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Sinking Feeling

[whitespace] Talking Pictures attempts to interview a James Cameron biographer without ever mentioning that humongous hit movie, er, what's its name?

By David Templeton


In his ongoing quest for the ultimate post-film conversation, David Templeton occasionally gets just plain sick and tired of movies. This week he meets entertainment journalist Paula Parisi--author of a new book on director James Cameron--and attempts to not talk about the blockbuster film Titanic.

While growing up in the '60s and '70s, and then through her college years in the early '80s, entertainment reporter Paula Parisi always viewed herself as a novelist, a creator of fiction, a writer of books. "I became a journalist because it was the only thing I could think of to support myself," she candidly announces, immediately lighting up in a delighted, disarming grin that morphs into a confident, self-possessed, um ... giggle. "I suppose I thought I'd sort of feel my way down the path toward writing books, but then once I started earning a living as a journalist, I got lazy and didn't pursue creative writing the way I should have. It really took a kick in the butt to get me going.

"And the kick in the butt," she grins, "was seeing the Titanic looming ahead on the Mexican coastline."

Apparently, the kick was successful. Parisi--who lives in L.A.--is touring the country to promote her brand new first book, The Titanic and the Making of James Cameron (Newmarket Press; $14.95). In the delightful, compellingly written work, the author who first made a name for herself as a writer for Entertainment Weekly and Wired magazine has capitalized on her longtime fascination with director James Cameron and his fervent, visionary promotion--and often the actual invention--of numerous groundbreaking cinematic technologies. Cameron has come to trust Parisi over the last few years and gave her exclusive access to the set during filming of Titanic. The result is a rather enthralling account of one man--inarguably an intense, egomaniacal man--and his willful drive to accomplish the near-impossible.

Parisi, it turns out, has seen the film--still in the Top 10 after half a year in release--a total of five times, to my six. We decided to skip the movie and go straight to lunch. And who hasn't hashed over the deeper meanings of Titanic a dozen times already? Sitting down at the table, I secretly wondered how long we could go without directly mentioning the movie itself.

"So," I remark. "Driving over a dune in Mexico and seeing a massive Edwardian steamship beached on the shore. It sounds like a kick."

"A kick? It was an epiphany!" Parisi laughs. "Because it was such a startling experience. Having tracked Cameron's career, I'd been interested in writing a book about him for a while. But when I saw that ship sitting there, I thought, 'This is extraordinary.' It was screaming out, 'This is a story to be told.'

"I mean everybody has ideas, all the time, right?" she goes on. "But how many people have an idea and then can translate it into physical reality, let alone on a scale as vast as the recreation of a steel and wood, 775-foot-long ship , 10 stories tall. It's hard enough to get simple little things done around the office--get the dishes washed, balance your checkbook, whatever--and here this guy has an idea that must have seemed absurd, and he pushes it through!"

"It seems that the historical tale of the Titanic's sinking is a story about being in the wrong place at the wrong time," I say. "Your story seems to one of being in the right place at the right time. Who knew Cameron's brainchild would become the biggest money maker of all time?" Damn. I mentioned it.

"No, I was just in the wrong place long enough that it became the right place by default," she replies. "I just knew that Cameron was a good story. It boils down to this: If you believe strongly in something, don't give up. Just stick with it. Don't let people sway you. That's the lesson of James Cameron, the man who invented his career by force of sheer will.

"Few of us could get away with walking through life as a dictator, insisting on following your own inner visions and ordering people around. Maybe that's the difference between being a genius, and being, you know, the rest of us."

"So the secret to success is what?" I wonder. "Getting in touch with our own inner-megalomaniac?"

"That's exactly what I did," she says, lowering her voice to a conspiratorial murmur. "My husband tried to talk me out of doing the book, because I kind of disappeared while writing it. And I just said, 'Look! I'm writing this book. If you don't like it, that's the end of the marriage. Nothing is going to stop me from writing the book!

"And in a way I was sort of play acting what I thought James Cameron would do. The thing is, once you get a little taste of it, you have the courage to go one step further. I began threatening to steamroll anyone who got in my way.

"And it worked!" she shouts. "All the way down the line. People just got out of my way. Eventually I had to pull back, of course. Because you know what? It's incredibly draining to go through life with that kind of attitude. And truthfully, it was only play acting. I was faking it. And I don't know if it would have worked long term. If I'd used the inner megalomaniac approach as a rule-of-thumb, I would have destroyed my marriage."

"Cameron himself has a hard time staying married, doesn't he?" I mention, referring to his recent split with fourth wife Linda Hamilton.

"And now I know why," Parisi nods. "He doesn't pull back. He's like Superman or something. That's how he lives his life.

"As useful as that may in making a movie like Titanic," she adds, "there are times when you have to calm down and just be human."

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From the June 11-17, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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