Sunday, November 4, 2012

Laughing in Tahiti

The dramatic sinking last week of what the media were calling a "tall ship" (it wasn't quite), the Bounty, in eighteen-foot seas off North Carolina must've raised many questions, the most obvious one being, "what the f__k was that ship doing at sea with the once-in-a-lifetime storm [of which we've seen several all over the world the past few years] on its way?" Passengers and crew of the "tourist ship" were rescued by the coast guard, but the 63-year-old captain, Robin Walbridge, true to form, apparently went down with the ship.

I wondered if the ship was the same Bounty - not the HMS Bounty, aka HM Armed Vessel Bounty, last seen on fire off the coast of Pitcairn Island when it was abandoned by its crew of mutineers, led by Fletcher Christian, in 1790. There was a second Bounty (1), an exact and fully functional replica, which was built nearly fifty years ago expressly for use in the production Mutiny on the Bounty, which was scheduled to be directed by the great Carol Reed (The Thid Man), until he quit when the on location antics of its star, Marlon Brando, grew intolerable. He was replaced by veteran director Lewis Milestone (All Quiet On the Western Front), but Brando's misbehavior continued. After the shooting was completed (no thanks to him), he married Tarita Teriipia, who played Maimiti in the film and even bought his very own island.

Brando got advice for his performance as Fletcher Christian from a man named Luis Marden, an explorer and diver, who had discovered the remains of the first Bounty off the coast of Pitcairn and salvaged a rudder pin, an anchor, and a ship's boat oarlock, along with some nails, two of which he turned into cufflinks.

When the film was done with its services, the Bounty was exhibited in the 1964 World's Fair in New York. After years of service for tourist excursions, it was made up to appear as the pirate ship the Black Pearl in The Pirates of the Caribbean films. It was up for sale in 2011, and was in use for private voyages when it encountered Hurricane Sandy on October 29.

The story is quite irresistible to anyone at all interested in seafaring, its history, adventure, hazard, courage, earthly paradise, and sex. The sinking of the Bounty last week was the last chapter in the fervid, and ultimately disappointing story of the film production, unless someone with more money than brains decides to mount a salvage operation on the Bounty replica.

One last sad irony about the shipwreck last week. One of the last passengers rescued by the coast guard was none other than Claudene Christian, Fletcher Christian's great-great-great-great-great granddaughter. She was pulled "unresponsive" from the high seas and was pronounced dead at Albemarle Hospital in Elizabeth City, NC.

One of my favorite movie lines occurs in Ivan Passer's brilliant Cutter's Way. In the middle of an amateur murder investigation, John Heard, playing the title character, tells his wife "Some day in Tahiti, we'll look back on all this and laugh."


(1) A third Bounty, built for the aborted David Lean film - eventually directed by Roger Donaldson in the 1984 film The Bounty, which is a tourist attraction on Lantau Island in Hong Kong and is still in use in films.

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