Friday, January 16, 2009
The Glowing End of Two Ships of the Line
Left: "The Fighting Temeraire Tugged to Her Last Berth to Be Broken Up" (painted by J. M. W. Turner, 1838)
I've wondered if someone had this glowing painting in mind when creating the final end of the Enterprise, in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (bottom three photos at left).
I doubt this painting holds emotional charge for many Americans (I only know it from a certain Englishman I knew once, who'd even written a poem on it);
but recently Britons voted it their most popular painting in a BBC poll.
It depicts a sailing warship that had played a distinguished role in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, led by Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson aboard HMS Victory.
Long unfit, and now in the age of steam, the Temeraire is being towed up the Thames to be sold for scrap--the end of an era.
I googled a few combinations and didn't come up with anything. (There's plenty out there on literary reference in Star Trek, but I haven't yet found anything on art historical references.)
Anyway, given the acknowledged connection between Captain Kirk and Horatio Hornblower, a fictional character at the Battle of Trafalgar (and who shares a first name and more with Nelson), whether it was consciously in someone's mind or not, it fits.
British naval history is another black hole in my education, and likely to remain that way (along with all military history everywhere);
but it's funny where your loves lead you, eh?
I found myself reading with real interest about Nelson's tactics at Trafalgar.
I won't go into it--can't, in fact--but I was excited to read that Nelson won the battle partly by changing the expected geometry of the battle:
instead of lining his ships up, he placed them in perpendicular formation.
This reminds me of Kirk in The Wrath of Khan (TWOK). Remember, he defeats Khan in a space battle because he better understands the geometry of space:
Khan is thinking in 20th century spatial terms (movement on a 2 dimensional plane), so Kirk sinks the Enterprise in space (both ships are flying blind in a nebula), lets Khan's ship go past overhead, and then rises up behind.
(You know I love it when something invites us to stand on our heads and take another look.)
Nicholas Meyer, who directed TWOK, has said he didn't relate to Star Trek until he thought of it as Hornblower in space, so he may have made the connection with real military history. (Nimoy directed Search for Spock.)
Whatever anyone had in mind, these two ships that didn't stay in straight lines both go down beautifully.
[Kirk in Art History 101 (his classical stance) here.]
[Kirk as a steampunk captain here.]
[Kirk as Master and Commander here.]