Quiet, but unmistakable, echoes of 9/11 work their way onto the screen

Danny Glover and Mark Wahlberg, at left and center, in "Shooter," which raises issues of public
trust. Images of Sept. 11th are increasingly fair game for mainstream entertainment. (Kimberley
French/Paramount Pictures)

Source: http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/05/10/arts/james.php

International Herald Tribune

Quiet, but unmistakable, echoes of 9/11 work their way onto the screen

By Caryn James

Monday, May 14, 2007

NEW YORK: On Tina Fey's NBC sitcom "30 Rock" recently, her character, the fictional NBC producer Liz Lemon, settles in with friends to watch the network's "Salute to Fireworks" in Rockefeller Plaza. As marching band music plays, they see explosions and smoke rising over a monolithic high-rise tower in New York. "Oh boy," Liz says dryly, "that's going to scare a lot of people." That is probably the first really funny 9/11 joke to appear on a prime-time network show, and the humor works because there is no need to explain why anyone would be scared. The scene combines the two latest, surprisingly effective twists in entertainment's use of the terror attacks: Audacious sitcoms and sketches are occasionally turning them into comedies; dramatic films, from the smart little thriller "Civic Duty" to the Mark Wahlberg action movie "Shooter," are routinely taking what is best described as an unspoken 9/11 approach, referring to the events without using the actual words.

Allusions are cropping up more often because 9/11 and its aftermath - from color-coded terror alerts to removing shoes at the airport - have become part of ordinary life. But that is probably not the major reason. As the fallout from the attacks, bundled under the term "war on terror," became unquestionably politicized, the images of 9/11 also became less sacrosanct, fair game for mainstream entertainment.

The sharpest, funniest recent use is probably the sketch "Shutterbugs: Lil' 9/11" by the comedy group Human Giant, included in its MTV show and now online (www.ifilm.com). In the sketch child actors are making a film about the president's response to the attacks, with a small boy in a suit and tie playing George W. Bush in iconic scenes: He reads "My Pet Goat" to other children; he grabs a bullhorn at ground zero; he speaks to the nation from the Oval Office, promising that he will get "these evil-dooders," including a boy who plays Osama bin Laden with a big fake beard.

Late-night comics and shows like "Saturday Night Live" have been making Osama jokes for years, but this is a much more pointed use of 9/11 imagery. Like the "Salute to Fireworks," the "Lil' 9/11" movie is depicted as a colossally bad idea, and the Human Giant sketch is clearly satirizing Bush, not mocking the events themselves. But that satiric use suggests how far 9/11 references have moved since 2001, when the illusion fleetingly existed that the "war on terror" might be beyond politics.

Another sign of the cultural distance from those early days is that the fireworks seen in the "30 Rock" show-within-a-show came from a real 2002 special celebrating NBC's 75th anniversary. Fey was a writer on that misguided special (but not the person who dreamed up the fireworks) and explained in a recent telephone interview that the studio audience was frightened and upset when the explosions began. The "30 Rock" joke was about that post-9/11 tension, she said, describing it as "a condition of life here" in New York. The original fireworks display was toned down and carefully edited for the sitcom, she said, so that people would get the reference but not be upset.

In the following episode Rip Torn, as a corporate bigwig, chastises the network executive below him (Alec Baldwin), saying, "You really terrified the people with that fireworks special of yours." The word terrified was deliberate, Fey said, another unspoken reference.

In films most references fall into that unspoken category, and are just as specific. These are not movies on which the audience imposes some free-floating anxiety, but works that plant explicit references and rely on viewers to fill in the blank.

"Civic Duty," in which Peter Krause is a man who suspects his neighbor is a terrorist, begins with a close-up of static on a television; as the camera pulls back and the image and sound become clear, we see a newscast about the Department of Homeland Security's latest terror alert. The garble that becomes a terror alert is the perfect metaphor for how awareness of the Sept. 11 attacks has been reduced to white noise, always there in the background.

Terry Allen, (Krause) looks glassy-eyed as he leaves an office building, where he has just been fired. Driving away, he hears on the car radio about the arrest of terrorists associated with an Islamic charity; he stops for gas and sees the dollars zoom upward at the pump; he goes into a bank and on television sees a speech from the recent past in which Bush talks about bringing "our enemies to justice." The post-9/11 context is set for Terry to call the FBI about his new neighbor, a man of vaguely Middle Eastern background named Hassan, a loner who has beakers and other lab equipment in his apartment.

Krause captures the uneasy feeling that can quickly become fearful obsession. And the film is clever and slippery about its hero, who becomes increasingly voyeuristic and desperate. Maybe he's paranoid, maybe he's disturbed, maybe he's also right.

The film's realism is enhanced by never spelling out what has happened to produce such anxiety. Tucking those post-9/11 fears in the back of our minds is, after all, true to what we experience every day.

These unspoken references aren't limited to savvy thrillers. Even a dimwitted popcorn movie like "Shooter" uses Sept. 11 to make political points. Wahlberg plays a former military sniper with the pulp-fiction name Bob Lee Swagger, whom we first see on a mission in Ethiopia, left for dead by his superiors. When the story picks up several years later, he sits at his home computer with a copy of the official "9/11 Commission Report" conspicuously on his desk. As he goes online, he says to his dog, "Let's see what kind of lies they're trying to sell us today." His suspicions are well founded. When government agents recruit him to help thwart a presidential assassin, we quickly learn that the agents are traitors, and Swagger becomes their target. The government rogues even explain how easy a time they've had as one senator says, "This is a country where the secretary of defense goes on TV and tells people it's about freedom and it's not about oil, and they don't question him." But these political asides seem incongruously dropped into a suspenseless movie that's basically about watching things blow up.

"Breach" is a much smarter Hollywood movie, a fact-based thriller about Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper), the FBI agent who spied for the Soviet Union for years, and the junior agent (Ryan Phillippe) who helped expose him. The film begins with actual video of Attorney General John Ashcroft announcing Hanssen's arrest. The date of this news conference is flashed on the screen - Feb. 2, 2001 - and Ashcroft says that the arrest is a reminder that "our nation, our free society, is an international target in a dangerous world." It is assumed that the audience will recognize the significance of the date, just months before the attacks would make phrases like "international target" familiar. Without bludgeoning viewers, the 9/11 allusion tells us how significant the Hanssen betrayal was.

All these films use the unspoken 9/11 tactic more effectively than "Reign Over Me," which supposedly deals with the tragedy more directly. Adam Sandler plays Charlie, who lost his wife and children in the terror attacks, a fact the film dances around until very near the end. When Charlie's old friend Alan (Don Cheadle) mentions him at dinner, Alan's daughter asks, "Is he the one from dental school whose family was on the plane?" as if it were any plane crash. Mike Binder, the writer and director, doesn't count on the audience's knowledge of 9/11 here, but on its awareness of the movie marketing that has already informed viewers which crash that was.

We're well into the film before Charlie's mother-in-law makes a more explicit allusion, explaining that "between the government payment and the insurance policy," Charlie doesn't have to work, and that her life changed when "those monsters flew over here from across the world." The first literal reference comes even later, when Charlie's business manager (Binder) looks back at the close friendship their families used to share and says, "On Sept. 12, 2001, that was over." Spoken or not, these references carry little weight because "Reign Over Me" is not really about 9/11 but about loss in general. The film actually diminishes the importance of the terror attacks by making them seem like any tragic accident.

A few films pioneered the unspoken approach. Possibly the earliest and still the best is Spike Lee's "25th Hour" (2002), which follows a man (Edward Norton) during his last day of freedom before going to prison. No character mentions 9/11, but the film is infused with its elegiac atmosphere and Lee's deep affection for New York. Those touches range from the opening credit sequence, with beautifully shot images of the twin beams of light presented as a memorial at the site in 2002, to a stunning view from an upscale apartment overlooking ground zero, a hole photographed in eerie blue-tinged nighttime light.

Danny Leiner's uneven "Great New Wonderful" (2005) follows several overlapping characters in New York soon after Sept. 11, each grappling with issues - children, relationships, professional ambition - that are inseparable from the specific anxiety newly in the air.

Capturing the emotional underpinnings of the attacks, rather than the events themselves, gives both films a resonance that may be more enduring than the direct depictions of the day in "World Trade Center" or "United 93." But who are these films speaking to? It must be more than a coincidence that none of them, not even commercial movies like "Breach" and "Shooter," were big hits. Works that take an unspoken approach to 9/11 assume that no one needs to be reminded of what happened; that ignores the possibility that maybe no one wants to.

Doesn't it make you proud?

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

I am new to the 911 Truth Movement. My dad, who is a frequent blogger on this site, first introduced me to the truth, and at first I'll admit. I, like many others, was very skeptical. I am of Christian faith, and the church that I have belonged to has supported the Bush Administration since the very beginning. I believed that our government was designed to protect our interests, and didn't realize was that even my pastor was influenced by political agenda. I have come to realize that it will take a movement from within the church and the community to reach out and touch a nation. We have so easily been brainwashed into the lies and deception this government has fed us. Now it is time to take back what is ours. Freedom! This is the first time in my life I have felt so passionate about something. And I'm beginning to understand why. The deep roots of this organization, and the malicious crime they committed and covered up, deeply scared millions of people like myself. We then chose to ignore the evidence and ask the hard questions. To this day most of my family believes the very lies told to us by our daily media. Well I have decided I will not stand for it! Thank all of you for your continuous efforts to expose 9-11. Without you, I would have never known the truth, and I like many others, would have probably gone on the rest of my life buying into the evil empire and directly supporting it's criminal acts. But in the end.... "Good conquers Evil." We must rise up and foce this evil administration and leaders back to where they came from! Hooray for 911blogger!

Go to bed

Go to bed sweatheart its late, 2 am?.,

Fight the fight tomorrow.

Im proud as only a father could be by your post.

I truly am.

Thanks Dad!!!! Thank you

Thanks Dad!!!! Thank you for awakening us!!!!! Love you!

Wow... very cool.... Made me a bit misty!

I have educated my son, who just turned 12, that he cannot necessarily believe everything he is taught in school regarding American history. He knows that I am a 9/11 Truther. He watched the "Loose Change" video with me and also is convinced that the WTC were brought down by controlled demolition. Of course, he doesn't understand all the ramifications of what this means, but he is proud of his Dad for holding true to his beliefs.

"A patriot must be ready to defend his country against his government" - Edward Abbey