Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Why I Won't Watch September 11th Films

It's toughest for films to satisfy some people on things that they're most familiar with. I'm a nearly life-long New Yorker and I will never watch a single movie about September 11th. Not if they're directed by Oliver Stone, with Nicholas Cage as that cop, or even the one directed by Paul Greengrass.

My reason is that I don't think movies have anything important or "real" to say about the events of that day. I don't think there's a snowball's chance in hell of getting something worthwhile from a 2-hour cinematic narrative (and definitely not from a series) depicting the occupants of those planes, the people in all the buildings involved, or the individuals who had to run toward or away from fires or falling masonry.

Movies are bound by all these little things that cinema has to do. A film has to have a plot, it has to develop characters, it has to convey exchanges of dialogue and well-filmed scenes and sequences. The most traumatic or intimate moments in life - the deaths of people you care about, attaining something you worked hard for, getting attacked on the street, or falling in love - once they become too deeply personal, trying to put them in a film format feels dumb, arrogant, silly, or perverse.

And, really, would you want to see a movie about the day someone you loved died? Would you want to see a movie about people attacking and hospitalizing you? I don't think everyone would be too thrilled if someone directed a picture about your relationship or your wedding day. It's actually pretty common for people to sue filmmakers when their work touches on their private lives.

Things that you know intimately and are passionate about are sometimes impossible for films to effectively convey. Especially after losing a relative to a plane crash, I exclude film and television as art forms with something worth expressing about 9/11/01. I don't think they could contain some lesson to give, or could evoke some real emotion in me that a director should make me feel.

Sorry, scripted visual arts projected onto a screen, I'm claiming you have nothing to say about certain things. I'm saying that you generally lack the depth or thoughtfulness to adequately address certain issues.

Please, don't think my attitude is absolute. I just won't watch some Hollywood or studio script on the subject. Books and news about investigations into those events are totally different. I don't cry when I look at the many photos I shot of the WTC. I haven't been angered by every Hollywood or television effort that invokes September 11th, and I've seen educational shows about the construction of the Twin Towers.

I even watched Fahrenheit 9/11, a half horribly-flawed, half deeply-interesting movie - but that was more about the aftermath than the date itself. This isn't some big verbotten topic for me. And hell, when you get down to it, neither myself nor my nearest friends and relatives had a single intimate casualty that day; we were incredibly lucky, all things considered.

The events of that day felt like living out a movie. They felt impossible and unreal, like a movie. Yet there were no boom mics, stuntmen, or safety experts on hand. Believe me, part of my resistance here is because almost all American movies are "entertainment," and, unless you're insane, that day held no entertainment value at all.

Once, a friend and I watched Faces of Death, and although it was revolting, I saw a certain educational value in that experience. A September 11 film isn't likely to have even that much.

So I think I've explained why I say "no" to Nicholas Cage as a heroic, average joe-looking cop. And, despite the recommendations of reasonable people, I can't imagine watching United 93. As far as motion pictures about those four plane crashes go, I don't think some simple picture has anything worth hearing or seeing or giving my time to.

And I really don't wanna feel like what it was like to be on one of those planes, anyway. What kind of moron would? I'd never suggest The Accused or Extremities to a sex assault victim, much less recommend Roots or Uncle Tom's Cabin to someone who was, in fact, a victim of slavery. Honestly, it was scary enough being on a city sidewalk, hundreds of miles from my family and my beloved city.


  1. I'm with you there. As a fellow New Yorker as well...I completely second everything you just said. First off...it's way too soon to make a movie about an event like 9/11 and think it will resonate at any sort of higher level. Ten years later, and it's still impossible to separate from the deeply personal impact of the attack..a separation that is necessary for movies that circle around war and disaster.

    Also, I think for New Yorkers it's sort of a "been there, done that" kind of deal. We were physically there. The rest of the country...wasn't. Which is why they sensationalize it and turn it into something it's not. It was a tragedy. Simple as that. But then when you talk to people outside of New York...their perspective is often very stilted. Not to get to political, but the whole deal with building the mosque, which wasn't actually a mosque anyway. The whole country went up in arms. Except for New York. New Yorkers didn't give a crap. Every turned 9/11 into a political extravaganza...another soap opera. Hence the appeal of big 9/11 movies. Eh. So, in short, yes. I won't be paying to watch a 9/11 movie any time soon.

  2. Thanks, M! I'm glad another new yorker agrees! And I think you're dead right about the mosque and other fiascos related to the WTC site.

    I always thought the biggest "recent" controversy was the amount of time it took for them to clear out the location. I think it's shameful that in 2008, the whole area still looked like a just-started construction site. My older brother explained to me that I wasn't like other people, and that some folks really care about finding the remains of relatives they know must be dead. When I heard that, I began to understand and respect the delays.

    Still, I think you neatly capture the attitude of us natives. It happened, and it's over. No movie can capture what that was like, any more than one movie can help an assault victim get over what actually happened to them.

    On the plus side of the effect of September 11th on Americans, one of my school friends was from Lawrence, Kansas, from a long-standing family of farmers. He said his dad said "I'm a New Yorker, too." And it's great that people in this incredibly divided, divisive-by-nature country could come together in the wake of anything, much less a tragedy. It's also cool because I think the father meant, "I'm the sort of guy who gets hit by a truck and decides to pick myself up and keep on going."

    And that may be as far as the wounds translate - in the way that people felt and thought and acted after the events, not in the way they respond to some filmed, scripted movie. You could make a movie about a couple suffering a tragic pregnant miscarriage, and that wouldn't mean that it's necessarily deep or thoughtful or "real."

  3. You know, I'm glad you brought up that bit about them making a thorough exploration of the site before doing any real work on it--I hadn't thought of it like that, and I was one of those NYers who was like "What the fuck's taking them so long?" I stand corrected, that makes a lot of sense.

    That's interesting about the farmer bit! It was definitely a uniting moment, that's for sure. Even if, ten years later, we're separated as all hell. Still, even if it took a tragedy to get there, it was amazing to see everyone come together like that.

    But I'm with you there--it's impossible to translate something like 9/11, end of story. Especially when the wounds are so close. It does kind of have me wondering now if people who experienced Vietnam on an intensely personal level (vets and all that) feel the same about Vietnam war movies. Still, I think 9/11 movies at the moment are more grandeur and spectacular meant to pull a few heartstrings...we at least have enough distance from Vietnam to make some sense of it and pull some heavy political statements out of our Vietnam movies.

    End rant. All to say: great post! I feel you.


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