Saturday, September 11, 2010

9/11 9 Years Out

The remains of the South Tower, taken by photographer Joel Meyerowitz.

No politics, just impressions.

A post by my film blog spouse Mr. Peel about Die Hard 3 reminded me of part of my ongoing reaction to the attacks. If I’m watching a film or tv show where I expect to see the Trade Center-—like Working Girl, or Die Hard 3, or Sports Night—-then I don’t think about them much.

But when I’m surprised by seeing them in fiction, then my reaction goes from flinching to sobbing. It's happened watching Friends in syndication years after the attack, in early episodes that sometimes used quick cuts of lower Manhattan. Rewatching Northern Exposure for the July anniversary—Joel in “The Quest” steps into the fog in Alaska and emerges on the Staten Island Ferry in front of the Towers. And watching Spike Lee’s 25th Hour in a mall in Budapest (Pest) in 2003. That lead to much sobbing in the dark because I had no idea what the story was about going in to it.

Spike Lee Got It
From David Edelstein’s Slate review: “Although the novel and the screenplay (both by David Benioff) were written before 9/11, Lee injects New York's tragedy into the mix. He opens with a shot of two beams of light where the twin towers once stood. And as Monty and a dog he has picked up wander the city—perhaps for the last time—-we see a steady stream of American flags and memorials, even Ground Zero itself.”

This doesn’t work for Edelstein: “There is simply no connection between the themes of Benioff's screenplay and 9/11, and every time Lee over-inflates the story, he loses its real pulse. In one sequence, Jacob and Slaughtery stand before a large picture window with a prime view of Ground Zero. . . . All that registers for the audience is the pit; and Lee ends the scene with a long, mournful shot of bulldozers clearing away what once was the World Trade Center.”

Edelstein has a unique take on the film, but I disagree about the 9/11 “not working.” The movie was filmed in New York in 2002 and Ed Norton’s "father" is a firefighter. Spike Lee knew that the enormity and obscenity of the attacks became a part of every story of every New Yorker, even the fictional ones.

Treme: New Orleans Knows New York

The most recent example of flinching happened watching the HBO series Treme in April, which is set in post-Katrina New Orleans.

Spoiler Alert!

One of the characters drives to the Canal Street Ferry, which brings people to Algiers on the West Bank. He is seen in the stern on of the ferry smoking a cigarette, and then he’s gone, drowning himself in the Mississippi.

The last shot of the episode is of a parked, empty car. As the camera pulls slowly back, you see that it the parking lot at the Canal Street, ferry dock and his is the only car left.

The car left in the parking lot.

I’m a girl of the suburbs, and so it reminded me of all the cars sitting in commuter train stations on Long Island and New Jersey and Connecticut because their drivers went to work on a Tuesday morning and did not come home. It’s one of the saddest, most telling mental images of the day for me.

And the thought of all those wives, husbands, mother, fathers, brothers or sisters who at some point had to go and get those cars is a small, heartbreaking detail of the devastating picture.

A picture of 2,977 flags on the lawn of village hall, Massapequa Park.


Mr. Peel said...

I get the feeling that even if I didn't like 25TH HOUR--and I do, quite a bit--that I'd still have a problem with what Edelstein is saying, as if he's acting like he's running the metaphor police and that Spike Lee didn't clear what he was doing with the right people. So I didn't click on the link. I'll stick with what you have to say about it, Mrs. Peel.

I'll also say I'm truly flattered to be referred to as your "film blog spouse" and that my thoughts are with you from all the way out here in L.A. on this weekend. Take care.