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9/11, ten years on.

Writers and programmers present possible ways of viewing a terrible anniversary.

"Has any attack in history ever been commemorated the way this one is about to be?" asked Edward Rothstein in the New York Times a few days ago. "It seems as if every cultural institution, television network and book publisher feels duty-bound to produce some sort of Sept 11 commemoration. Is there a precedent for this almost compulsive variety show about an attack on a nation's people? No examples suggest themselves. And in the United States, the attack on Pearl Harbor — the only incident remotely comparable — doesn't seem to have inspired anything similar, even though that surprise assault initiated one of the most traumatic and transformative decades in this nation's history…. Of course Sept 11 is something different…. Had a bomb fallen on the twin towers," he suggests, "even that would have been less traumatic. This was something unforeseen, expertly planned, a jarring demonstration of vulnerability. So otherworldly did it seem when those planes were flown into their targets that their collapse came like a thunderclap of judgment."

Earlier in the piece, Rothstein notes the vast and diverse range of this tenth anniversary commemoration by mentioning, among other events and projects, the 9/11 Peace Story Quilt, "now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with children's drawings and words emphasizing the need for multicultural sensitivity," a performance by Karen Finley and a series at Film Forum paying "tribute to the NYPD with 19 movies, some unflattering (like Serpico)."

Here, naturally, we'll focus on the cinema-related goings on, and in general, I'll aim to be concise about it. URLs for this entry have been collecting for weeks, but I'm sure the best thing for it is to clear out most of them, leaving only those that seem to me to be, if not always the most resonant, at least the most pertinent.


First, about that Film Forum series. Rothstein may or may not be aware that the reason programmer Bruce Goldstein scheduled the NYPD series for this week (it runs through Tuesday) is that it is more or less the series that happened to have been running exactly ten years ago. Justin Stewart has an overview in the L.

"Perhaps the whole point of 9/11 was that it could never be represented on the cinema screen," proposes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "The diabolic, situationist genius of the kamikaze attacks was that they were themselves a kind of counter-cinema, a spectacle very possibly inspired by the art-form, but rendering obsolete any comparable fictions it had to offer. The 9/11 attacks smashed Hollywood's monopoly on myth-making and image production, and inspiring as they did only horror and revenge, aimed a devastating blow at imagination, and maybe for a while enfeebled the reputation of cinema and all the arts. (Hal Foster, in his LRB essay on the 9/11 museum, has some interesting thoughts on the damage to constructive thinkability at Ground Zero)…. When I try to locate or define the 9/11 factor in the movies, it is frustratingly elusive. But there are three films which are now very interesting test-cases."

In Slate, Bill Wyman looks back on four films that "all capture something essential about that day, something that I think will be recognized by anyone who was sentient at the time. Now, they don't reflect the totality of the experience — just a part. But they resonate still."

"Oliver Stone, Robert Redford, Ken Loach, Kathryn Bigelow, Michael Moore — to say nothing of filmmakers in the Middle East, Africa and Asia — have offered dark, challenging, sometimes flawed portraits of the consequences of that awful day." The Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandhu presents a selection of ten.

Salon's Andrew O'Hehir: "You could say that the events of September 11, 2001, had little or no effect on the production and consumption of Hollywood movies, or you could say that the effects have been so pervasive it's difficult to make them out. Both things are true."

Also in Salon, Matt Zoller Seitz is putting together a slide show on the cultural legacy of 9/11. Part 1 covers "work that appeared in the immediate aftermath of the attacks; because so much of it was in production before the catastrophe, any associations between the work and recent events were likely to be coincidental, maybe more in the eye of the beholder than in the work itself." Part 2 takes up the years 2002 - 2004: "It was a dense and lively period that saw movies, TV, music, literature and comics shifting out of a numb, somewhat disconnected state and becoming more reactive, then provocative, and by 2004 — an election year — combative." Part 3 covers 2005 - 2010.

In the Los Angeles Times, Reed Johnson looks back on books, films and television that have dealt with 9/11 "indirectly and elliptically rather than steering head-first into the maelstrom."

Let me also mention Pankaj Mishra in the Guardian on the post-9/11 world and its literature.


Spike Lee's 25th Hour screens on Sunday at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Alt Screen posts a roundup.

"An intimate group portrait on an epic scale, Rebirth tracks the long tails of grief and recovery through the ongoing stories of five people directly impacted by the events of September 11, 2001," writes Eric Hynes in the Voice. "Starting soon after that infamous day and continuing into 2009, director Jim Whitaker conducted regular interviews with his subjects (ten in all, but only half made the theatrical cut), monitoring their progressions through stations of rage, disbelief, and resilience. Shot in tight close-up against a black background, these candid monologues prove to be both unbearably moving and utterly approachable; our extended time with the survivors, along with Whitaker's reluctance to dice their testimony into exploitative sound-bytes, closes the gap of relatable experience." For Andrew Schenker in Time Out New York, though, "his documentary treats the attacks with a brain-shrinking piousness more befitting a memorial dedication than a work of cinema." More from Neil Genzlinger (NYT), Glenn Heath Jr (Slant, 3.5/4) and Michael Tully (Filmmaker). At the IFC Center through Tuesday.

"For many in the movie business, the horrific events of Sept 11, 2001 will forever be linked with the 26th Toronto International Film Festival." For the Winnipeg Free Press, Cassandra Szklarski looks back with festival director Piers Handling and others on the TIFF team.

Update: "The cinema experienced vast changes between 1921 and 1931, between 1961 and 1971, and, indeed, in every ten-year span since its invention," writes the New Yorker's Richard Brody, "so it's no surprise that it has also undergone dramatic changes since September 11, 2001. I don't think, however, that the past decade's changes are directly due to the attack that took place that day. Rather, that event is as much a result and a sign of other, broader changes in the world at large that also, in turn, left their mark on the cinema."

Updates, 9/10: Like many film critics, Glenn Kenny was in Toronto that day: "I recall stepping out to the lobby to see a colleague sobbing into a cellphone, and wondered if she had learned of the death of a relative. I approached her to ask what was wrong, and then the rush began; the rush to find a television to follow the story, the rush to get in touch with friends and relatives to find out if they were OK (phones were soon useless, but the AOL mail and instant messaging system worked exceptionally well) and then the eventual winding down into stunned impotence and despair at being so far from home."

Ambrose Heron collects the interviews he's conducted over the years with filmmakers whose work has addressed 9/11.

Two Bookforum roundups: 1 and 2.

"Allow me to put in a word here for what I consider to be not just the best film about 9/11, but the best film of its respective decade, period: Spike Lee’s 25th Hour." Bilge Ebiri in "the idea that 9/11 'made us ugly' — that is to say, hurt us and stripped us of our illusions. It broke us but also, maybe, allowed what remains of us to survive."

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