in making a more fitting film with the doomed Hindenberg as the backdrop will kindle among Hollywood’s writers and producers.
The pitch? It’s Titanic in the sky – oh, the humanity. Look for it in 2017 on the 80th anniversary.
(Sidebar: A TV docudrama that came out in 2007 is called Hindenberg: Titanic of the Skies. As one reviewer noted: “An overlong rather bland production with no surprises except one fine performance.”)
Should it be Called Twit.tv?
Last week I took issue with the market valuation of Snapchat, a company that peddles a smart-phone app allowing users to send temporarily-viewable content (photos, videos, drawings, etc.) to other users. Supposedly the content is deleted permanently after a few seconds of viewing, but the variety of ways to circumvent the primary value of Snapchat would seem to render the app – and by extension the company that produces it – largely useless.
Days later Amazon announced its intention to purchase for the fat sum of a billion dollars a company called Twitch.tv that offers viewers an app to watch other people playing video games. Twitch reports 55 million subscribers watch the mesmerizing virtual action each month. Just when you thought the further devolution of the human race had tapered off, Amazon discovers a vast underserved subspecies whose slothfulness surpasses all previously recognized levels.
Will Twitch become over time another useless app. Probably not; there would seem to be possibilities for extending the service to other applications. But the concept that a billion-dollar business could be built upon the proposition that people want to watch others play a virtual game is sad if not mind-boggling.