Mandel Mavens Nest on The World Trade Center:
In Memoriam In Sight and In Sound: From New Yorkers' POV
WE'RE ALL THANKFUL THAT WE (and we were all in the city that day), OUR FRIENDS AND RELATIVES WHO WORK IN DOWNTOWN MANHATTAN --including a cousin on the 51st fl, another in 7 WTC, and our nephew evacuated from the World Financial Center -- AND FLY FREQUENTLY ARE ALL OK -- even our car, parked just north of the WTC, is fine. Our hearts go out to all who suffered, there, in, D.C. and PA, and the plane crash near here in Queens, and we're relieved that our cousins in Israel are unhurt in terrorist attacks. While Harold Shultz witnessed the horror from his office window (and our now daughter-in-law from her Stuyvesant High School window), he was immediately busy managing a relief center for rescue workers and getting his agency reconfigured for the re-opening of Lower Manhattan. He advised the Lower Manhattan Development Commission on residential issues, and even got a new parking spot. We posted a flag in solidarity for the postal workers felled by anthrax in memory of Grandpa Louis Lifschutz who worked for the Post Office Dept. for over 50 years.
When out-of-town friends-of-friends asked me right afterwards how they could help NYC, I suggested supporting Chinatown, which had lost all its tourists and restaurant patrons and was getting none of the philanthropic outpouring.
As the years have passed, and our family has blessedly expanded and our family tree research has extended to more branches, we’ve found that our mishpuchah did have relatives more directly affected: an out-of-town cousin’s brother-in-law, a cousin’s cousin, and a seven-year missing doctor who had to be declared a 9/11 victim by court decision. I annually memorialize 9/11 as their, and the other victims’, yahrzheit, regardless of the usual rule to follow the Hebrew calendar date.
The continuing shameless waving of the 9/11 banner into the 2016 election campaign reminds me how irresponsible NYC radio stations were, the only media I had access to until I got home in the early evening. They put on the air wild rumors, without waiting to substantiate any facts, and contributed not only to continuing panic and useless activity, but to the eventual perpetuation of conspiracy theories and false claims.
9/11 in Photos
9/11 in Poetry
9/11 in the Movies
9/11 in TV Fiction
9/11 in Song
9/11 in Literature
It's sad that so many of the Web sites created in tribute to the events of 9/11 are no longer posted so I can't link directly to them anymore, when I have a chance to check and update. But the 10th anniversary brought on new and compilation resources.
The National September 11 Memorial Museum was dedicated May 15, 2014, and adds videos to their You Tube Channel.
For the 17th anniversary of the end of the rescue mission, the Museum dedicated a 9/11 Memorial Glade, which was commemorated with Limited Edition MetroCards honoring first responders.
StoryCorps’ September 11 Initiave aims to tape an interview for every victim, for the Museum, and is animating several of them, for PBS, You Tube, and other outlets as well.
”Just in time for the 13th anniversary of the September 11 attacks”, pointed out The Gothamist, the link with the killing of Osama bin Laden by Navy Seals will be on display.
Will they include the findings of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program that documents the use of 9/11 as a justification for torture?
There are many reviews of the museum’s design and coverage of the opening I could link. But I’ll post my commentary when I visit after the families of the victims, including my relatives, and the rush of out-of-town tourists (who fill my daily E train commute). But I appreciate this resonance with my clear memory of being mesmerized by that bright blue sky as I walked east on 23rd Street, never turning my head south like everyone else was, just before I found out back at my office:
Trying To Remember the Color of the Sky on That September Morning by Spencer Finch. [View in photograph by Damon Winter, The New York Times]
For the transcripts from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's emergency calls.
For a timeline of all the 9/11 attacks.
The Tribute in Light, pictured in the background, beautifully shines dusk to dawn at the anniversary, presumably as long as the Municipal Art Society can get funding to keep producing it.
For the rhetoric of 9/11.
The National Museum of the American Indian includes the perspective of NYC’s Mohawk Indian ironworkers who helped build and unbuild the Towers.
The Foundation Center documented where the 9/11 charitable dollars went.
For cheerleading on the rebuilding plans or just the facts, though it doesn't seem updated.
The issues around the rebuilding quagmire have given me flashbacks to my city planning career, including trying to deal with the Port Authority's design stubbornness. The two finalist proposals represented what Har and I each picked -- he the THINK plan, me the Libeskind. While the Daniel Libeskind proposal, the winning selection, is the most dramatically innovative and creative, it makes the memorial aspect dominant, and that concept has won sway due to the moral domination of The Families-- let's all remember in planning the memorials that the now deserted Grant's Tomb was the most popular tourist site of the late 19th century as every Union soldier felt it was an obligatory pilgrimage. The new Lower Manhattan Grand Central Station with the PATH Station, even reduced, needs to be central to any enlivened, practical plan, despite family objections and financial considerations.
Ada Louise Huxtable on how the designs are being weakened. We too are pretty much fed up with what's happened to the plans. So how did it work out? The New York Times “Style” section 9/30/2015, Laura M. Holson reported on the emotional incongruity of Condé Nast Colonizes Lower Manhattan for those who lived in Manhattan in 2001: “Working every day at ground zero was discombobulating at first for some of those whose offices or cubicles overlook the Twin Towers Memorial. The black pits are a daily reminder of 9/11, with tour buses regularly disgorging visitors who stare or mourn. And the plaza is often bleak in winter, when icy winds create snowdrifts, rendering it a canvas of charcoal and white.”
The designer of the Memorial Pavilion from Snøhetta toured the plaza as background for the “Libraries” episode of the 2014 Cool Spaces TV show. The emphasis on visitor self-reflection was more spooky than the rusted I-beams.
The New York Times, posted 7/23/2015, through five views: “Take a look at the shape-shifting, stacked tower design for 2 World Trade Center, the final building overlooking the site where the twin towers were destroyed”.
We supported the building of the Muslim-led Cordoba House (or Park 51, or whatever it would have been called instead of mosque) on Park Place, north of the WTC site. When a Congressional campaign flyer came in the mail proclaiming that a candidate supported the project, I thought that was a positive position, until I turned it over and saw it was from his opponent.
The Museum of the City of New York includes the controversy in their exhibition Activist New York:
Background reading on a somewhat comparable controversy could be helpful in defusing the debate: Memory Offended The Auschwitz Convent Controversy, edited by Carol Rittner and John K. Roth (Praeger,1991) and The Continuing Agony: From the Carmelite Convent to the Crosses at Auschwitz, edited by Alan L. Berger, Harry James Cargas, and Susan E. Nowak (University Press of America, 2004).
In WNYC’s panel on Fear of a Muslim Planet at BAM on 5/8/2015, one of the Muslim women (I can’t remember which one) passionately pointed out that she could have had family members in the Towers.
9/11 In Photos
You can virtually be here before, during and after the attacks at a "democracy" exhibition of photographs of New York and New Yorkers and the CameraPlanet video archive. These focus on the rescuers and their health consequences.
For an archive of contemporaneous online reactions and newspaper front pages from 9/12/01, which is also the basis of a Newseum permanent exhibition and the Library of Congress Documentary Photographs September 11 Acquisitions:Witness and Response, both in Washington, D.C.
For a photo-essay by photojournalist James Nachtwey. For Uniformed Fire Fighters Association own photographic tribute, and you can contribute to their funds.
From Artists on the Run, Their Art Left Behind by Carol Vogel, in The New York Times, September 13, 2005:
"The whole landscape of American art is in the process of upheaval," [Willie Birch, a 66-year-old painter, said in a telephone interview from an apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, which he kept when he moved back home to New Orleans in 1993 after winning a Guggenheim Fellowship.] "Between 9/11 and Katrina, I am seeing artists dealing with history. When I was at school we were concerned primarily with form. Now that's all changed."
The New Normal - a traveling art exhibition on the impact of heightened security on our lives.
PBS’s 9/11 Video Quilt of people’s thoughts on what’s changed.
NPR’s Muslim Artists, Now series first looked at how 9/11 impacted the presentation of Islamic art in museum collections, starting, on 8/3/2015, with the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
9/11 In Poetry
For a poetic tribute to the iconic symbolism of a Skyscraper, by Carl Sandburg from 1910 but even more true now.
Pete Seeger relayed that he found this apropos poem on the late Lee Hays' piano:
To Know Good Will
If I should die one day by violence
Please take this as my written will
And in the name of simple common sense
Treat my destroyer only as one ill
As one who needed more than I could give
As one who never really learned to live
In peace and joy and love of life
But was diseased and plagued by hate and strife
My vanished life might have some meaning still
When my destroyer learns to know good will.
My mother Charlotte Mandel read and discussed her two poems at a first anniversary poetry tribute.
Then poet laureate Billy Collins first read ”The Names” to Congress on 9/11/2002.
For how every New Yorker's reaction that morning was to reach out to their loved ones, like Lou Reed's first thought was of his significant other, Laurie Anderson.
Dedicated to him after his death, her autobiographical essay Heart of a Dog includes references to 9/11, both descriptive and the emotional impact: “I live in downtown Manhattan” where “the clouds were dust” and for days after she saw “lines of trucks carrying the remains.” (more quotes forthcoming when I watch it again, on HBO in 2016) 9/11 also triggers memories of her childhood near-death and slow recovery experiences that emphasize the contrast between growing up with nature vs. this very downtown and adult experience. She also references a Jewish woman in Reed’s life.) (previewed at 2015 New York Film Festival of Film Society of Lincoln Center) (updated 10/23/2015)
We went to see the eight finalists for the memorial competition -- and were really disappointed at the blandness and unoriginality! As quoted in The New York Times on the memorial plans:
8 Mute Minimal Designs by "the Wall Street poet" Eugene Schlanger
Where is the twisted human torso?
Where are the flames? Where is the smoke?
What crossed fingers still dangle below
These calm subterranean spaces?
Should we not, here and now, make known the
Inexplicable agony? Who among these
Names leaped to their deaths? Who did not
Have a chance to leap, scorched, crushed?
Placid well-lit puddles of piddling light
Confine the defiant. Monuments.
Intended to mourn, feign empathy and
Experience. Serene Ground Zero.
Is this the scene searched in vain for remains?
Each age has the art it deserves.
Will this be called the architecture of amnesia?
Premiered at The Architecture & Design Film Festival in Fall 2016, The Architects: A Story of Loss, Memory and Real Estate documentary, directed by Tom Jennings, that focused on the unrealized design proposal from United Architects (a collaboration between Alejandro Zaera-Polo & Farshid Moussavi of Foreign Office Architects, Greg Lynn of Greg Lynn FORM, Kevin Kennon of Kevin Kennon Architects, Jesse Reiser & Nanako Umemoto of Reiser + Umemoto Architects, and Ben van Berkel of UNStudio).
9/11 through American Popular Culture
We’ve used Brooklyn Bridge shower curtains for years – and I didn’t notice the black-and-white photograph includes the Towers until 2015.
After Islamic extremists’ point-blank assassination of the French satirical cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo in Paris on 1/7/2015, Ruben L. Oppenheimer visually equated the terrorist attacks in an image that went viral:
Then 11/13/15 -- somberly called “Paris’s 9/11”. (However, this same image was used in a nasty right-wing meme over 7/4/2017, that I won’t post, showing the Twin Towers as “CNN Towers”, with President Donald Trump as a jet bringing them down.)
In early 2019, 9/11 was still in the news for inflaming opinions:
Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), the subject of Time For Ilhan (seen at 2018 Tribeca Film Festival), and one of the two first Muslims in the House of Representatives, was the target of this nasty poster evidently produced by an anti-Muslim hate group and displayed in the West Virginia State Capitol rotunda on March 1, 2019 on “WVGOP Day”, sponsored by the state Republican Party. Not coincidentally, the Somali-born, hijab-wearing woman of color (Congress passed new rules to permit her religious head-ware) is also being attacked for anti-Israel/Israel lobby comments that are perceived as anti-Semitic. Worse, the President of the United States on 4/13/2019 tweeted a video version with out-of-context quotes from the Congresswoman speaking on the bias against Muslim-Americans after the attacks pic.twitter.com/VxrGFRFeJM with the caption: “WE WILL NEVER FORGET!”, buttressed by the Murdoch-owned New York Post cover that spurred Yemini bodegas’ reaction: .
Also the weekend of March 1, 2019, the respected journalist Fareed Zakaria produced a CNN Special Report "Saudi Arabia: Kingdom of Secrets", inspired by his anger over the murder of his Washington Post colleague Jamal Ahmad Kashoggi. As indicated in this promoted clip, he called out the Saudi Arabians involved in planning and carrying out the attack shown between images of planes flying into the Towers, FDNY running into the lobby, and then photos of “nearly 3,000 Americans” killed, to illustrate the Kingdom’s exported “hate”.
On the radio, WNYC’s On the Media program on “Hating in Plain Sight”, weekend of 3/22/2019, Rukmini Callimachi, New York Times correspondent covering ISIS, noted in the discussion on ”Archiving Terrorist Propaganda”, that the removal of Osama bin Laden’s videos online have left a void for a false timeline that the World Trade Center attacks happened after the U.S. invaded Iraq.
Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project - One black woman media analyst’s prescient notion of the need to document how news was covered over 30 years included the morning of 9/11/2001. In this fond documentary, one can see how the national networks only gradually caught on to the Towers burning, and began to aim their cameras closer and closer. When the second plane hits the other Tower, the usually silent off-screen news staff is heard reacting in shock. Director Matt Wolf quadrants the screen to show how CNN was first, CBS and NBC broke into their morning soft news talk shows, and the local Philadelphia Fox outlet was last. The TV News Archive is now digitizing her unique personal collection for public access. (Brief Review forthcoming) (preview at 2019 Tribeca Film Festival)
Jake Dobkin’s Ask A Native New Yorker column on 11/20/2015 faced the comparison for a nervous newcomer: “It's okay to worry about terrorism. You'll have a lot of company: worrying is New York's most popular pastime. It's been 14 years since 9/11 and I still don't like spending time in tall buildings, and every single time I go to Grand Central or Times Square, I think about what an inviting target those places must be to all the assholes around the world who hate America. . . this city has overcome many threats and attacks by terrorists in the past, and we'll survive this one too.”
America Is Hard to See, the inaugural, survey of the permanent collection exhibition of the new Whitney Museum of American Art (Spring 2015), included in the “Course of Empire” section (named after Thomas Cole’s painting cycle), Keith Mayerson’s 9-11, Aleksandra Mir’s Osama, and Richard Serra’s Abu Ghraib.
For the 15 anniversary, the Whitney posted on Facebook: “We remember September 11 with Ellsworth Kelly's Ground Zero (2003). Kelly first began conceiving a memorial at Ground Zero in 2001, when he imagined a large, gently sloping mound of earth covered in brilliant green grass. For thousands of years, cultures all over the world have used mounds as a way to revere the dead, and Kelly has said that ancient mounds of North America influenced some of the shapes in his work. When the artist saw this aerial photograph of Ground Zero published in The New York Times in 2003, he was moved to make this collage of a prospective memorial. As envisioned by Kelly, pedestrians walking towards the memorial would see green curves at the intersection of the street and the mound, each block offering a different aperture and shape. Those looking down from neighboring buildings on the site would see an expanse of color, as if looking at the ocean or sky.” [Ellsworth Kelly (1923–2015), Ground Zero, 2003. Collage on paper (newsprint). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of an anonymous donor. © Ellsworth Kelly]
For “Art Card” commissioned by the MTA for display in buses and subways, Jessie Hartland imagined NYC as a ride through history in a child’s game, including a stop at the World Trade Center.
“9.11.01” By Jack Whitten (2006) New York Times Credits Hauser & Wirth
The 1/23/2018 obituary of the artist Jack Whitten by Neil Genzlinger included this image, noting: “Mr. Whitten sometimes responded to the events of the day with artwork. One such event was the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, which Mr. Whitten witnessed at close range, from his studio on Lispenard Street in TriBeCa. ‘When it hit,’ he said of the first plane, ‘the first thing you saw was this big crystal burst; before you saw any smoke, before you saw any flame, the sky was just filled with crystal glass.”
Laura Poitras: Astro Noise at the Whitney Museum of American Art (Winter 2016) opened with her video piece O’Say Can You See (2001/2016). The entrance side was her short film of slo-mo shots of diverse New Yorkers staring at the ruins of the World Trade Center in the days after the attacks, including:
-- the other side of the screen is footage from two U.S. military interrogation videos in Afghanistan, including of Salim Hamdan whose case she covered in The Oath (2010).
Our alma mater was NYU Uptown (in the Bronx) that no longer exists, but in 2018 NYU “downtown” alumni remembered 9/11, from two perspectives.
9/11 in the Movies
You can see the Twin Towers still standing in NYC movies, and in videos like Ryan Adams's "New York, New York". Like the chorus says, "Hell, I will always love you, New York." There were so very many documentaries on TV about the rise and fall of the Twin Towers, including PBS’s American Experience episode “The Center of the World” which included Building the World Trade Center produced by the Port Authority of NY/NJ in 1983, plus lots of extras and links.
The view of the Twin Towers has become a regular establishing shot that a movie takes place prior to 9/11/2001, such as Bad Hurt, a depressing portrait of a Staten Island family beset with Job-like problems in the early 1990’s. Similarly, in the fictionalized film short The Evolution of a Gen-X Music Purchaser sardonically narrates about standing on line to buy Slayer’s God Hates Us All on 9/10/2001 that the impact on millennials wouldn’t be evident until we woke up the next morning. (Both previewed at 2015 Tribeca Film Festival).
- Salma Hayek Pinault as Maria José, John McMahon as Eamonn, Tony Doyle as Firefighter, Sam McGovern as Cop, Omar Sharif Jr as Officer Mauro, Darren Healy as Seán, Paul Higgins as Drunk, Martin McDougall as Tom in 11TH HOUR. Photo by DP Cathal Watters.
As directed by Jim Sheridan, and co-written with Oskar Slingerland, this 11-minute docu-drama short, based on Lisa Hand’s story about her experience in Marty and Marie José’s Manhattan bar, is a touching tribute to the surviving first responders and the profound impact they had on frightened, angry, and confused New Yorkers on 9/11. (seen at 2017 Tribeca Film Festival)
The Suitcase - Based on the declassified Review of Investigation Conducted by the FBI of [Mohammed] Atta's Suitcases at Boston, MA, this moving 21-minute film, directed, written, and produced by Abi Damaris Corbin, makes very human the coincidences on 9/11 and the small pieces of the puzzle that helped put together the identity and purposes of the hijackers who flew from Logan International Airport into the Towers. An all too ordinary American baggage handler got caught up in the maw by breaking the rules, and extraordinarily persisted in letting the authorities know what he discovered.
From the press notes: This short was Corbin’s graduate thesis film, through an unusual collaboration by 17 of the top Hollywood film and tech companies, with crew members from 10 different countries. The original letter found in the suitcase is displayed at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum; the props team created an exact hand-written replica. (Briefly reviewed at 2017 Tribeca Film Festival)
Philippe Petit’s obsession with the buildings is fascinating, as recalled through Man on Wire, based on his book To Reach The Clouds: My High Wire Walk Between the Twin Towers. His stop-the-city aerial act that so floored all of us on August 7, 1974 (and also got New Yorkers to start liking them too) inspired the Caldecott Medal-winning children’s book The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein. (Degrees of WTC separation: I found out in 2012 that a guy who helped Petit inside the Tower is my cousin’s godfather.)
The New Yorker referenced his walk and the absent Towers in 9/11/2006:
The Walk beautifully recreates Petit’s quest in a fiction feature, and illustrates more, suspenseful details of his stake-out and preparation, including the colorful accomplices to his “coup”. I only caught a couple of differences to the actual event that day in NYC: there wasn’t enough sense of the panicked radio reports promulgating that the crazy guy up there was sure to be intending suicide, thus fanning fears that the ugly new Towers would be even more of an attractive nuisance for the suicidal than the Empire State Building. Instead, director Robert Zemeckis jarringly edits in a national NBC news clip from the end of the day, with info on “Petit”s “sentence” that he (as played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt with a spot-on Parisian accent) re-tells a few minutes later. When the TV reporters rush to interview him after his arrest, maybe there’s legal reasons why one is identified as Channel 6 when there isn’t such in NYC? Otherwise, the production design, dialogue, and look all seem to capture the period very evocatively. As the narrating “Petit” “stands” on the crown of the Statue of Liberty, The Towers constantly loom behind him, with the sun rising and setting, lights shining from within at night, and as he ironically utters that the Port Authority gave him a pass to the Observation Deck that was good for “forever”, the image of the Towers gradually fades from golden reflections of sunshine to empty black. A photojournalist colleague who covered the work at “the pile” (with lasting health effects) couldn’t bring herself to see this movie, so I tried to reassure her that it’s a respectful valentine to the Towers.
While the cast was too young to remember “the walk” and Zemeckis says he wasn’t even aware of it at the time (guess he was on the West Coast?), each American at the press conference spoke of visiting the original Observation Deck, and the new memorial to experience the distance between The Towers. Gordon-Levitt spoke of visiting the WTC in Summer 2001 when he returned to NYC for his sophomore year at Columbia. Ben Schwartz, who played the stoner accomplice “Albert” identified himself as a native New Yorker who frequently passed by the Towers as just part of his landscape. James Badge Dale, who played “Jean-Pierre aka J.P.”, the accomplice from the electronics store, spoke of growing up on 20th St. off 9th Avenue where “The Towers were part of my childhood. . .I’m proud to be part of a film that honors the memory of those buildings.” We brought tourists several times to the Observation Deck and the film wonderfully re-creates that specific glorious view, from Petit’s perspective on his wire, of the three bridges to the East, the Hudson River to the west, and Manhattan falling away uptown. (previewed in IMAX 3D at 9/26/2015 New York Film Festival of Film Society of Lincoln Center)
Colum McCann used what he called this “act of bravura,” in The New York Times 11/28/2009, "Significant (Little) Moments Pulled From Obscurity" by Motoko Rich, to anchor the multiple story lines in the 2009 National Book Award winner for fiction Let the Great World Spin to contrast with the “human bravura” down below for "an allegory about resilience and recovery after" 9/11. "Several years ago he read an essay about Mr. Petit by Paul Auster. Then, the Sept. 11 attacks were viscerally brought home when his father-in-law, working in the south tower of the World Trade Center, escaped and walked uptown, arriving covered in ashes at the apartment of Mr. McCann and his wife, Allison. Mr. McCann always knew he wanted to write obliquely about Sept. 11 using Mr. Petit’s walk as a leitmotif. But as he spun out his story of interconnected lives, [he]. . .researched the history of 1970s New York in the New York Public Library, and the writer Richard Price introduced Mr. McCann to a police detective who took him on tours of the city. He also talked to computer hackers, older graffiti taggers and a judge to help make several of the novel’s characters accurate.. . .[H]e would always defend the notion of hope. 'I would stand up and go bare knuckle for that'." (Reviewed by our Fiction Book Club).
He talked about his father-in-law’s ash-covered shoes and his reactions to 9/11 to write the book in Irish Writers in America, broadcast on CUNY-TV, November 2013.
I think the image of Ground Zero as "my heartache" in the Martin Scorsese-directed Robert DeNiro American Express commercial is lovely, not exploitative.
But the 2016 Colonial Williamsburg Super Bowl commercial 2/7/2016 was. Narrated by “Greatest Generation” chronicler Tom Brokaw, historic images time-travel backwards, including, jarringly, the burning, smoking South Tower of the World Trade Center in reverse to before the attack: "When you reflect upon our sacrifices, our breakthroughs and yes our heartbreaks. . .Where did our fight come from? Our strength. Our heart. Where did our spirit first take shape?" NY Daily News reported the ad regionally-targeted to New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. viewers, which made it even more offensive.
The Cats of Mirikitani shows the surprising ramifications on people downtown, revealing lives. The impact on another Japanese-American is seen in Redemption, a Downtown Docs/HBO production nominated for the 2013 Best Short Documentary. Homeless can and bottle redeemer “John”, originally from Okinawa, mimes the falling of the Towers as where he used to work on computers.
9/11-Related Movie Reviews, Commentary and Recommendations
Nora Lee Mandel is a member of New York Film Critics Online and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists. Her reviews are counted in the Rotten Tomatoes TomatoMeter:
Complete Index to Nora Lee Mandel's Movie Reviews
Since August 2006, edited versions of most of my reviews of documentaries/indie/foreign films are at Film-Forward, since 2012, festival overviews at FilmFestivalTraveler, and, since 2016, coverage of women-made films at FF2 Media. Shorter versions of my older reviews are at IMDb's comments, where non-English-language films are listed by their native titles.
NB: Does not include made-for-TV documentaries or films I don’t recommend
The documentary Dust (Staub) includes the environmental and health consequences of the toxic powder from the collapse of the towers in its international survey of particles. (12/3/2008)
The impact of 9/11 is shown as part of the back drop of kids' lives in the documentary Mad Hot Ballroom.
It is hard to separate Fahrenheit 9/11 as an Op Ed piece to just evaluate it as a film.
Michael Moore is effective overall in the film's coherent organization, even though it is too long and has some repetition, some played up for comic relief, and news reports have usurped and surpassed some of his revelations, including findings by the 9/11 commission as prodded by The Families.
Most of the film is a compilation; unlike a book where one can check the footnotes for the source of a quote, one can only see all the film credits at the end and wonder where a clip comes from and why it hasn't been widely seen before. It is roughly divided into thirds and the last third is the most powerful and what stays with the viewer.
The first third is How to Steal an Election 2000 with really pointed attacks on the Bush family and their connections. In between dredging up old news, he does focus on how minorities were particularly affected by the vote, with what I presume is a C-SPAN excerpt of Black Caucus members protesting the election certification, which did not get much attention at the time. It is cheap shots to show various administration officials as they prep for TV interviews.
Ironically, it is this background part that might have gotten the film its unnecessary R rating as in showing the Bush's cozy relationship with Our Traditional Allies the Saudi oil potentates, Moore finds grainy footage demonstrating the Saudi Arabian justice system with a beheading that I'm sure is not too different from what has been seen in PG-13 fictional fare.
Part 2 is 9/11, continuing looking at the Saudi influences, and the calculated lead-up to the invasion of Iraq. Moore very powerfully does not show any WTC images directly, but instead blackens the screen then focuses on the horrified faces of witnesses, particularly of minorities. Surely it was pool coverage that produced the tape of Bush staying in the classroom reading a children's book for eight minutes after he's informed about the attacks -- so why is Moore the first to show it?
While he does make much of tearing off the fig leaf of the Weapons of Mass Destruction and the hypocrisy of the Bush administration about falsely linking Iraq to 9/11, these have been skewered better by Jon Stewart and the crew at Comedy Central's The Daily Show.
Part 3 is the war and is quite intense, involving and moving. He shows how the press was not just embedded but in bed as jingoists, though this aspect was shown from a more interesting perspective in Control Room, which makes an essential sidebar for this film.
Moore is very careful to not repeat a mistake of the Viet Nam War protesters - he is passionate about supporting the troops vs. criticizing their leaders. He refers to the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in bare passing as good soldiers driven to immoral acts by functioning in an immoral situation. Will the G.I.'s who were filmed frankly criticizing the war get demoted like the well-meaning PR rep in Control Room reportedly was?
Then the film takes a turn more reflective of Moore's distinctive flare as he looks directly at the impact of the war on his hometown of Flint, MI, from the recruiters who zero in on unemployed minority kids to loyal and patriotic everyday Americans who now see that they have sacrificed their sons and daughters based on lies. He also subtly chastises anti-war activists who don't respect their overwhelming grief and betrayal.
The universality of the carnage is implicitly considered by showing footage of first a distraught Iraqi mother screaming for revenge and then an equally grief-stricken Michigan mother in D.C. -- is an updated Lysistrata tactic the answer?
The music selection is excellent, particularly the closing choice of Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World." (7/3/2004)
The Great New Wonderful marks the lead-up to a nervous anniversary I vividly remember - September 2002 -- so it is difficult to separate out my own recall of feelings of unease and dread in comparison to the film's portrayal of how a somewhat disparate group of New Yorkers experienced the same month or to evaluate it as a film on its own.
It certainly will have more resonance to New Yorkers than to others, even as TV's Rescue Me has already sneered at such feelings of those like most of the characters in the film who didn't directly lose a loved one or colleague on 9/11. But the documentaries and TV shows have focused on survivors and first-responders so that this attempt to capture every day New Yorkers, albeit mostly neurotic middle-class white ones, provides fresh insight.
The film well captures the malaise that seemed to infect us all, powerfully enough that I cried just before the climax, though to me it's like commemorating a yahrzheit, an anniversary of a death. When three-quarters through the film a plane traverses the screen, I gasped, just as I did at noisy planes throughout that month. While it took me over a year until I could even walk by Ground Zero, and then only by looking away from that hole in the ground, the repeating panning to the new skyline has already gotten too familiar to us and no longer has the shock of the gaping hole in the sky, or maybe the golden-tinged panorama is more of midtown with the Empire State Building restored as our icon than of lower Manhattan.
Directed in an European-feeling style by Danny Leiner, like an inter-edited take on the 2002 collection of 11 minute thematically-linked films by 11 international directors 11'09''01 - September 11, the mordant script by debut screenwriter Sam Catlin emphasizes festering explosions of repressed violence in various forms, mocking New Yorkers' contentions that 9/11 would somehow change us forever to be more serious and to appreciate life and despite what we read in the wedding stories in The New York Times for a year or two afterwards. Sharply edited through leisurely short stories that gradually ratchet up in pacing, the characters do not have coincidental mutual impact as in Amores Perros and even fewer interrelations than the characters in Nine Lives except for occasional propinquity that has a frisson of 9/11 jitters.
The five boroughs are represented, with an age range from senior citizens (a terrific Olympia Dukakis' restless Jewish wife in Brooklyn) to a frazzled couple (Thomas McCarthy and Judy Greer) coping with their creepy child who is manifesting more symptoms of an incipient serial killer than the teens in the Columbine-inspired Elephant, to service workers to the rich-- an ambitious pastry chef (Maggie Gyllenhaal as the skinniest baker in the world) and her circle very amusingly prepare for a My Super Sweet 16 on MTV-like party in a satire of "let them eat cake" as she unironically offers a fancy dessert called "The Ophelia"; a meek cubicle denizen (Jim Gaffigan) who apparently was in the Twin Towers that day so is in mandated counseling with therapist Tony Shalhoub that is surely inspired by similar scenes from Miracle on 34th Street; and a pair of Indian security guards (Naseeruddin Shah and Sharat Saxena). I kept expecting the last set to have perceived some increased tensions for being South Asian, but instead the two are coping in divergent ways.
What all the characters share is no control over their lives and dependence on other people's decisions. Each does takes an unpredictable step-- climaxes and catharses (whether violent, sexual or artistic) that vary in their credibility within the film. For most of the characters we see the build-up of their frustration and its aftermath but not their existential act-- like looking at that skyline before and after.
Some secondary characters work better than others. The only character at peace has Alzheimers and wonders how World War II will end. Edie Falco's business lunch with Gyllenhaal is a masterpiece of understated bitchy competition in its timing and politesse, but Will Arnett as the slacker husband does not add anything. Stephen Colbert, as always, is the master of the unctuous, here as the odd student's private school principal. Seth Gilliam is the opposite of his macho cop in The Wire.
The film is full of very New York touches -- we see playwright Tony Kushner backstage at a Kevin Kline performance at
The Public Theater, the residences reflect different neighborhoods, and there's lovely scenes of bedraggled Coney Island with a yet still beautiful Atlantic Ocean. Visual juxtapositions abound, such as a very effective scene as the camera backs up to gradually revealed to be taking place on Liberty Island.
The cinematography by Harlan Bosmajian is very washed out. One scene brightened up and I at first thought there was some symbolic importance about characters' growing emotional clarity towards the end, but then it seemed more of a brief accident.
While the score by Brett Boyett and John Swihart is effectively understated and helps to connect the segments, the pop song choices were just plain odd, with zero connection to New York, from Bob Seger singing about L.A., to a karaoke of Canadian Sarah McLaughlin's ode to ice cream, to New Zealand's Neil Finn over the credits.(7/10/2006)
Other fiction films on New Yorkers' responses: (My reviews forthcoming):
Clear Blue Tuesday
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (glaring lack of New Yawk accents for authenticity)
The Road to Guantánamo is not a documentary. It is a series of interviews interspersed with dramatic recreations and news video. It comes across viscerally as a powerful docu-drama with the feel of "based on a true story" prison films like Midnight Express or war, extending beyond the style of Reds, or Holocaust memoirs that edit together the real and the reel.
Co-director Michael Winterbottom's recreations in situ are so blazingly hyper realistic that they are hard to distinguish from the non-identified actual news video. Though the in-your-face feeling is interrupted near the end with jarring omniscient narration, the film has the direct immediacy of his In This World exploration of young Afghan refugees going in the opposite direction.
But this feckless, eyewitness journey from slacker British young men of a variety of Muslim South Asian backgrounds to modern Pakistan for an arranged marriage to an ancient Afghanistan with motor transport that explodes into the chaos of a war in coalitions from tribes to bombs, and then into the no man's land of Gitmo are undercut by co-director Mat Whitecross's unchallenged interviews with "the Tipton 3". (It is a bit difficult for American ears to always understand their accents and it did take me awhile to keep them straight, as each interviewee is also portrayed in action by an actor, until the conclusion when we see real documentation of them completing the original purpose of their trip.)
While we understand that any first-person account will be self-serving, self-aggrandizing and deflective, their ingenuousness is so remarkable that it is simply hard to believe that any guys presented as this foolish and reckless can live outside a Clerks or Bill and Ted movie. You were going where in October 2001? Because you heard the nan bread there was really good? Because you wanted to "help"? And they were originally four, with one missing and presumed dead from the initial attacks. The illiterate kids on the Iraqi border portrayed in Turtles Can Fly (Lakposhtha hâm parvaz mikonand) without even understanding the English on CNN seemed better informed than these guys. We don't learn until near the end of the film they are ex-juvenile delinquents (though their brushes with the law ironically provide their alibis).
Though it is a bit confusing as to why it took so long for them to admit their British citizenship, their very idiocy and naiveté effectively undercuts the rationale for Guantánamo and its counter-productive interrogations of alleged evil-doers and their sympathizers. The years it took the U.S. and Britain to realize their incidental involvement in history also emphasizes, especially through flashbacks and daydreams to the guys' Western-style adolescence, how late the authorities were to realize that their on-the-ground observations could have been useful intel about the pull of Muslim solidarity, recruitment and attitudes.
The titular progression is key as once they are caught up in the war, each move they experience you think can't get any worse to endure, and then it does get worse and ratchets up further. Their experiences at Gitmo itself seem out of the Inquisition, if not medieval witch trials and look much more like revenge out of
Chan-wook Park's Vengeance Trilogy than really providing any useful information that the fictional "Jack Bauer" would get for immediacy's sake in 24. While this doesn't quite get into the territory of the kind of extreme accusations of what happened at Abu Ghraib, and the prisoners are grateful for tiny kindnesses of Americans such as stomping on a threatening scorpion, there is clear disrespect for the Koran and Muslim beliefs, reinforcing the other side's rallying point. We don't see enactments of the hunger strikes or suicides we have heard about recently, so perhaps those happened after these three were released.
As has so often happened to political prisoners through history, these young men end up impressed that their fellow inmates who best withstand the nightmare with discipline are the most observant and ideological such that they are radicalized and by the end they of course refused to cooperate.
I was thinking that the British actors portraying American interrogators had terrible accents, until a closing line that a Brit later claimed he was one of the alleged Americans.
While a viewer has to take the facts with some grains of salt, the film is as gripping as it is cautionary on many levels. (7/14/2006)
Documentaries about how New Yorkers have responded as the 10th anniversary came, and beyond:
New York Thanks You (briefly reviewed in Final Roundup of the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival)
Love Hate Love (briefly reviewed in Final Roundup of the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival)
Other documentaries on New Yorkers' responses: (My reviews forthcoming)
Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists The section on Pete Hamill’s life and very New York City yet literary newspaper column style includes a long section on 9/11, with footage of The Towers smoking and falling with ash around, as his column is read and seen on the screen, and he and his wife Fukiko Aoki add their emotional reactions that day when both were downtown and temporarily separated. (Oddly, she is not otherwise seen or even identified as a the Japanese journalist in this bio-doc). (HBO) (preview at 2018 DOC NYC Festival)
Live From New York! (previewed at 2015 Tribeca Film Festival) Amidst the self-congratulatory, mostly uncritical, history of NBC’s Saturday Night Live, a centerpiece is the comedy’s response to 9/11. After many, many images of the attacks, the Towers smoking, and New Yorkers covered in ashes, extensive clips are shown from their very special episode which featured Mayor Giuliani, who is interviewed here, who appeared alongside FDNY and NYPD first responders.
Out of the Clear Blue Sky (shown at 2012 DocuWeeks) (A Cantor Fitzgerald employee survivor, Lauren Manning, has also written a memoir Unmeasured Strength (Henry Holt, 2011), as has her husband Greg.)
The World Before Your Feet - 9/11 memorials around NYC are specifically pointed out by Matt Green as he walks every block of the city. He estimates he’ll find about 300 memorials. Here’s #259 documented on his blog. (at 2018 DOC NYC Festival)
More and more documentaries and docu-dramas look into how politicians’ and soldiers’ perceptions of 9/11 affect the subsequent war being fought in our name, and the impact on people living in the target areas – and everyone else:
American Jihad (premiered on Showtime, 3/25/2017) Director Alison Ellwood includes several clips of the burning Towers as experts, relatives, and a former ex-radicalized American-born ex-jihadi describe the impact of the attack on these Americans, but mostly on the American-born imam Anwar al-Awlaki who influenced them.
Camp Victory, Afghanistan (briefly reviewed at 2010 Human Rights Watch International Film Festival)
Citizenfour (previewed at 2014 New York Film Festival of Film Society of Lincoln Center)
While this documentary did not mention 9/11, its fictionalized Snowden did several times, perhaps because the director Oliver Stone also made World Trade Center, an atypically sentimentalized mish mash from the leading conspiracy theorist in serious cinema. Attributed in the credits to be based on Luke Harding's The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World's Most Wanted Man, the director said in a Q & A after the 9/14/2016 preview screening, that he and co-scripter Kieran Fitzgerald primarily used nine long interviews with Edward Snowden in Moscow. So one can only surmise how much of the mentions are Stone’s vs. actually Snowden’s. The 9/11 attack is given as his primary motivation for following his family’s legacy of military service – including that his family thought his father was in the Pentagon during the attack, though he turned out to be out of his office at that time. In addition to a shot of the smoldering pile, Snowden’s mentor and teacher at the CIA training facility “Corbin O’Brian” (played with an odd hint of his usual comic roles by Rhys Ifhan so that he comes across as something out of Dr. Strangelove, which is referenced in this film) announces to his class, something like: 9/11 was the responsibility of our generation and we live with it every day. A future terrorist attack will be your responsibility. I’ll try to parse my notes to ID the other couple of references. This film also references specific whistleblowers who are featured the documentary Silenced
Dead Reckoning (first broadcast on PBS 3/28/2017) – a three-part docu-series on seeking justice for crimes against humanity and/or genocide showed images of the attack on the Towers in Part 3 “In Our Time” as it tried, somewhat unsuccessfully, to wrestle with the issue of whether such terrorists counted.
In the “Saddam Hussein” episode of PBS’s The Dictator’s Playbookd, first broadcast 1/16/2019, images of the attack on The Towers are accompanied by John Nixon, former CIA analyst interviewee saying: “9/11, that’s the day Saddam’s death sentence was signed.” Nixon is the author of Debriefing the President: The Interrogation of Saddam Hussein.
Enemies: The President, Justice & The FBI (on Showtime, 2018) The 4th, final episode (first shown 12/9/2018), directed by Alex Gibney, shows the Towers in smoke, then interviews White House and FBI participants and journalist observers in the direct reactions in the aftermath, and inside looks, as far as some will tell, on how policies and inter-agency relationships, and legal interpretations changed.
Dirty Wars (and the accompanying book)
Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi (briefly reviewed at Part 1 Recommendations of 2009 Tribeca Film Festival)
A Fragile Trust: Plagiarism, Power, and Jayson Blair at The New York Times (Notes: The documentary shows many images of the Towers’ falling and goes into the exhaustingly stressful impact of 9/11 on the reporters and editors to produce their Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage on the attacks, the victims, and the follow-up.) (previewed at 2013 DOC NYC Festival)
The Green Prince) (previewed at the 2014 Human Rights Watch International Film Festival at Film Society of Lincoln Center) (Notes: shows how the Department of Homeland Security’s post-9/11 paranoia about potential Islamic terrorists colors their perception of Muslims regardless of their individual stories.)
Holy Wars (seen at 2010 DocuWeeks) Perhaps I didn’t originally list this fascinating documentary here because 9/11 wasn’t specifically cited, but this absorbing contrast between two devoted religious leaders -- a young American evangelical pastor, who does learn and change, vs. an increasingly rigidly radicalized Irish Muslim convert imam -- was remarkably prescient and insightful on the growing role of fundamentalist religion in the conflict that led to 9/11 and continued from it. From the perspective of 2015, I pessimistically think a lot about the alarming lessons in this film.
Into The Night: Portraits Of Life And Death (Shown on PBS 2018) – Director Helen Whitney made an unusual visual decision in introducing a monologue by Briton-Pakistani Majeed Nawez, identified as a “former Islamic radical”. As he explains the attraction of martyrdom for death, the ruins of the World Trade Center are seen surrounded in dark smoke, instead of the usual repeat of the planes crashing, flames pouring out, and so forth.
Jihadists (Salafistes) (documentary re-edited from its 2015 release in France for U.S. release in 2019) Co- Directors French filmmaker François Margolin (who added an introduction about having family die in the Holocaust) and Mauritanian-Malian-French journalist Lemine Ould Salem managed, at great risk, to interview extremist Islamic theologians and enforcers in Tunisia, Mali, and Mauritania. A French-speaking Tunisian who runs “The Modern Salafist” website says, in French: “9/11 was a good lesson for the United States. They’ve spent years killing innocent people. It’s not up to me to say it was lawful or not, but they gave a good lesson.” I think he’s the one who continues with threats: “We want peacei in Mali. We have top level fedayeen ready to be martyrs per orders. If NATO is involved against the Islamic State in Mali, we’ll multiply 9/11 tenfold”, which the director unnecssarily accompanies with images of the Towers coming down in flames and smoke. I also object to the inclusion not only of extensive ISIS propaganda videos, which the director’s added statement justifies because interviewing them was too dangerous, but of journalist’s James Foley’s forced statements before his execution.
The Kill Team (briefly reviewed in 2013 Documentaries at Tribeca Film Festival)
The List (previewed at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival) (Kirk Johnson emphasizes that 9/11 was a motivation both for his Middle Eastern Studies and service with USAID, so that it’s that much more ironic that the subsequent increases suspicions of Homeland Security raise the bar on refugees from terrorism entering the U.S.)
Of Men And War (reviewed at Human Rights Watch Film Fest ’15: Violence & Vigilantes at Film Society of Lincoln Center) (seen at MoMA’s 2015 Documentary Fortnight)
(Note: Though not mentioned in the portrait of the therapeutic work of The Pathway Home, with veterans suffering from PTSD [that years later had to close due to a tragic shooting by a patient], Lt. David Wells, who was at the screening in full uniform to demonstrate his pride to be returned to military service, thanked the editor/producer, the director Laurent Becue-Renard and the DP who was filming the Q & A, then made a point of emphasizing that his grandfather served in WW2 and his father, who served in the Viet Nam War, was at the Pentagon on 9/11, so he signed up “24 hours later. I wanted to get the bastards who did this to us” – and ended up serving as a mortician in Iraq.) (updated 12/19/2018)
The Newburgh Sting (previewed at 2014 Tribeca Film Festival) (Note: The documentary claims the Department of Homeland Security selected the Riverdale, Bronx, NY targets to resonate with post-9/11 fears in particular, with WTC illustrative images. Reviewed with 1971 for comparison of pre-9/11 FBI surveillance under Hoover.) (T)error is like a follow-up in Pittsburgh and Brooklyn. (previewed at 2015 Tribeca Film Festival) (reviewed at Human Rights Watch Film Fest ’15: Violence & Vigilantes at Film Society of Lincoln Center) Watched (short) (briefly reviewed at 2017 Tribeca Film Festival) is similar experience for Muslim women college students in Brooklyn. And in an Arab-American community outside Chicago: The Feeling of Being Watched (preview at 2018 Tribeca Film Festival) (updated 5/7/2018)
The Pervert’s Guide To Ideology (briefly reviewed at 2012 DOC NYC Festival) (Philosopher Slavoj Zizek and director Sophie Fiennes approach the end of a century of their historical cinematically illustrated lecture by segueing from Sartre pronouncing there is no God, to Osama bin Laden, to long images of the burning and crashing World Trade Center. He interprets the visual message as not being about fundamentalism, but about people seeing themselves as instruments of divine will directly. Then he segues back to the totalitarianism of Stalin's “Perfect Servant”. At least, that’s what I can recall in gleaning my confused notes.)
The Prisoner Or: How I Planned To Kill Tony Blair (4/1/2007) (emendations coming after 10/1/07)
Regarding Susan Sontag (briefly reviewed at 2014 Tribeca Film Festival) (Note: The bio-doc opens with images of the smoking Ground Zero and her articles and appearances on TV defending her thoughtful opinion that the attack was a result of U.S. foreign policy come home to roost and the controversy that generated.) (My additional note on her as a Jewish woman.)
The documentary's poster, excerpted on the left, crops out 9/11 from Tim Hetherington's [R.I.P.] original photograph, on the right, of a soldier's marked-up grenades symbolizing his reasons to fight, though it can be seen in this promotional web Gallery section. Maybe Nat Geo thought the NY baseball symbol was enough. And then they cut the whole image off completely in the movie ads.
Junger’s 2014 follow-up seemed to forget 9/11: Korengal
Hondros is similar to Junger’s Which Way Is the Front Line from Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington (2013) and Brian Oakes’s Jim: The James Foley Story (2016) in following the life and work of a renowned photojournalist killed in the unending Mideast wars that have followed 9/11. But as written and directed by his colleague, and on-screen interviewee, Greg Campbell, the attack on the Towers had a central place in Chris Hondros’s life and career. The documentary not only includes several of his photos from the smoking pile, but colleagues recall he was the first to call them to turn on their televisions, then the first to say hours later “The real story is in Pakistan” and was the first to arrive to cover the reactions and the extremists there. (previewed at 2017 Tribeca Film Festival)
The Problem With Apu (at 2017 DOC NYC Festival before premiering on TruTV on November 19, 2017) – The Queens-born and raised comedian Hari Kondabolu discusses how he had to change his stand-up shtick about being Indian-American after 9/11, to get more serious about stereotyped representations of South Asians in movies and TV.
Silenced (previewed at 2014 Tribeca Film Festival) (Note: With frequent, repeating images of the before, during, and after of the attacks on the Towers, 9/11 is constantly referenced as the demarcation in changed intelligence policies and crackdown on whistleblowers.)
Spielberg - Director Susan Wagner Lacy makes a point in this bio doc of pointing out his post-9/11 themes in such movies as Minority Report, War of the Worlds, Munich, Lincoln, and Bridge of Spies. (previewed at 2017 New York Film Festival of Film Society of Lincoln Center)
The Unknown Known (previewed at 2013 DOC NYC Festival) (Note: Donald Rumsfeld avoids answering the wrong turn from the Towers to Iraq.) (My additional note.) See it with The World According to Dick Cheney, that I haven’t watched yet from Showtime except to see the opening image of the attack and the then-Vice President’s still determined rationale. (Compare to the satire Vice.)
The Western Front (briefly reviewed in Recommended Documentaries at 2010 Tribeca Film Festival) (So, nu: my commentary on the Jewish woman.)
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?: (My capsule “Best of 2018” review) Morgan Neville’s 2018 bio-doc of Fred Rogers is the first documentary I’ve seen about the impact of 9/11 on the subject’s life or activities that refrains from showing The Towers attack, in flames, or falling. Rather, in focusing on PBS turning to Mr. Rogers, who had just started doing “theme programs” on issues, to advise parents on how to help young kids cope and what to tell them in a TV PSAs, the only images are of the chaos in Manhattan and people’s reactions.
You Don’t Like The Truth—4 Days Inside Guantánamo (briefly reviewed at 2011 Human Rights Watch Film Festival, dedicated in memory to my activist dad)
In a valedictory interview in The New York Times, 12/17/2017, Maureen Dowd asked in a “Confirm or Deny” format to Sheila Nevins upon retiring from HBO Documentaries: “You never want to see another 9/11 conspiracy documentary.” Nevins: “Never. Or a J.F.K. conspiracy documentary. I think it’s harmful. I mean, we think that one person can’t do evil. One person can do a lot of evil. One bullet, one person.” Somewhere must be a list of all the 9/11 docs HBO produced.
And now the war can even be satirized as in the biting In The Loop. (Briefly reviewed in Part 1 Recommendations at 2009 Tribeca Film Festival) and even jihadis in Four Lions.
Applesauce amusingly manages to satirize treatment of Muslim Americans since 9/11 within a bawdy sex comedy. The Turkish-American director/writer/star Onur Turkel, playing a social studies teacher, draws the Towers on the blackboard and tries to get his bored, fresh, diverse Brooklyn students involved: We all know about September 11. [This was] reduced to a big heap of smoldering rubble. And now Iraq is in pieces. Instead of going to war, what are some of the alternatives we could have done? Amidst the bed-hopping, one wife shakily pulls out a cigarette: You know a lot of people started smoking after 9/11. Her lover: Maybe the cigarette companies were behind it. (previewed at 2015 Tribeca Film Festival)
Vice: Vice is a semi-satirical docu-drama of how Vice President Dic Cheney (a chameleon Christian Bale) used 9/11, seen in several TV images, to take over the U.S. government and wage war – to the benefit of his former firm Halliburton and as encouraged by his Lady Macbeth-styled wife Lynne (a startling Amy Adams). Both wickedly funny and scary, writer/director Adam McKay claims to have done as much research as possible, given how secretive the Cheneys are. (Compare to documentaries.)
More fiction films that reference 9/11 and its global aftermath, but not necessarily from New Yorkers' POV (incomplete):
Amanda: As directed by Mkhaël Hers and written with Maud Ameline, there is no mention of 9/11, nor is it based on a real terrorist attack in Paris. But through fiction, this is one of the most sensitive portrayals I’ve seen of the impact on families of the victims, wounded, and survivors. (preview at 2019 Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Film Society of Lincoln Center)
Amreeka (briefly reviewed at 2009 New Directors/New Films of Film Society of Lincoln Center/MoMA)
The Broken Circle Breakdown (previewed at 2013 Tribeca Film Festival) uses the images of the Towers burning and falling, as seen in Belgium, to link George Bush’s televised speech after the attack to his later televised speech explaining his veto of Federal approval/funding of stem cell research due to religious objections, as personified in a young, adorable cancer victim’s death and her father’s raging screeds against religion. He even explains to his daughter that bird society may see those who fatally fly into the porch’s glass windows as martyrs who will get to play with young birds in bird heaven.
Horses of God (Les Chevaux de Dieu) (2012) (Note: Director Nabil Ayouch, who in an interview with Tobias Grey in The Wall Street Journal, 5/8/2014, is described as having “a Jewish Tunisian mother and a Muslim Moroccan father, grew up in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles and moved to Casablanca 15 years ago”, opens this film with the intentional irony of parallel comparison with his sympathetically poignant Ali Zaoua: Prince of the Streets (2000) about Moroccan slumdwellers. But now he notes them watching the TV coverage of the towers in flames with definite approval, and then definite disapproval at TV coverage of the Western allies’ consequent invasion of Afghanistan, all external factors he didn’t see before which contributed to an atmosphere that inflamed young men to turn to terrorism.)
A Most Wanted Man - Compared to the opening background scroll in the taut, suspenseful, humanistic, anti-bureaucracy, German-set thriller, the John le Carré novel makes the link even clearer in “Bachmann’s Cantata. It ran as follows: When 9/11 happened, there were two ground zeros. . .One ground zero was in New York. The other ground zero that you don’t hear so much about was right here in Hamburg. . .That courtyard out there was a hundred feet high in rubble, all of it paper. And our pathetic barons of the German intelligence community were raking through it trying to find out where the hell they’d gone so terribly wrong. . .Hamburg screwed up. Everybody else had screwed up, but Hamburg took the fall.”
School’s Out (L’Heure de la sortie) - Based on a novel by Christoph Dufossé that I haven’t yet read, the WTC attack contributed to a French class of intellectually gifted middle-schoolers violently freaking out about all the man-made and natural disasters ruining their world. The specific images director Sébastien Marnier selects are of people jumping out of the towers and people walking through the dust of the collapse, segueing into media coverage of Middle Eastern war. (preview at 2019 Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Film Society of Lincoln Center)
Sieranevada I wouldn’t expect a family memorial gathering in Budapest, Romania to be riven by debates about 9/11 conspiracy theories, but Cristi Puiu sets them three days after the Charlie Hebdo attack and terrorism is on their minds. As the characters each face truth vs. lies, the wife is obsessed with capitalist consumerism, the mother finds solace in religion, her elderly woman friend vociferously defends Communism, a sister/young mother bitterly complains of their suppressions, her doctor husband “Gabi” (played by Rolando Matsangos) who was in NYC on 9/11 expounds on overall linkages to every attack, in the press notes the director explains: “He’s disturbed by everything that is said about this event, and he’s right to be in that it’s important to talk about everything. But when he builds his reasoning on conspiracy theories found on the Internet, that’s where he’s wrong. Generally speaking, we never know more than a little fragment of reality when it comes to history. . . I could’ve also taken the Second World War. It just so happens that up until September 11, 2001, I was reading a lot of testimonials about communist prisons. I wanted to revisit communist history. The Communists falsified history with a very clear program. Once again, I don’t think anyone can really believe since then that History is stable or that there is any immutable truth.” [He goes on more about history!] And that’s one of the funniest sections of the film! (previewed at 2016 New York Film Festival of Film Society of Lincoln Center)
Turtles Can Fly (Lakposhtha hâm parvaz mikonand)
Films on the fall-out from 9/11 that I haven’t formally reviewed:
American Folk (commercial release 2018) (Note: Originally titled September 12th, this is a sweet road movie of two young people and Americana cassette tapes going cross-country from Los Angeles (Laurel Canyon) to NYC in a hippie 1972 Chevy van full of guitars and folkie cassette tapes after the airplane flights were cancelled. Though we don’t learn a lot about them, other than “Elliott” (Joe Purdy) is near washed up singer/songwriter/rock guitarist and “Joni” (Amber Rubarth) has been caregiver for her ill mother because her sister is estranged, they duet lovely traditional and country songs together (“Bring back the folk!”). They also gauge the reaction to the terrorist attacks, from those glued to their TVs to one without a TV so is oblivious, to the half-mast flags and flag paraphernalia everywhere, and the end-of-the-world-itis that brought people to self-realization and family re-unifications, as well as anger for revenge – if they could figure out against whom. Debut written/directed, and independently released by David Heinz (with beautiful “See the USA from Your Chevrolet” scenic cinematography by Devin Whetstone, despite annoying slo-mo for flashbacks and emotions), the diverse people they meet and plot turns aren’t stereotypical or predictable.
American Sniper (2014) (Note: Unlike most based-on-a-true-story of soldiers serving in Afghanistan and/or Iraq post-9/11, let alone wholly fictional ones, Chris Kyle was already a Navy Seal when he watched the Towers fall on TV. While his memoir, co-written with Jim DeFelice and Scott McEwen describes his long-standing desire to serve in the military, first going to recruiters in 1996, then enlisting in 1999, Clint Eastwood’s film shows him, as foreshadowing, being inspired by al-Queda’s terrorist attacks on the East African embassies in 1998. 9/11 instead is a day of urgent text messages to report back to his base. In the film, this immediately leads to his first deployment; in his memoir, it leads to immediate training for fighting in the desert; in his memoir, he first served on ships in the Persian Gulf blocking shipments to Iraq.)
A Mighty Heart (2007)
Armadillo (previewed at 2010 DOC NYC Festival)
Among the Believers (previewed at 2015 Tribeca Film Festival) (Note: The madrassas run by the Red Mosque of Pakistan, which moderate Muslims accuse of inculcating intolerant jihadism in children from a young age, use a textbook that teaches the alphabet with the Arabic equivalent of “collision” illustrated with drawings of the two airplanes crashing into the Twin Towers.)
Bad Voodoo’s War (2008)
Bannon’s War episode of PBS’s Frontline, first broadcast on 5/23/2017, writen by Michael Kirk & Mike Wiser, about the rise of President Trump’s top advisor, showed that I’ve left out the right-wing, apocalyptic views of 9/11. Julia Jones, the co-writer of Stephen K. Bannon’s documentary In The Face of Evil: Reagan’s War in Word and Deed (2004) describes how he added a coda to the tribute to President Ronald Reagan. The final clips from the documentary show footage of the World Trade Center attack, newspaper headlines about it, photographs of the attackers, as, ominously, “the nature of the beast” over a large congregation of some other Muslims somewhere praying.
Bansky Does New York (previewed at 2014 DOC NYC Festival before its HBO showing) (Note: Documenting street artist Banksy’s October 2013 residency includes his Tribeca-located 9/11 tribute and his rejected Op Ed submission to The New York Times blasting the architecture of the Freedom Tower. ”The Native New Yorker” columnist for The Gothamist, Jake Dobkin, damned a notorious Banksy imitator’s mural on the Century 21 Store facing Ground Zero on 9/11/2015: “N.B.: This outrage may be hard to understand for those of you who weren't here on 9/11. I think even after all this time, there's still an enormous chasm of history that separates everyone who lived through it from the people who moved to New York later on.”
Battle For Haditha (2007) (fictionalized - needs to be seen with Rules of Engagement)
A Brony Tale (previewed at 2014 Tribeca Film Festival) (Note: Psychologists who have studied “bronys” – the primarily adult male fans of the revived cartoon series My Little Pony -- cite reaction to stress from 9/11 as a reason for the popularity of these peaceful, feminine role models.)
Brothers (Brødre) (Better than the American remake)
By Sidney Lumet (2016): In the interview originally conducted by Daniel Anker in 2008, Lumet describes selecting the Twin Towers as the climactic Oz in The Wiz (with documentary director Nancy Buirski inserting movie clips during his explanation) - “I could think of no location in New York I found more fantastic and thought would be more worthy than the World Trade Center. It was attacked mercilessly architecturally at first. I found them beautiful. So I did Oz there. We added an enormous platform for the dancers. Green is lousy for photography so I had the lights change to red and gold. We were there for four days and nights. When 9/11 happened and I saw the second building come down, it really broke my heart. I had a working relationship with it. I felt it was my space!” (approximate transcription)
Camp X-Ray (2014) (Note: The film opens with TV coverage of the World Trade Center in flames – but as we hear an Arab commentator, the camera moves back to reveal it’s being casually watched in a Muslim home. And then the apartment dweller (played by Peyman Moaadi, of A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin)) is covered with a black hood, and lands in Gitmo with lots of facial bruises. There are virtually no other references to terrorism as the rest of the film takes place within the claustrophobic bounds of the detention center.)
Les Cowboys (2015) (previewed at 2015 New York Film Festival of Film Society of Lincoln Center) In Thomas Bidegain’s somewhat confused French film, jarringly angling between stereotypes and humanism (as was its inspiration John Ford’s The Searchers), of a family torn between the parents’ love of American country & western culture and a red-headed daughter “Kelly”s (Iliana Zabeth) seduction in 1994 into Islamism by an immigrant Muslim boyfriend, the epic nature of her “kidnapping” and her father “Alain”s (François Damiens) obsessive, cross-cultural search for her, takes on a new political angle when her brother “Georges” aka “Kid” (Finnegan Oldfield) joins a shocked throng transfixed by the flaming World Trade Center towers on 9/11, soon followed by his later TV glimpses of the 2004 Madrid (11 M) and the 2005 (7/7) London bombings, as he continues to track her through Afghanistan and back to Europe, on his way to a separate peace.
Grassroots (Notes: The memoir the film is based on expands more into the writer’s personal life, including his perspective on how 9/11 made folks, um, sleepless in Seattle. Even as the post-attack paranoia blows a foolish campaign prank at City Hall onto the FBI’s radar, the idealist-turned-political candidate steels himself to win: We spin 9/11.)
Cult of the Suicide Bomber (2005) (by Baer, not Rehov)
Far From Afghanistan (2012), modeled on the 1967 French collaborative documentary spearheaded by Chris Marker Far From Vietnam (Loin du Vietnam), includes extended images of the planes flying into the World Trade Center and their smoky fall counter-posed with the U.S. bombings of civilians in Afghanistan. (previewed in Cinema of Resistance at Film Society of Lincoln Center)
Full Battle Rattle (2008)
Good Kill (fiction) Writer/director Andrew Niccol opens with a scroll, as the whole film resonates about 9/11: “After 9/11, using military unmanned weaponized drones in the war on terror. This story takes place in 2010, when targeted killings escalated. Based on real events.”, modeled what was available through WikiLeaks . A new “Airman Vera Suarez” (played by Zoë Kravitz) and more experienced drone pilot “Major Tommy Eagan” (played by Ethan Hawke) get more and more upset at the collateral victims of bombings, but their commander “Lt. Colonel Jack Johns” (played by Bruce Greenwood) insists: We did not know the kids would show up. But they knew well there were children in the aircraft they flew into the Twin Towers. They walked past them into the cockpit. I do not want you being afraid to shoot. Take a day off. But tensions rise when the drone team is re-assigned to the CIA and they get more and more uncomfortable with their missions (and I lose track here of who was arguing): Colonel: Last time I checked, Langley. We are not at war with Yemen. The disembodied voice from CIA Headquarters (Peter Coyote): We respect the sovereignty, when they act with the law, Colonel. Unfortunately, we face enemies who do not comply with the rules. Of necessity, the war on terror have become borderless. . . In our assessment, this al-Qaeda cell is an immediate threat. The argument continues among the team members: It lasts long before the boy can keep a Kalashnikov. But it is quite clear that we are looking at a genuine terrorist factory. -- The best recruiting tool al-Qaeda ever had. Team member: We can kill them faster than they can produce them. -- Pray they never get drones. -- They will not spend money on drones when they can put a bomb on a child. -- Did you know the Times Square bomber was trained in Yemen? -- Reason why he would bomb us was drone attacks. So we should continue to hit them with drone attacks, right?--- No wonder they hate us. They have always done. We will always be the bad because we let women go to school. And it does not stop hating us until they have Sharia laws throughout the world.-- It was kids! -- The father should not take them there. -- They live there! --This is a military base, it is our job. We are fighting a war and winning. We save American lives. (Previewed at 2015 Tribeca Film Festival).
Grace Is Gone (2007) (fiction)
The Hurt Locker (2008) (fiction feature based on nonfiction book)
In Infinite Football (Fotbal infinit), Corneliu Porumboiu’s portrait of a Romanian bureaucrat, he blames the attack on the Twin Towers for keeping him stuck at his boring job by preventing opportunities he had to go to the U.S., first for the immediate travel restrictions, then for visa limitations, though the jobs sounded like migrant farmer harvest work. (preview at 2018 Art of the Real of Film Society of Lincoln Center)
Iraq in Fragments
The Journey (My additional note.) (2017) Note: In scripter Colin Bateman’s imagining of the negotiations between Protestant Nationalist Ian Paisley (Timothy Spall) and Irish Republican Army leader Martin McGuinness (Colm Meaney) in 2006 that led to peace in Northern Ireland, this version of McGuinness warns of the impact 9/11 has had on younger potential terrorists – now they want bigger bombs, bigger targets, with more dead to get more public attention.
The Man Who Saved The World (2015) A docu-drama hybrid (parallel to the German fiction mini-series Deutschland 83) about the Russian colonel who had the guts to not order retaliatory nuclear missiles when their system showed – in error -- that the U.S. had launched 5 missiles at the U.S.S.R. Among the many images of bombs set off by others without his restraint, there are many repeated images of the World Trade Center in flames and the panicked crowds.
Marathon: The Patriots Day Bombing (previewed at 2016 DOC NYC Festival prior to HBO showing) The reference to 9/11 comes in an unexpected comparison: one of the Boston Globe reporters (the paper co-produced the documentary) tears up as he explains why he was determined to get to the bottom of the terrorists’ motivations: because of his father. Words failing him as he chokes up, images of the Towers in flames are shown, twice, implying his father died there.
Maurizio Cattelan: Be Right Back (documentary previewed at 2016 Tribeca Film Festival) – While the prankster Italian artist is seen placing a giant ”Middle Finger” across from the Milan Stock Exchange (Borsa Italiana) in 2010, a colleague recalls his coming to New York City to scope out a similar public art provocation in early 2001. He was planning an installation that would reenact Wall Streeters jumping out of windows at the Great Depression, but evidently even he, who throughout the film is shown gleefully crossing any boundaries of taste or decorum, had to concede the image lost any ironic humor after 9/11 when people were jumping from high floors for a very different reason. (4/29/2016)
The Messenger (2009) (fiction)
Makers: Women in War (2014) (on PBS) -- Directed by Rachel Grady, this episode of the documentary series on women in different aspects of American life specifically cites 9/11 as the turning point in women being accepted in combat roles and progressing in the U.S. military, because the front line was everywhere and women were needed to liaison with local women.
No End In Sight (2007)
Notes on an Appearance (commentary forthcoming) (preview at 2018 New Directors/New Films of Film Society of Lincoln Center/MoMA
Out There (documentary/fiction cross) (Re: 9/11: As actor Chun Chih Ma searches for his sense of geographic identity among China where his parents’ were born, Taiwan where he was born, the U.S. where he lived for several years in school, and Japan where he lives now, his parents compare their experience as potential American immigrants before 9/11, when they felt welcomed, and after, with a relative in New Jersey, when they were met with suspicion and anxiety, disillusioning them from their positive youthful interactions with U.S. soldiers stationed on Taiwan and their American pop culture.) (seen in 2017 First Look Festival at Museum of the Moving Image) (1/12/2017)
(38 minute short) (U.S. premiere seen in 2017 First Look Festival at Museum of the Moving Image) Ken Jacobs’ masterwork, with computer digitizations assisted by his daughter Nisi (who witnessed the Towers’ burning from the roof of their loft on Chambers Street while he was teaching in Binghamton), may be the most beautiful and impactful visual art piece/film to come out of the attack. While he let loose in the Q & A after the screening his bitter belief in various conspiracy theories about the neo-conservatives’ involvement with Saudi Arabia in order to foment the Iraq invasion, the power was undeniable of his using photographs and videos available around the internet of the buildings and their surroundings, the flaming and smoking outline of the planes on the towers, the jumpers, the first responders’ vehicles, and the pedestrians’ reactions, each manipulated with a range of colors and emotional computer distortions that communicate the awful horror – in silence. That it was shown with his continuing series of shorts examining his long-time downtown neighborhood poignantly added to the context. (updated 2/4/2017)
Severe Clear (seen at DocuWeeks 2009)
Spotlight (2015) The impact of 9/11 is seen stretching the resources of newspapers trying to cover the breaking story of the attack, in this look at how The Boston Globe investigative team built up a case against the Catholic Church’s treatment of pedophile priests and their victims. I was a bit incredulous that the editor could walk into a practically empty newsroom before 9 am on a Tuesday and only one person would be there and watching the smoking Tower on TV after the 1st plane hit. Given that the two planes left from Boston, it was also surprising that the most experienced investigative reporter (played by Mark Ruffalo) was sent down to Florida to check out the flight trainers rather than further explore the local security issues. (And then have to scurry back home while planes were still grounded to get hold of key court files.) (Plus the link to The Wire)
Standard Operating Procedure (2008) (but needs to be seen with these other related docs)
Stop-Loss (2008) (fiction)
Taxi to the Dark Side (2007) (needs to be seen with Ghosts of Abu Ghraib) (2007)
Brothers at War (2009) (noteworthy that 9/11 is never mentioned for their motivation to fight in Iraq)
Green Zone (2010) (fiction feature inspired by but only loosely based nonfiction book)
The Wounded Platoon (2010)
The Battle for Marjah (on HBO in 2011) a.k.a. Bravo's Deadly Mission (on U.K.'s Channel 4 in 2010) (no mention of 9/11 for why troops are fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan)
The Boy Mir—Ten Years in Afghanistan (previewed at 2011 DocuWeeks) (By finally being more about poverty in Afghanistan than politics, it may be closer at looking at the roots than most other films.)
Hell and Back Again (previewed at 2011 DocuWeeks) (Not a mention of 9/11.)
Flat Daddy (previewed at 2011 DOC NYC Festival) (one NYC family is included)
Lone Survivor (2013) (fiction/docudrama, based on Marcus Luttrell’s memoir Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10) – The only reference to 9/11 is implicit – one of the SEALs wears an FDNY T-shirt.
Return (2011) (fiction) (Significantly, there’s no mention of 9/11 in looking at the maladjustment of the National Guardswoman who joined up out of gratitude for help her family got in a flood and a college scholarship, but ended up a drop-out serving at a hospital in Iraq.)
Shock and Awe (2018) With extensive references to the 9/11 attacks in New York and at the Pentagon (with discreetly minimal visuals), this Rob Reiner “based on a true story” film lays out in detail how only the Washington bureau of the Knight-Ridder newspapers figured out how the Bush Administration neo-cons switched the revenge for the attacks from Afghanistan to Iraq and Saddam’s non-existent WMD’s, as Osama escaped and no other targets were available.
- film participants at the World Premiere, MoMA’s 2017 Documentary Fortnight
Tip of the Tongue (2017) The reflections of baby boomers (above) on the impact of 9/11 on their lives included how it made them more suspicious of people and afraid to stand on roofs. (2/26/2017)
Us (2019) That the prologue of Jordan Peele’s apocalyptic horror film is set in 1986 is immediately, and ironically, established by long shots around the World Trade Center.
Zero Dark Thirty (2012) (fiction/docudrama), as written by Mark Boal and directed by Kathryn Bigelow, takes an atypical visual approach to 9/11 in fictionalizing the hunt for Osama bin Laden in docu-drama style. The attacks are referenced only in sounds behind the dark opening screen, including emergency phone calls from within the Towers. None of the Americans, who are either composites or purposely not given an identifiable personal history, have a specific back story of connection to the people killed at the World Trade Center or the Pentagon, but instead act to protect the U.S., whether with excruciating torture or a decade of meticulous, determined human intelligence work. In the press notes, however, Boal says: “This story was always personal to me because I grew up in New York City, in the shadow of The World Trade Center and, after 9/11, I really felt I needed to understand more about bin Laden and the U.S. response to him. . . The guy attacked my hometown, and the long aftermath of that day has defined my professional life as a writer. I can’t say I picked the topic. Writers, like children, don’t always get to pick their influences. It picked me.”
While some 9/11 families, unlike some politicians, supported the film, the family of flight attendant Betty Ann Ong specifically objected to the use of the recording of her voice from one of the planes that hit the World Trade Center.
Films that focus on the impact of 9/11 in the U.S. on those perceived as Muslim:
AmericanEast (2008) (in L.A.)
I Am Singh (2011) (Well-meaning but wooden Bollywood outcry against how turbaned Sikhs were attacked and discriminated against in a U.S. full of racist skinhead gangs and bimbo blondes.)
The use of the images of 9/11 for heart-stringing, plot manipulation purposes in the dreadful soap Dear John (2010) was shameless.
The killing of Osama Bin Laden by Navy Seals made me think of issues of justice vs. vengeance that were explored in the documentary broadcast on PBS earlier in the same year as the 10th anniversary: Forgiveness: A Time to Love and a Time to Hate
Though I'm way behind in adding films here, New Yorkers started to incorporate post-9/11 into their film fiction to assimilate what happened, from David Benioff updating his early 2001 novel for Spike Lee's adaptation of 25th Hour in 2002 to The Missing Person in 2009 (which used a snarky noir plot as in several TV shows). A March 12, 2005 New York Times article by Stephen Farber claimed to document 9/11 Is Sneaking Onto a Screen Near You, "But that terrible moment's real impact on cinema has quietly arrived, writ small in a series of new pictures that have no political content but that are suffused with a deep, enduring sense of grief born in the tragedy's wake." -- and the movies he cites in fact have nothing to do with 9/11, let alone how New Yorkers dealt with it then or are dealing with the aftermath or scars. Just several movies about grieving families in general. Farber claims that what's different is that "Sudden loss has ever been the stuff of movies; but the American take on the subject has tended toward tales of healing and inspiration. . . In the much darker season at hand, however, death has recovered its sting." which I don't think is a supportable generalization about how American movies have dealt with death.
Virginia Tech Professor Stephen Prince looks more broadly at 9/11 movie images in Firestorm: American Film in the Age of Terrorism. But is it non-New Yorkers who use visual reminders of 9/11 gratuitously? as in Spielberg's re-make War of the Worlds, as the aliens destroy Bayonne, NJ. but which inspired Post-9/11 anxieties influence spate of films in The L.A. Times by Rachel Abramowitz and John Horn on June 29, 2005: (this excerpt may constitute more than fair use):
". . .Spielberg said in an interview earlier this year with The Times. Noting that he shot the film in a manner similar to the gritty Saving Private Ryan Spielberg added, "9/11 set the tone and made it worth my time and the audience's time to see this story treated in this way."
As in Spielberg's movie, the terror references in some of these upcoming films are indirect. Yet several others, mostly still in development stage, confront 9/11 head on, including planned adaptations of the book 102 Minutes and movies about rescue workers and firehouse chaplain Mychal Judge [Saint of 9/11].
The nearly completed projects range from Syriana, a film chronicling the netherworld of the international oil trade, to Stealth, a drama about unmanned fighter planes and terrorist cells. A number of new independent films — Yes, The Great New Wonderful, and the documentary Protocols of Zion — were all begun in the weeks and hours immediately following the attacks as personal, creative responses to the tragedy.
"You don't want to turn away from the greatest conflict of our generation," said Sally Potter, who began writing Yes the morning of Sept. 12, 2001. "You want to deal with it and make a contribution."
For Potter and several other filmmakers, that contribution rests on using the attacks more as an emotional framing device than as a direct visual or narrative reference. In Yes, an Irish American woman falls in and out of love with a Lebanese man. The intersecting stories in The Great New Wonderful conclude on Sept. 11, 2002.
"One of our concerns was to not make a story that exploits those events, and the emotional resonance around those events," said Michael Nozik, executive producer of The Great New Wonderful (the title refers to one character's bakery). "It's not about 9/11 in a direct way. It's about emotional recovery and grief."
In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, Hollywood was squeamish about making any movies that touched on the themes of 9/11, even tangentially. Any number of movies about terrorists were either scrapped or rewritten. Both The Interpreter and Flightplan . . . were put on hold. The debut of the comedy Big Trouble (whose plot included a bomb on an airplane) was delayed, as was the comedy Sidewalks of New York.
A few art house movies addressed the attacks, but failed to attract audiences; both The Guys, a drama about fallen firefighters and 11'09'01 — September 11, a compendium of short films, flopped.
As time went by, though, a group of filmmakers realized that 9/11 played such a dramatic role in the nation's psyche that ignoring it would be foolish.
Last year, Michael Moore's documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 was a breakout hit. The studios started to change course, embracing the very movies they had avoided just a few months earlier.
. . .In the wake of 9/11, I thought something so interesting was happening," said Stephen Gaghan, the screenwriter of Traffic and the writer-director of Syriana. Rather than fearing a single outlaw as easily identifiable as Saddam Hussein, the country was now dreading a shadowy, shifting villain who moved from country to country, Gaghan said.
"It's an incredible shift. And it's incredibly scary. The discussion [about global politics and oil] has moved front and center. In the 1990s, foreign policy was an abstract. It was all about the Internet, and the stock market. Now your personal security is involved. I was determined to make a movie about what was going on," Gaghan said of his film. . .
Rob Cohen, the director of July 29's Stealth, says his film wouldn't even exist had it not been for the Sept. 11 attacks. "There is a fear now that there is an invisible enemy that is all over the place," the director said. "And we have to come up with a technological answer to this new reality."
In this popcorn action film, that answer turns out to be an unmanned fighter with a mind of its own. "The film tries to explore ideas about war, and how it will not make the world better, rather than, 'Isn't America great?'" Cohen said. The movies posters even feature the ominous tag line "Fear the Sky."
Some filmmaker responses to the attacks are highly individual. Director Marc Levin said his movie Protocols of Zion opening later this year, was inspired when an Egyptian cabby in Manhattan told Levin the attacks were coordinated by Jews as part of their plot for global domination, a scheme laid out in the anti-Semitic tract The Protocols of the (Learned) Elders of Zion. So Levin went out with a camera to interview people on the street about their prejudices and conspiracy theories.
"I felt there had to be another way to discuss religious fanaticism, bigotry and hate," Levin said. Many of his friends discouraged his cinematic inquiry, fearing it would help publicize a loathsome book and reopen fresh wounds. But now that four years have passed, Levin feels the time might be right.
"For a lot of people, [the attacks] were a long time ago," Levin said. "It's moved more forward than I would have thought — it's the hyper-speed of our lives."
Yet for many, the attacks remain in the subconscious, if not discussed, then always remembered. Suspicion and mistrust have become a part of modern American life, and now, it seems, part of Hollywood's. "Paranoia is what happens when you're afraid that something is coming at you right around the corner, but it never materializes," Spielberg said. "Our story starts with paranoia, which is very quickly realized."
How to Make a Movie About 9/11? Carefully by David M. Halbfinger, in The New York Times April 20, 2005: (this may be more than fair use excerpt):
Appropriately enough, the first in an expected wave of movies and television projects explicitly about the trauma of 9/11 will make its debut in New York on Friday at the Tribeca Film Festival, which itself was started to bring a measure of financial and psychic relief to Lower Manhattan months after the attacks.
But the new picture, The Great New Wonderful, is anything but explicit. Crashing jets, falling towers, Islamic terrorists and fleeing workers are nowhere to be seen. Instead the inexpensively made movie, which stars Maggie Gyllenhaal, Tony Shalhoub and Olympia Dukakis, zeroes in on a handful of New Yorkers a year after the attacks as they struggle to cope with emotions - grief, rage, helplessness - that seem inexplicable, and that have no obvious outlet.
The director, Danny Leiner - known for the stoner movies Dude, Where's My Car? and Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle [a different director would in 2008 make Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay] - says he set out not to make a film about 9/11, but to show he had more up his sleeve than broad comedy.
A Brooklyn native, he says he also wanted to make a film in his hometown. And when Mr. Leiner began putting together a script about angst-ridden New Yorkers with the playwright and actor Sam Catlin in the spring of 2002, "9/11 was just there," he said. "It was around us. And it was hard to think of New York without bringing that into the mix."
. . .Hollywood producers are pursuing several sweeping projects that seek to harness directly the full dramatic potential of the cataclysmic 9/11 story: its antecedents and causes, its horrors and its aftermath.
NBC and ABC are locked in a footrace to produce the first mini-series based on the the 9/11 commission report. Columbia Pictures has optioned 102 Minutes, the account of the struggle for survival inside the World Trade Center by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn, reporters for The New York Times. Universal Pictures is developing a screenplay about the last two Port Authority police officers pulled from ground zero alive. [which became Oliver Stone's World Trade Center]. And the producer Scott Rudin has hired a screenwriter to adapt Jonathan Safran Foer's novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, told from the point of view of a precocious 9-year-old whose father was killed in the attacks.
In nearly every case, the producers and others involved say that though they are tripping over one another to be first into production, they are taking plenty of time to grapple with unusually difficult questions about timing, taste and tone:
Are Americans ready yet to watch, let alone pay to watch, a re-enactment of some of the most searing events in their lives? When will enough time have passed? How do you make use of the stories of the victims and survivors without being seen as exploiting them? Then there is perhaps the most basic creative dilemma: Do you show the airplanes crashing into the twin towers? On this, there is unanimous reluctance.
"It's too much," said Stacy Sher, a producer of the Universal project. "We're not ready for that yet."
"Ultimately, that's probably a decision that doesn't get made till the last second," said David Nevins, president of Imagine Television and executive producer of NBC's 9/11 mini-series.
"The plan is to never show the planes hitting the building," said Michael De Luca, a producer of 102 Minutes. Mr. De Luca, who said his project was probably years away from being made, said it would be confined, as was the book, to the stories of people inside the World Trade Center in the minutes before and the hours after the attacks. (The New York Times, as a partner in Times Books, retains a quarter-interest in the screen rights to the book.)
"My courage has never been tested like that," Mr. De Luca said. "It may never be, but I read that book and thought, God, I hope that if I'm ever faced with anything like that, I'd have the courage of those people. Those are ordinary people, not people trained to exhibit grace in the face of extraordinary disaster."
At Universal, Ms. Sher and her partner, Michael Shamberg, the team behind Erin Brockovich and many other films, are making a more narrowly focused 9/11 story that they describe as a fairly conventional rescue film. "Think Saving Private Ryan and Apollo 13, " Mr. Shamberg said. The story is about five police officers, two of whom were killed instantly when the south tower collapsed while a third died because he would not abandon his colleagues; the survivors endured fireballs and worse until a volunteer rescue worker heard one of them banging his handcuffs on a pipe.
Like Mr. De Luca, Mr. Shamberg said his film would be scrupulously accurate. "We learned on Erin Brockovich that what you make up is never as good as what happened in real life," he said. "We're aiming very high: that we can tell a true story that moves people, and that entertains people."
Ms. Sher said that when she and Mr. Shamberg acquired the rights to the stories of the survivors, Will Jimeno and John McLoughlin, "we weren't sure that anybody was ever going to be ready" for a movie about the 9/11 attacks.
Among the television networks, meanwhile, both ABC and NBC are pursuing mini-series based on the the 9/11 commission's exhaustive report, in hopes of getting on the air in the next 18 months. Both insist they will steer clear of a political point of view - "We're trying to be as objective as one can in a medium that is by definition subjective," said Marc Platt, executive producer of the ABC project - while still aspiring to have an impact on everything from attitudes toward Arabs and Muslims to domestic security and emergency preparedness.
Brian Grazer, co-chairman of Imagine Television, which is producing the NBC mini-series - and which has hired The Times as a consultant - said he hoped it would do for Muslims what Wolfgang Petersen's film Das Boot did for World War II-era Germans. "Every approach prior to that was, the Germans were horrible," he said. "He humanized them, because they are human. That's what I'm hoping we do, that we don't demonize, that we humanize all the different sides, and so we see the seeds, and we get an understanding from each culture's point of view as to how they got to such a horrible place."
Asked if even four or five years later was too soon for a cinematic treatment of 9/11, Quinn Taylor, ABC's senior vice president in charge of television movies, said: "The way the government had to react, the way we all had to quickly come to terms with what Al Qaeda meant, how to say it much less how to spell it - that was a tremendous education we all had to go through together. There is distance now to look back at that, and maybe we can channel those emotions into effecting change."
Indeed, Sally Regenhard, an outspoken advocate for skyscraper safety whose son was killed on 9/11 - and who has met with Graham Yost, the writer of NBC's mini-series - said she hoped the end product would be harrowingly graphic. "I think the public should see the people jumping out the windows, the brutal death these people suffered," Ms. Regenhard said. "Because maybe they'll get the truth and put pressure on the system to do something about it. There's a difference between what the families of the victims are ready to see and what the public is ready for. But no one should ever be ready for a fictionalization."
The Hard Look Back Hollywood confronts 9/11 by Missy Schwartz, September 2, 2005 in Entertainment Weekly "analyze[s] whether audiences are ready for two new films and a TV miniseries on the tragic events of that day". She also cites United 93, directed by Paul Greengrass, Oliver Stone's World Trade Center, and the ABC miniseries based on the 9/11 Commission Report and reports that NBC shelved its own 9/11 miniseries. (may be more than a fair use excerpt):
"Why is Hollywood suddenly willing to address 9/11 directly? Timing, for one thing. Both Universal and Paramount are considering 2006 releases to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the attacks. ''As the world approaches [that] anniversary,'' says a Universal spokesperson, ''we think it is legitimate, and even necessary, for today's leading filmmakers to...investigate the events of that epochal day.'' As ABC sees it, the public is owed an explanation. ''We have to tell people what happened,'' says the network's senior VP of movies and miniseries, Quinn Taylor. ''We have to talk about how we got to that moment. I think people are ready to grapple with [9/11] in a way that should at least ask why.''
But how ready is the public? Most respondents to an EW.com poll consider the projects exploitative. When Paramount announced Stone as director of its movie in July, furious debates erupted on the Internet, with many bloggers accusing the studio of capitalizing on tragedy, and others expressing fear that the famously political filmmaker would turn McLoughlin and Jimeno's story into JFK-style conspiracy theory.
Denis Leary, cocreator and star of the FX series Rescue Me, which deals with the ongoing impact of 9/11 on New York City firefighters, is not entirely comfortable with the conjectural approach these films will take. ''I had a friend who was in the plane that went into the second tower, so my head has imagined many times what he was doing, what he was thinking, what he was saying,'' Leary explains. ''And you have to remember, it's about the kids: They don't want to see an actor playing their father dying in what may have been the circumstances. That's fiction versus reality.''
The studios defend their choices. Sources close to the Stone movie insist that unlike his rabble-rousing political films, this one is an uplifting story told from the point of view of the two officers. Universal acknowledges the challenging nature of United 93, but reminds skeptics of Greengrass' deft touch with 2002's haunting Bloody Sunday, about the 1972 Irish massacre by British troops. ''We trust his insight and sensitivity,'' the studio says.
The underlying message of heroism in Stone's and Greengrass' features does seem a relatively safe entry point into such a raw subject. Of course, that's no guarantee of quality. . . But as ICM agent Robert Newman points out, it also produced Spielberg's Schindler's List. ''We've seen the death and destruction of 9/11, so to have an artist's interpretation that shows what humanity could accomplish, and the good within it, I don't think there's anything inappropriate about that.''
FILMING 9/11: Respondents to an EW.com poll had misgivings about Hollywood's retellings
Is it exploitative for Hollywood to make 9/11-related movies?
Is it disrespectful to make a film based on the events of Flight 93 — which crashed in a field in Pennsylvania — when no one knows for sure what happened during the flight?
Are 9/11-themed movies different from other films depicting historical tragedies (the Holocaust, Pearl Harbor, Rwandan genocide)?
9/11 In TV Fiction and Docu-Series
Carrier - In the 10-part highly edited series about life on the air craft carrier Nimitz, originally broadcast on PBS in 2008, two of the young Navy crew in the 1st episode “All Hands”, cite the 9/11 attack as a reason and justification for their enlistment and ongoing commitment. While serving in the Persian Gulf in the 5th episode “Show of Force”, the crew commemorated 9/11 in a formal ceremony, and in an edited array of interview members reflect on their feelings then as “Let’s go kill ‘em.” in response to a terrorist act that keeps them motivated “doing whatever we can to keep our families safe”, including writing the names of 9/11 victims they knew on a bomb. But others reflect on why they’re in the Gulf to support troops in Iraq when what they were told about the reason was untrue. Several report lots of arguments on the ship, but all recognize their duty to subsume their opinions to their orders.
Bomb Patrol: Afghanistan: On the G4 video game channel, it is like a real-like counterpart to The Hurt Locker, but shows that the EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) patrollers are struggling not only with “enemy” bombs, but to understand the locals (in their “man-dresses”) and why, with no references to 9/11, the heck they are there -- except that the young guys have fun sending out robots and blowing things up. (12/30/2011)
Inside the FBI- New York - In a docu-series on USA, the first episode “The New Normal”, first shown 4/27/2017, opens with footage of the Towers smoking. Various investigators walk around the Memorial, and a former lead investigator gives his annual orientation talk there about the FBI’s role, including around the first bombing, too. Most of the episode consists of airing their gripes at how the CIA handled it and ignored their professionally developed leads and contacts.
First Ladies Revealed (Smithsonian Channel) “In Times of War” docu-series episode included how Laura Bush dealt with 9/11. There’s extensive images of the Towers in flames, including the plane flying into the second tower, both in flames, and then each collapsing. The narrator explains Mrs. Bush was on her way to a Congressional meeting, and intones: “By the time it takes for the First Lady to drive from the White House to the Capitol, the world has changed." Mrs. Bush describes what she saw when, and that after the Pentagon attack, the Secret Service raced her to "safety... secure in a Secret Service building.” There, she watched a replay of the first Tower coming down, then watched the second tower come down live. The narrator notes she made one of her first public speeches that day, seeing her role as maternal, focusing on what to tell the children, quoting US Magazine as “Comforter in Chief”, then exaggeratedly calling her “Mother to the Country" in the crisis. This series was executive produced by Sue Summers and series produced by Michael Burke for Finestripe Productions. (7/20/2017)
Tom Carson in The Baffler, December 2017, actually minimizes the impact of 9/11 in “Fear Factor: Inside the Paranoia-Entertainment Complex” despite stating “in 9/11’s wake, it’s been television—once our foremost purveyor of pabulum—that’s done the most to redefine our lives as a continuous state of siege.”
Third Watch during the 2001/02 season was very emotional as it was the first fictional series to deal effectively and realistically with post-9/11 NYC. The writers and whole staff were clearly deeply affected (see interviews) because many of the technical advisors and uniformed participants in the NYC-shot series about cops, firefighters and medics were killed at Ground Zero. Seguing from an "In Their Own Words" season opener with the actors' real counterparts (which won a Peabody Award), the characters and story lines then really reflected what was happening in New York City immediately and the ongoing impact of 9/11. Originally broadcast April 2002, "Falling" by producer Janine Sherman Barrois, has cocky, macho Officer Maurice "Bosco" Boscarelli (played so appealingly by Jason Wiles) finally stop denying that he could be having panic attacks that are negatively affecting him during the job's usual violence and tensions due to post traumatic stress and guilt from 9/11. After avoiding formal and informal departmental counselors, he breaks down to his partner "Faith" (played by Molly Price - who a month after 9/11 married a firefighter who appeared on the show) with whom he has a long term maternal/big sister relationship:
"Bosco": I got down there right when the second tower was being hit. And they were already jumpin' from the North Tower. People fallin', y'know. Watchin' em. All the way down. There was nothin' I could do.
"Faith": There was nothin' that any of us could do.
They were just fallin'. So hard and so fast and it seemed like it took forever. Ten seconds, 15, I don't really know. I saw a couple people holding hands. Faith, I saw women holdin' their dresses down. That sound - thump. Y'know, I'm just standin' there. I'm just standin' there, doin' nothin'. I mean, what, I pulled on a couple of people. This way and that way. I was frozen. It was like I was frozen. I was numb. I couldn't believe it. And there was this rumble, like nothin' I ever heard before, this huge wave of sound. So I ran. I ran away, Faith.
Bosco, the tower was comin' down.
I just ran. I kept runnin'. I remember I just kept runnin'. And then that cloud came. I couldn't see nothin'. It was just pitch black. I couldn't breathe. I thought that was it. I must have run right into a building because that's when I finally stopped runnin'.
I didn't go back.
Yes you did.
No, I sat on the street and I just, I couldn't, I couldn't. I could not go back.
Bosco, I saw you there.
I sat there. I was afraid.
Bosco, I saw you there. You were helping people.
You saw me later. Because I sat there. It must have been like an hour. I was sittin' there for an hour. I don't know how long. I could have been there for two hours.
"Bosco, you were probably in shock.
I ran. God help me. I ran. I ran. I ran. [He collapses in tears.]
In "Two Hundred Thirty Three Days" a few weeks later, executive producer John Wells paid specific tribute to the lost firefighters, via a story line of the remains of a woman firefighter's firefighting dad being found at Ground Zero. His colleagues (played appropriately by actors from Hill Street Blues, the previous generation inspiration for this show) memorialize while looking at the Lower Manhattan skyline after his funeral in Staten Island:
Y'know, I'll never get used to it. I always hated them. Butt-ugly. It's hard to imagine.
It still doesn't feel real to me.
They went there to out a fire and to save people. (sigh)
It's been 233 days since September 11th. I've been to 28 funerals and memorial services and I should have gone to more, but some days I just couldn't face it. 233 days and in a few weeks it's going to be over. Every one and every thing that was going to be found will have been found. There won't be any place left to dig. And then we're going to have to just walk away. And there will be a park with a marble monument with names that slowly stop seeming like real people. They'll name a junior high school after somebody. But soon enough it'll just be us. We will be the only ones who remember. That's what we can do to honor the people we loved and lost. We can be the ones that remember.
We see them go back to work -- after finishing off a wood plaque in the fire house that says "Never Forget 9/11/01."
On the same day that in real life the first firefighter was killed in action since 9/11, a fictional one died on the 2003 season premiere, "The Truth and Other Lies" by executive producer Edward Allen Bernero. is distraught wife screams: Can you tell me why? You want to do something for me? Then tell me why this happened to my husband. It sure isn't the money. He worked three jobs so we could keep our kids in a decent school. The people honked their stupid horns for one week two years ago then went back to ignoring all of you. The city's heroes. You're not heroes. None of you. You are husbands and wives, sons and daughters. God help me I don't understand why you would want to do a job that leaves a wife to explain to her children why that [burnt] monster is all that's left of their father.
The 2003 - 2004 season continued to follow the emergency workers' post-traumatic stress. The oldest medic, who the show's creator called "its moral center", "Monte 'Doc' Parker" (played by Michael Beach) started to unravel when one of his EMTs was graphically killed in an accident at last season's finale and he fixated this season on the possibility that the bureaucracy was going to shut their fire station. During the February Sweeps, in "No More, Forever" by consulting producer John Ridley, he explains to police officer "Sully" why he just shot his new stickler supervisor: You remember The Day? The equipment was set by the river. We checked and double-checked our bags because we had the triage set. We were ready for the people. We were ready to help. Nobody came. Nobody. (I remember echoes "Sully.") I remember thinking that they can't all be dead. I mean, not everybody. Then all we could do was pick body parts from the rubble. That's not why I'm here, Sully. You know I'm here to save lives. And if this house is gone then people are going to die and I can't let that happen. I mean, I can't let that happen. You understand that, right? You understand what I'm saying? I can't let more people die.
The 2005 season was suddenly sticking in the usual Arab terrorists fooling around with bombs that have become so common on action shows lately, when the episode "The Other L Word" by returning writer Charles Holland had a very unusual reflective moment from one of the toughest broads on TV "Sgt. Maritza Cruz" (played by Tia Texada) as she anxiously watches her temporary partner on a Joint Terrorism Task Force being patched up in the hospital: He woke up after 9/11 and wanted to make sure it never happened again. All I ever thought about was why is everyone so surprised. Of course bad things happen. I deal with it every single day. I wasn't surprised that those guys could kill thousands of people. That's what we do to each other. Do you know that I didn't receive a single message that day? I didn't call anyone either. Her eyes tear up as her new partner tries to reassure her and suggests matchmaking her up with the injured cop. But in walks his previously unbeknownst to her wife, crying out what will she tell their four year old? Tell him his father is a hero and he is definitely a Lucky man. He's gonna pull through.
On Sundance TV’s The Writer’s Room, first shown April 25, 2014, co-creator of Smallville, Miles Millar noted about series premiering in October 2001: “Pre 9/11 reaction was negative. The critics were also very hesitant about the show. Then after that event it all changed. People were really looking for a hero, an American hero, for Superman to come back. Timing was crucial for that. We really fit with the change.”
Lifetime's Army Wives refrained from using 9/11 as soap opera fodder until the 7th season episode “Jackpot” first shown on 4/29/2013, written by Brian Anthony and Lynelle White. A base commander “General Michael Holden” (played by Brian McNamara) has been pulled into a career debate between a young woman and her mother in the Air Force, a new character “Colonel Young” (played by Brooke Shields): If I may ask, Colonel, where does Jordan’s father stand on all this? She: He was killed on 9/11. He was assigned to the Pentagon. He: We lost a lot of good Americans that day. She agrees and the music builds up behind them. Other shows have also stooped as time went by: the web series Anyone But Me (2008) used the premise of a firefighter husband/dad’s lingering reactions to 9/11 to explain why they’ve fled NYC for the Westchester suburbs where the teenage daughter has to come out as a lesbian in less liberal environs.
Over There (only lasted one season)
Generation Kill (David Simon's fiction HBO mini-series based on nonfiction book)
The Wire vividly shows how the changes in FBI priorities are changing police work - thereby demonstrating why the 9/11 commission is right that they can't really fight both conventional crime and political terrorists. The opening episodes showed that the FBI can't fight two wars "since those towers fell" and the higher-ups "don't care about who is in handcuffs unless their name is Osama," and "too bad Americans don't have the heart to fight two wars," despite the cops vainly trying to argue that drug-dealers are urban terrorists, laying waste to whole neighborhoods. One wire tap in the 2004 season is obtained with alacrity with the little white lie that a kingpin's name is "Achmed."
In the “Subway Story” episode of the NYC-set sitcom Becker, written by Gary Dontzig and Steven Peterman (first broadcast on CBS 1/21/2004), cranky “Dr. John Becker” (played by Ted Danson) (from Steve Crook’s synopsis on IMDb): “is trying to get home on the subway but a little old lady needs help in getting to her destination. ‘John’ stops to help her, but she needs to be helped again and again. And when he finally gets her to the station she's heading for, Chambers Street, why doesn't she want to go up to the street?” Toby O’Brien, of Inner Toob, who brought this episode to my attention, “saved the big emotional moment from it”: “Naomi” (played by Frances Sternhagen) starts talking: He would have been 40 today. Dr.: Who? Who would have been 40? Naomi: My son.....It's funny. He got to work early that morning and called me, just to chat. About dinner, that weekend, a trip he was planning, the weather. It was such a beautiful September day. He said that he could see all of Manhattan from his office. He loved that view...Then he had to go to a meeting; didn't even say goodbye. Just said that he'd call me later. I did the dishes, I made coffee... and then I - just happened to turn on the TV. Ever since, I thought of all the things I would have said if I had known I would never talk to him again. Dr.: I'm so sorry. Naomi: I've been telling myself to come down here ever since, since it happened. Now, I finally made it, and I can't go up there. I'm afraid to look and see all that emptiness.
In Rescue Me (complete series available on DVD) Peter Tolan and Denis Leary can be more FX Channel-scabrous about firemen. The opening episode "Guts" featured a hunk only quasi tongue-in-cheek protesting about his current sex life: Hey, it's getting slow out there pal! All that pussy I was getting after 9/11. Now nothing. People forget. In Episode #2, "Gay", the central fireman's wife explains why she's proceeding with divorce and a move to California with another man: I need to get away from this. This. Every other house on the block has a dead hero dad. Every other kid in school has lost a father or an uncle. And you know what's worse than all the guys that died that day? The rest of you left behind. Walking around like everything's fine when you're dead inside. The retort of her husband "Tommy" (who converses regularly with the ghost of his cousin): Okay, you know what? I can't fix what happened to me, okay? I can't go talk to somebody, some shrink or something or go to some spa and sweat it out. You knew when you married me, my job was. . . She interrupts: Jesus Christ, Tommy, I'm sick of it. I want my kids to grow up normal.
"Revenge" by Michael Caleo demonstrated the series' mordant humor in dealing with 9/11: "Lt. Kenneth 'Lou' Shea" (played by John Scurti) has been dealing with his post-9/11 agony by secretly writing wrenching poetry; discovered doing so by his shocked and dismayed wife, he is pressed by a shrink to attend his post-traumatic stress syndrome therapy group. Reluctantly, he reads his dramatic poem "When Hell Came" that reveals his suicidal thoughts. Responding to the group member's tears he asks: You were there? In one of the towers? No, they each respond, one was on the Upper East Side buying a bagel, another in Jersey- I saw the smoke. Another in Paris. France? --Yes, that Paris.-- What do you got to be stressed about? I wish I was going to Paris. Get a load of this guy! So no one was actually there? Is that what I'm hearing? Did any one lose a family member? A close friend? Well, let me ask you this then. Was anybody here directly affected by the events of that day? One tearfully responds: I have a neighbor who has a cousin who has a friend who lost someone. The lieutenant explodes: I can't believe this. The surprised shrink asks: What's wrong? -- Everything is wrong. You're all a bunch of goddamn pussies. No. No. No. They come in here crying and pretending that your lives were affected because of this, right? OK, but there are people out there whose lives are never gonna be the same. Fathers and mothers, and kids everywhere who waited and prayed on that day for someone to just come home from work. To just walk through the goddamn door once more. Not to mention us poor bastards who had to march into that nightmare and if we were lucky to come out again, shells of what we used to be. That's it. I'm done. Thanks. This was a very cathartic experience. Thanks to you I won't be writing any shitty poetry again. Bunch of friggin' cry babies!
The show has even dared to take on The Widows - in "Inches", written by Stephen Belber and directed by John Fortenberry, the widows of 9/11 firefighters are shown provocatively dressed, seductive and horny, requiring chaperoning by brethren who won't break The Rule of sleeping with their buddies' ex's; a more recent widow eulogizes her husband that he was really married to his crew anyway.
In "Immortal", writers Tolan and Leary hit divisive post-9/11 issues that few have discussed, let alone comically: "Tommy" is racing to work late after a fight with his ex-wife and claims his mother's dying when pulled over by a cop who yells: The honeymoon's over. Tell all your friends -- all that hero-worshipping you got after 9/11 ain't gettin' paid any due from us any more. We lost guys downtown too, but nobody ever talks about us. 343 firemen. There was almost a hundred cops. ("Tommy" responds: That's true. Nobody's forgettin' about the cops.) Guess what - you so as much look at a cop the wrong way and you're payin' the price. All right, asshole? The house's chief lets a female firefighter know she's not welcome: After 9/11. There was a paralegal chick I worked with years ago. She never passed the physical. She took it three times, a special physical. Now they grandfathered her in because she sued the City for sexual harassment.[sic - he means discrimination] She was talkin' to The Post and she said that when she read the list of the 343 heroes that gave their life that day she was disgusted. Disgusted. Because none of the names on that list was female. Believe that shit? (Female firefighter responds: I actually heard that.) She didn't think about the parents who lost their child, the children who lost their fathers, the women who lost their husbands. All she was concerned about was herself and the girls.
In "Leaving", Tolan and Leary take on the out-of-towners who come to salute the dead firefighters. A cousin of one of the crew brings his fellow firefighters from Fitchburg to build a memorial. They never get down to Ground Zero as they spend their whole time drinking in a neighborhood bar. When they finally do build a shrine in the firehouse, it's labeled "For our brothers who perished on 9/11" and its eternal flame sets off a fire.
The moving season one finale, "Sanctuary" by Tolan and Leary, opens with "Tommy" baiting a cop merely with his presence as prep for the inter-departmental hockey game:
This is a cop bar.
Not in this precinct. You know, you guys can't just wander in wherever you want. You guys are heroes for like ten minutes, but that bullshit is over now.
After a good day on the job, the firefighters leave their own bar and gaze at the NYC skyline:Wow.
It's a nice view, huh.
It'll never be the same for me.
Yeah, me neither.
Even when they put up whatever it is they're putting up.
It's like they're trying to erase what happened, y'know.
Remember they had those spotlights right after 9/11? I couldn't take that. I like it like this. Just the way those scumbags left it. No spotlights, no new buildings. Just empty.
Yeah, that's the thing about the spotlight, y'know. You walk out into it and at first everybody thinks they see a good-lookin' All American hero. You stay out there long enough, you start to notice certain things. Maybe your nose is a little crooked, maybe your teeth are too. Ya got a little scar on your upper lip. Your hair's not right. One eye's bigger than the other. They think they're looking at some kind of goddamned monster, like they're looking at King Kong. And they start throwin' shit at you.
I'll tell you one thing. That morning, they threw a couple of jets into a couple of buildings, and they threw at us the biggest job in the history of our profession. We gave up 343 of our guys and saved at least 10,000
And look at us now. Still waitin' for a goddamn raise. Tell you what guys. We were on our own that morning and we're on our own today.
This camaraderie is destroyed as they fight over "Tommy's" relationship with one of The Widows-- his cousin's. "Tommy" connects 9/11 with his relationships, ruefully noting that he didn't have sex for three months with his ex when he told her he was appalled that she complained about his cousin's parents' attitudes towards her on the morning of the funeral of their eldest son. The lieutenant, who is also secretly sleeping with one of The Widows, rhapsodizes:
What I think? Goddamn. After 9/11, after our four guys and the other 52 guys I knew, 52. 52 guys I came out of the Academy with, spent two or ten years with, best man at their marriages and godfather to their kids with. With. With With. What do I think? Everybody should do whatever the hell they want and they should do a goddamn lot of it, right now, because tomorrow, my friend, there ain't no guarantee. Birth, school, work, death. It goes that quick.
By the Season 2 opener in June 2005, "Voicemail" by Leary and Tolan, "Tommy" seems to be the only one bothered by the souvenir vendors hawking tshotshkes around Ground Zero. [Foreshadowing of the controversy over the gift shop at the 9/11 Memorial Museum.] He's particularly annoyed by the "Twin Towers cookies" of firemen, as there's no equivalent 9/11 cookies of cops, and in an alcohol-fueled rage knocks over the tables and pees on the merchandise, then for the last time gets bailed out by his cop brother. In the next "Harmony" episode, also by Leary and Tolan, when "Tommy" protests a traffic ticket, saying Look I've been on the job 20 years. I lost like 60 guys on 9/11. . . the Jewish cop ties together the external and internal: 9/11 was four years ago, champ, deal with it. You had your day. They wrote books about you guys. They put you on a pedestal and what happened? Turns out you ain't just heroes. Turns out some of yous do blow and have gang bangs. Turns out some of yous are just broken down drunks on the verge of a complete total mental collapse. Americans don't like it when things get complicated, pal. In "Shame" by Evan Reilly, "Tommy" terminates his affair with his cousin's widow, who threatens to expose their relationship to his house but gets only an apathetic response: It's like 9/11. Everyone's moved on.
In the second to last episode of the second season, "Bitch" by John Scurti, "Tommy" is asked by the same cousin's wife to talk her teen age son "Connor" out of also wanting to be a firefighter, but is haunted by his cousin's ghost during the heart-to-heart, who he tends to hallucinate when he's in drug or alcohol withdrawal:
"Connor": I'm thinkin' about it. Maybe a way to, y'know, connect with my dad. . .like my dad's dead, died on the job, then my uncle, my dad's best friend, the guy who showed me how to carry his helmet the proper way when I marched behind his casket [then some of "Tommy"s misdeeds]. You listen, I loved my dad. What you do, it has an honor to it. Like no matter how screwed up your life might be. When you come home at night, part of you, you're satisfied, right? Like you know at some point during the day, even for a few hours, you did the right thing. Right? [Tommy concurs] That's what my dad used to say any way. Not in so many words. [The ghost chokes up: "That's my son."]
"Tommy": Yeah, well, that was before 9/11. We get paid shit. We'll always get paid shit cause the politicians got us by the balls because we never go out on strike. [Cousin's ghost: "Jesus Christ, Tommy, come on."] Yeah, this country respected us after 9/11, they put the spotlight on us, y'know, but now because this country has ADD we're back to being glorified garbage men with booze and drug problems, but garbage men nonetheless. . . Y'know what I should do, I should take you down to the burn unit, to show you what we're always thisclose from so you can see the shit. . .[he graphically catalogs the horrors of fire victims until the Ghost yells at him and he yells back, to "Connor"s confusion].
That's one side of the coin. On the other side, there's no other job on the goddamn planet I'd rather do than this one. Because every day, you do feel like you've made a difference. Like you gave something back, y'know. I cam down here, truthfully, to talk you out of it, but I can't do it. This fire thing is in our blood. It's in our family's bones, y'know. My dad was a firefighter. His dad was a firefighter.
Got something for you. That's your dad's badge. Had it with me every day since he died. Even when I'm at work I keep it in my bunker gear. They gave it to me to keep for you in case. When a guy dies in the line of duty they retire his badge number and the only person who can take it after that is his son, if and when he decides to come on.
"Connor":You like it, right, the job?
"Tommy": I love it.
"Connor":Even with all the dead babies and all that other stuff?
"Connor":Can I keep this?
"Tommy": Yeah, that's why I brought it. If you really make the move, I think you're gonna enjoy being a firefighter. There's nothing like it. [And the ghost gives "Tommy" a big hug.] When it turns out "Tommy"s own young son overheard this conversation, his wife wonders why he suddenly is so serious about being a firefighter - Where are the kids coming up with this stuff?, "Tommy" shrugs, Y'know what, it must be those stupid Third Watch reruns.
In "Retards" by Evan Reilly, the series reflected on the fifth anniversary. "Tommy" is in a bar, breaking his sobriety by cashing in on his FDNY cred, even as he demands 8 fingers of your best Irish whiskey. He details his scars and how he got them, and the lives he tried but couldn't save in Harlem and the Bronx, before revealing the survivor's guilt that has been a recurring theme this season, set off by having seen a memorial plaque in another fire house earlier that day. I know 60 guys died on 9/11. And you know the funny part is, I bet you all the people in the bar, you could name five finalists on American Idol before they could name one, one, name of the 343 from the FDNY who gave their lives on 9/11. Huh? Anybody got a name? One name? Anybody got a name? Of a dead fireman, huh? Yeah, nobody, I didn't think so. The bartender pours him another glass. His sponsor/cousin/ex-priest tries later to get him to deal with it: This isn't going away, shithead.
In the series' fifth season, beginning with "Frank" by Leary and Tolan, first aired April 2009, a sexy French journalist is preparing a 10th anniversary follow-up and interviews each fireman for their mordant memories, that are both funny and poignant about how shaken up and haunted they still are, even as they've had to move on (to be transcribed). She continues to dredge up memories and reactions in "Wine", also by Leary and Tolan, as "Mike" the rookie who signed up as a fireman because of 9/11 clashes with "Franco" who now subscribes to conspiracy theories as to who was to blame (which reflects actor Daniel Sujata's personal views, as expressed in his narration of Loose Change 9/11: An American Coup). Memories of 9/11 are still aggravating "Tommy"s alcoholism this season as he continues his affair with his ghostly cousin's widow and mentors his nephew as a probationary fireman. (more to be transcribed) (updated 5/19/2014)
In The New York Times interview Denis Leary on the Return of Rescue Me, with Jeremy Egner, posted 6/29/2010, he explained the sixth and final season in terms of 9/11: "The final episodes will lead up to the anniversary. During the last three episodes the characters are going to these meetings to plan the parades and memorial services. . .It was interesting because we were doing it a year in advance and we have a lot of firefighters on the set, so we got to watch their response. There’s a thing in the final scene, where down on the waterfront there’s a new boat called the 343, which was just commissioned. The name on the hull of the boat is done in steel from the World Trade Center. It’s a $27 million boat and the only reason they have them is because they realized on 9/11 that they need that service from the water, right down by where the buildings went down. Watching the boat, which the department was kind enough to give us that day, roll in was pretty emotional for a lot of the real firefighters. So for better or worse I think we did the right thing. . . The show has been the story of the male ego, the heroic male ego. The idea of dealing with life and death every day, and that struggle to fit into real life when you work a job that has no real connection to real life, except in the sense that you may die five minutes from now. Or you may save a life. This event was so catastrophic for these guys. It’s still below the surface but they can’t think about it every day because they have to jump on a rig and go back to work and jump into the building. But it’s like Vietnam or World War II for them — it’s something that will never go away. . .It’s survivor’s guilt in its truest form."
In the season opener, "The Legacy" by Leary and Peter Tolan and directed by Tolan, "Tommy" is having survivor’s guilt nightmares after being shot by his uncle angry that his drunk driving killed his wife. Images of the World Trade Center are surrounded in smoke, then lines of body bags emerge and open. The dead rise in bloodied FDNY uniforms, who then get intertwined with all the other victims he couldn't save over his career. Back at the firehouse, "Chief Nelson" is griping about the Mayor: This is what we're reduced to? This is what we gained from 9/11 – a pay scale that barely keeps a married probie with two children above the poverty level and they want to close more firehouses. Biggest rescue effort in the history of the service and 10 years later we're getting it right up the ass. . . In my heaven, these houses from 9/11 get the best seats in the house.
"Breakout" dealt more with the illnesses of 9/11 first responders (while debates about government funding for their treatment were in the news), as exemplified by their former colleague "Pat Mahoney" (played by Will Chase in a three-episode arc), who they visit in the hospital. Bald and cancer-ridden, "Mahoney" vents: This sucks. I'm going to die in this room and no one gives a shit. No plaques, no parades, no scholarships in my name. So what did I do it for? What'd I put my ass on the line after the fact? His colleague, ironically the crew-mate who is not the brightest bulb in the box, uneasily answers: It's what we do. It's what we've always done. It's our job. "Mahoney" turns out to be too ill to leave for an escapade with the guys.
"Blackout", by Tolan and Leary, dealt with "Tommy"s continuing survivor's guilt. The ghost of his cousin "Jimmy Keefe" (James McCaffrey) who died at WTC returns as a hallucination to haunt and taunt him as he's stumbling drunk in a bar: This is your choice?. . .God decided you get a chance. It wasn't your time. And this is what you do with it? It's pathetic! If it had been me walking out of those towers alive, you can bet you wouldn't find my drunken, pathetic Irish ass in some back room. I'd be singing and dancing in the street. But to you, this is piss, nothing but piss. "Tommy" yells back: You're dead! You're not even here! The cousin rejoins: That may be, but I'm a goddamn hero! "Tommy" beats him up, kicking him savagely.
Many episodes of the 2011 season made reference to 9/11 and the tenth anniversary. (Commentary coming.) (updated 8/11/2011)
Law and Orders and Rod Lurie's Line of Fire (as well as in the theater Neil LaBute's The Mercy Seat and Francine Volpe's Late Fragment) keep showing smarmy people who have used the WTC tragedy to cover-up nefarious activities. David Kelley's The Practice did an episode in 2004 on how the police are using their new powers to violate people's rights. Years later, in the 19th season opener of Law and Order, first broadcast 11/5/2008, “Rumble” by Richard Sweren and Christopher Ambrose, intriguingly combined feelings from That Day with the aftermath of the legal morass of the Patriot Act. A group of firefighters, many related to victims or were inspired to join up due to 9/11, get into a revenge fist fight with the friends of a construction worker who had accidentally killed a brother in a fight. The D.A. not only uses the Patriot Act to declare them terrorists, but drags a witness onto the stand to testify that she was working on Vesey Street on 9/11 and saw people jumping etc., and insists she compare her fear of the brawl to her feelings That Day. Objection!
In the survivor of the franchise, Law and Order: SVU, I didn’t hear another reference until the Season 18 finale “Sanctuary”, written by Rick Eid & Julie Martin (first broadcast 5/24/2017). A suspect (“Mitchell Jenkins” played by Tyler Elliot Burke) in the murder/rape/hate crime at a Muslim family restaurant finally explodes about his witness victim: Then tell that stupid Muslim bitch, with her little head scarf, to get on the stand and convince 12 red-blooded Americans she's telling the truth. . .I didn't do it. But to be honest, I wish I did. Because those terrorists deserve whatever they get. Just ask my cousin Susan. Her husband got blown away on 9/11. Three kids. These towelhead bastards wanna kill us all. Don't you get it?..See, that's the problem. People like you. Stupid, white liberals. Get me a lawyer, bitch. (updated 6/9/2017)
The Without A Trace first season finale at least captured the feelings of loss, including the closing before and after photographic view from Brooklyn. "Safe", on 10/6/2005, had an odd plot: a teen, who had witnessed the attacks downtown, is increasingly agitated about feeling safe, compounded by his former best friend siding with his new school's bullies to gang up on him. So he consequently stages a hoax abduction bomb threat to prove the weakness of his school's security effort but turns it real, though it only accidentally misfires, when he attempts to be a suicide bomber - huh?
The premise of the 2004 series opener of CSI: NYC (on CBS) having the head investigator, played by Gary Sinise, mourning his wife killed at the WTC was cynically used as the series is not filmed in NYC -- so was he grieving in front of a matte of Ground Zero? (The 8th season opener “Indelible”, written by co-star Carmine Giovinazzo and broadcast 9/23/2011, was a 10th anniversary tribute to DNA identification research, despite none yet available from the wife, and memories of that day for New Yorkers—again with a matte and Hollywood set background-- concluded with Sinise’s fundraising appeal for a memorial in Brooklyn to first-responders.)
That trope was still being referenced in TV shows ten years afterwards. At least 2010's Rubicon (on AMC) had the dignity to be filmed in Lower Manhattan for its hero ("Will Travers" played by James Badge Dale) to be still mourning a wife and child killed when he came late to meet them at Windows on the World. In the L.A. filmed, New York-set Castle (on ABC), the two-part "Setup" and "Countdown" written by Andrew W. Marlowe, broadcast in February Sweeps Weeks, revealed that federal "Agent Mark Fallon" (played by Adrian Pasdar), is prepared to use extreme measures on terrorist suspects because his wife died in the towers. The series' regulars stop him and he apologizes: Listen, um... what I do is not who I am. It's just how I have to be. I hope you both understand that.
This premise was repeated in the “Pilot” episode of Touch (first broadcast 1/25/2012 on Fox, 1st season available on DVD), written by series creator Tim Kring, the father (played by Kiefer Sutherland of the 9/11 themed 24), explains to the social worker how he can afford a large loft in Manhattan’s trendy Meatpacking District – that his wife died in the North Tower, though he hastens to add her family was wealthy so that it shouldn’t look like he was living off the settlement payment. But her death figures into the series’ weekly plot of connections between people, as revealed by their 11-year-old autistic son’s obsession with numbers, when he intersects with the firefighter who tried to save her, who is haunted by only being able to carry her from the 82nd floor down 31 floors, and he’s been fanatically playing those numbers in the lottery ever since. The 9/11 story-line was followed up in “Kite Strings”, by Melinda Hsu Taylor. (Description forthcoming.) (updated 10/22/2012)
In the 2nd season of Blue Bloods (on CBS) in “The Job” episode, written by Brian Burns (first broadcast 2/3/2012), suddenly had the fictional NYPD “Commissioner Frank Reagan” (played so somberly by Tom Selleck) affected by his 9/11 experiences, on top of his usual stress and insomnia. Seeking private counseling (though Reagans don’t do “this”), he challenges his therapist where he was that day and when the first tower came down, noting everyone always knows that exact moment, confessing he “was in the North Tower” – and walks out of the session. Late at night, he tells his dad, also a police veteran, that his ex-partner “Chief John McKenna” isn’t doing well; I hadn’t seen him since he went on disability. We were side by side in the North Tower. When the South Tower went down, we knew twice as many people were still trapped in our building. We lost almost 3,000 that day, and it’s not over. People are still dying. His father advises that there’s no way to know why the partner was chosen by God to suffer more, and the Commissioner almost cries. He visits his hospitalized partner and talks about his family, and then apologizes I wasn’t around for you. My old friend., and gives his weeping wife a comforting hug, just before a priest prepares a blessing. He gives the eulogy at : ’Where were you on 9/11?’ That question has become part of the fabric of our lives as Americans. On 9/11 I was with a hero, I was with John McKenna. On that beautiful cloudless morning that seemed to promise nothing but goodness, John and his dear wife Molly were about to pull out of the driveway for a much needed and much overdue vacation, but when news of the attack came over the radio, they both knew that Montauk would have to wait. Molly kissed him goodbye, urged him to be careful, as she had done every day for the almost 30 years that he served and protected this city. Then John headed for ground zero. ‘Where were you on 9/11?’ On Sept 11 2001, John McKenna saved more than 100 lives. See this? [points to a pin] It’s worn by the first responders that day. John could wear this as proudly as anyone who was there. Why them and not me? As a cop I’ve asked myself that question many times. But I’ve come to realize that just about any New Yorker could ask themselves the same question. And some questions have no answers. All that is left for we the living to do is honor them, take care of them, and rededicate ourselves to the cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion. [There’s a night time view of the 9/11 memorial, gradually zooming into the waterfall, as he segues into an old Irish saying] John - May the road rise up to meet you, may the wind always be at your back, may sunshine be warm upon your face, may the rain fall soft upon your fields, until we meet again and God holds you in the palm of his hand. We see him place his palm on the name at the memorial. I’ve read that this was the first TV drama allowed to film at the 9/11 memorial since its opening on 9/11/2011, but the concluding fundraising appeal was for a different charity -NLEAFCF, the National Law Enforcement and Firefighters Children’s Foundation.
In the 4th season, “Lost and Found”, written by Daniel Truly (first broadcast 10/25/2013), the department chaplain (played by Frank Wood) is still suffering from the after-effects of 9/11, drinking heavily after a cop he had counseled during and after committed suicide. “Commissioner Reagan” knows the background: Working the pile me and a lot of the other guys took refuge in St. Paul’s Chapel. Slept in the pews.. . Father Markham stayed with us. Jimmy cracked up, couldn’t go in any more. Jerry stayed by his side and made him feel he still belonged there. “Reagan” talks to the priest: Jerry, you’ve been dealing with loss a lot of years. Why this time?. . Set you diving into a whiskey bottle. . Four DWIs land on my desk. Priest: Used to have 50 cops coming through here. Now spiritual problems became chemical imbalances. Crises of faith became a form of PTSD. . .Nobody’s coming and even if they did, I couldn’t do anything for them anymore! . . .Screw it! The Commissioner sends his youngest cop son “Jamie” (played by Will Estes) to see the priest after a distraught guy he arrested hangs himself at Riker’s. They go off for a coffee to talk. (updated 11/3/2013)
The “5/1” episode of the Summer 2012 1st season of HBO’s The Newsroom, written by series creator Aaron Sorkin, re-lives the night President Obama announced the killing of Osama Bin Laden on 5/1/2011. Amidst the journalists trying to get confirmation, the web guy’s sexy, pot-smoking girlfriend “Kaylee” (played by Natalie Morales) turns serious, after not understanding the significance of a jubilant, patriotic tweet she got from a friend with Special Forces. As the realization sinks in, she slinks off: I didn’t want to be the skunk at the garden party. . . I was an idiot. I thought it would make me feel better when it happened. Like an on/off switch. Her boyfriend “Neal Sampat” (played by Dev Patel), who in the previous episode revealed he was in London to witness the 7/7/2005 bombings is sympathetic: Of course it doesn’t. The nice guy TV producer “Jim”: You knew someone in one of the towers. Her boyfriend: Her father was a partner in Cantor Fitzgerald. “Jim” is embarrassed: We’ve been celebrating around you all night. She: You should. Everyone should. But you should get back to work. On an airplane waiting on the tarmac for a gate at LaGuardia Airport, the rambunctious TV producer “Don Keefer” (played by Thomas Sadowski) stops declaring his self-importance to the flight attendant he had been harassing when he sees the captain of his United plane and quietly informs him: We wanted to be the first to let you know that our armed forces killed Osama Bin Laden tonight – for you. The captain shakes his co-pilot’s hand. Similarly, anchor “Will McAvoy” (Jeff Daniels) makes it up to the ex-Army MP bodyguard he’d been mocking by whispering him the news, so he can tell the NYC police officers who had just treated him as a threat. In his post-episode commentary, Sorkin said he was trying to “hit as many emotions as possible. . . It had to be people who were still feeling that empty place.” As a control room guy dons a FDNY cap and they all rise, the anchor gives a solemn introduction to the President: In a coordinated attack, U.S. Special Forces tonight killed the leader of Al Queda and the mastermind behind the deadly attack of September 11, 2001. It’s been 9 years, 7 months, and 20 days since America’s Most Wanted Criminal took from us 2,977 American sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, friends and colleagues. We were transformed that morning into a different nation, more fearful of course more hostile. So while nothing, not even this victory that our country has wanted for such a long time, can bring back the souls lost that terrible morning in New York City, Virginia, and a field in Pennsylvania. All across America and the world let tonight serve as a welcome reminder that throughout our history, America’s darkest days have always been followed by its finest hours. President Obama’s speech plays behind the closing credits.
In the 6th season premiere “Worst Case Scenario”, written by Siobhan Byrne O'Connor (broadcast the same day Pope Francis conducted a multifaith memorial service at the 9/11 Museum) the police commissioner soberly watches the TV news of a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, with 56 dead, and it emerges there are planned coordinated attacks in several cities, which is followed by the questioning of waitress/stripper. She was so nonplussed by a regular customer who she turned down for a private lap dance bragging: This'll be the last time you'll ever see me. Did you find somebody you like better? Soon, I will wear a king's crown and wed 72 virgins in heaven. Everyone will know my name. Inshallah. It is God's will., that she called 911: I don't know if it's an emergency, but I just heard this guy saying some crazy, 9/11-type stuff. I definitely think you should check him out. After his family members successfully thwarted bombers, the Commissioner concludes, first privately: What's insidious about terrorism is it can get inside our heads, make us change the way we live our lives. Then you wake up thinking is this the day? It took this city a long time to get its swagger back. Wouldn't that be a victory here?, then publicly: As a New Yorker and for all of us New Yorkers who have been through and come back from a terrorist attack, our thoughts and prayers go out to the families who lost loved ones in Tel Aviv, London and Bangladesh this past day. We are with you in any way that we can help. And we are sorry for your sorrows. s
In the 7th season’s “Foreign Interference”, written by Peter Blauner, first broadcast 4/28/2017, the Commissioner is “summoned” by “Archbishop Kevin Kearns” (played by Stacey Keach): The name John Macklin mean anything to you? He was an altar boy in my first parish. And then, worked at the 5-7 in the Bronx… He's got stage 4 cancer of the trachea in the esophagus. The doctors told him he's only got less than a month. He'll leave behind a wife and four boys…The family feels that he got the disease working on the pile after 9/11…You know how [the doctors] are. Claim's gotten caught up in red tape. Commissioner: And you think the police commissioner can untangle it and get this classified as a line of duty death. . .You do know I get a lot of requests like this. Archbishop: But not from me…I'm just asking you to give it a look, see what can be done to help. He reports back: Three separate reviews of Officer Macklin's claim are the same degree of muddy. Archbishop: About working the pile? Commissioner: No. He worked most days for a good three weeks. Archbishop: Then, what's muddy? Commissioner: He drank like a fish, smoked like a chimney. Archbishop: Well what? As far as I'm concerned, if you worked that pile and got sick, you and your family should be taken care of, end of story. . .See that arms get twisted. The Commissioner reports back: Everything you wanted. Archbishop: That hardly ever happens. Commissioner: Including his promotion to detective with all its benefits. Archbishop: What about the benefits from the World Trade Center's Health Program or the Victim's Comp Fund? Commissioner: I don't control those. Archbishop: But your word has weight. Commissioner: You know, he had some good years on the job, and some less good ones. Archbishop: What's that a code for? Commissioner: Smoked and drank for decades before he got sick. Archbishop: But he also worked on the pile before he got sick. Commissioner: It would be pushing it to attribute his illness strictly to working on the pile. Archbishop: So you're denying him? Commissioner: No, I am pushing it through. But I thought you should know it's a favor….Or it will be when I sign them…You know, I thought we should go out together and visit Macklin and his family, make a private little ceremony of it…Right after you pick up that phone and call… Archbishop: You'd really withhold benefits from this officer's family? Commissioner: Hey, it was a coin toss whether he qualifies, so, I flipped the coin till it came up heads. Like I said, as a favor to you. Archbishop: But your part is private, quiet. What you're offering in return would be public and controversial. Commissioner: You chose the playing field, not me. Archbishop: Uh I don't like this. . .Not much choice. Commissioner: I don't have all day, Your Eminence. Do we have a deal? (updated 5/18/2017)
Seal Team 6: The Raid on Osama Bin Laden, a docudrama broadcast on the National Geographic Channel just before the 2012 Presidential election (available on DVD), twice included images of the World Trade Center attack, as motivations for the CIA analyst to be obsessed with getting Bin Laden and for two of the Seal Team members to have signed up, as written in the screenplay by Kendall Lampkin, and seen in news footage flashbacks. The analyst “Vivian” (played by Kathleen Robinson) says her roommate’s brother was in the Towers. “Cherry” (played by Anson Mount) was very affected by learning the news as a student in school. “Mule” (played by Xzibit) recalls partying in Brooklyn the night before and sleeping it off on the roof, only to be awakened by the first low-flying plane: I had a front row seat to the whole damn thing. I thought I was still dreaming. Now that he’s married with a child, he’s more determined to protect them from that happening to them at home. In contrast, the HBO documentary Manhunt, based mostly on Peter Bergen’s book and directed by Greg Banker, only shows a glimpse of the 9/11 attack as promoted in Al Queda propaganda videos, but shows the emotional reaction of the analysts who had been working on tracking Bin Laden since at least the 1993 WTC attack who had been warning that something big was coming, and realized No doubt. This is it., and then bore “The Blame” from Congress. (updated 5/8/2013)
The opening episode of the re-make of the TV series Beauty and the Beast (on The CW), written by Sherri Cooper and Jennifer Levin, “Vincent Keller” (played by Jay Ryan) explains he was motivated to enlist in the military by 9/11, as the WTC is seen briefly in flashback flames, and then was experimented on by the government while serving in Afghanistan in 2002, becoming “the beast” of the title. In “Worth”, written by Allison Moore, he returns incognito to his “old neighborhood” in Astoria, Queens where a newsstand guy thinks he looks like his father: Michael Keller – any relation? He used to stop by every day. He lost two sons – one in The Towers, and one in Afghanistan, shame. In “Partners in Crime”, written by Emily Silver, he tries to get empathy from his lover’s police partner by telling her his firefighter brother died in The Towers.
In the 2nd season’s “Hothead”, written by Roger Grant (first broadcast 10/28/2013), a senior FDNY arson investigator shrugs off a young man “Aaron” (played by Bryan Dechart) who is asking aggressive questions: That’s why I promised his mother to make him an investigator. He leaps before he looks – just like his father, God rest his soul, and all the Keller boys. “Catherine Chandler” (the Beauty, played by Kristin Kreuk) asks: Any relation to Vincent or William? “Aaron”: Yeah, William was my father. He died in Tower 2 – why, you know him? “Vincent” has a panic attack into the Beast as memories surge back, of first playing with 6-year-old Aaron, then being with his brother in another fire. “Beauty”: You were a fireman? You didn’t mention it before. She takes him to the firehouse that’s conducting the arson investigation, which has a 9/11 memorial wall of the firefighters they lost, including “Daniel Keller” and “William Keller”. “Aaron” confirms that’s his father and one of his uncles: My other uncle we lost in Afghanistan “Vincent”: You’ve lost a lot. “Aaron”: Yeah, that’s why I don’t want to lose any more. Later in a fire, “Vincent” has a flashback to his brother helping him out of a fire they are fighting together and then insisting he go back to med school. Then he’s a doctor watching the Towers on TV engulfed in smoke. A colleague asks: Any word from your brother? “Vincent”: They’re still trying to get everyone out. And the Towers are seen just starting to fall. He’s half in the past in this fire as he thinks he’s found “William”, but it’s “Aaron” he’s saving, who asks Who are you? “Vincent”: I wish I could tell you. Supervisor: You frickin’ Keller boys – you never learn do you? “Aaron” comes back to try to thank “Vincent”. Beauty admonishes him: We can’t afford to lose any more Kellers. At the end, Beauty and the Beast visit the 9/11 memorial fountain at night: He: My brothers are here. She: They’re heroes. He: They saved me from all this. From what I can remember, that’s why William made me quit. He knew our mom coudlnt’ bear the thought of losing all of us. She: I wonder if that’s why you enlisted – to pick up where they left off, to help people. He: Maybe. On the other hand, if I’d just stick, if my brother hadn’t talked me out of being a firefighter, I don’t know maybe I could have saved them. She: Or you could have died too, and you wouldn’t have been able to save your nephew. Vincent, we can’t change the past, as much as we both may want to. The best we can do is remember it, learn from it, and move forward. Hopefully together. They hold hands, embrace, and look at the fountain, as “Stealing Cars” by James Bay plays. In Season 3, the memories of 9/11 came up again in “Chasing Ghosts”, written by Gillian Horvath (1st shown 7/16/2015). His cousin “Hank Keller” (played by Lochlyn Munro) is in for “Vincent”s bachelor party, but he’s still resentful at trying to live down comparisonYou know, your father, your brothers, you guys were the real heroes of the family. No amount of success on my side could ever compete with it. Especially after the martyr thing. “Vincent” blows up: You got to be kidding me, right? You know, my brothers, they died on duty rushing into those Towers. The cousin later announces: I'm running for councilman and, you know, I figured I could use a little help from the family hero. . . Why not? It's not like I'm asking to borrow money or anything. “Vincent”: I think we both know that we may have the same last name, but that doesn't make us family. . . Best of luck, but don't expect my vote, okay? So he turns to his fiancée and co-workers: I've been feeling pretty guilty lately about not reconnecting with my family, but like old cousin Hank said, he can't replace my brothers. So I finally worked out who my real family are. (updated 7/19/2015)
American Family concluded its first season by showing the impact of 9/11 on a Chicano family in East Los Angeles and continued the second season with following the eldest son to the War on Iraq, though Over There, ironically, hasn't mentioned 9/11 yet. Shows like the cancelled The Agency, Threat Matrix and JAG were more jingoistic about the consequent war.
There are volumes, and doubtless many PhD dissertations, analyzing and/or blaming the TV series 24 for influencing Americans' interpretations of 9/11, the initiation and course of the war, and the treatment of captives, so I'll just cite one article: Normalizing Torture, One Rollicking Hour At a Time by Adam Green in The New York Times, May 22, 2005.
In Louis C.K. (on FX), 9/11 was referenced to establish the titular/creator/writer/star’s NYC cred. In “Eddie” (first shown 8/11/2011), an old, out-of-town friend is subjecting him to a drunken accusation that he has lost touch with real people. Louis protests that he was living in a walk-up with his six-month pregnant wife with a direct view for watching The Towers smoke and fall. When “Eddie” (played by Doug Stanhope) mocks him for not having run to help save the victims, he crosses a line of tolerance for his obnoxious behavior, and Louis tells him to leave and find a reason for living. (8/24/2011
Science fiction TV, too has been influenced by this specter. John Hodgman in The New York Times July 17, 2005 quotes executive producer Ronald D. Moore: "'I knew that if you did Battlestar Galactica again, the audience is going to feel a resonance with what happened on 9/11. That's going to touch a chord whether we want it to or not. And it felt like there was an obligation to that. To tell it truthfully as best we can through this prism.' In the miniseries Moore wrote to introduce the new Battlestar Galactica, the echoes of the war on terror were unapologetic and frequently harrowing: what happens when an advanced, comfortable, secular democracy endures a devastating attack by an old enemy that it literally created (which enemy, in Moore's version, also happens to be religious fanaticism)?" (The original series always reminded me of James Blish's Cities in Flight.)
Fringe, a sci fi TV show on Fox that began in 2008, visually indicates when the story switches to the parallel alternate reality universe by panning over the WTC Towers that rise above lower Manhattan there. (3/3/2011)
We've gotten glimpses of the British view in the spy thriller MI-5 (Spooks) (first seen here much-edited on BBC America and A & E, before years later showing up, presumably uncut, in PBS syndication). In the third season episode "Who Guards the Guards?" by Rupert Walters, the liaison to MI-6 defends his lethal compromises to the head of MI-5: If you're asking me is there at present any thing we shouldn't do to achieve our ends then frankly I don't know. Post 9/11 we made a decision that nothing, nobody was to be off-limits any more. Look around at what's been happening since Iraq. We're up against it. We can't say any more 'This we do not do.' In the long term it will be proved right. The MI-5 head disputes that siding with the Americans justifies it: Part of the reason for all this trouble is that most Americans think that anything East of the Hudson is like those blank spaces on medieval maps where they drew in a monster and wrote 'Here be dragons.' If you people continue like this there won't be any long term for any of us. Not that I can see. (updated 8/21/2009)
On the “Hearst Tower” episode of Treasures of New York (first broadcast on WNET 3/18/12), host Paula Zahn narrates how the Board’s final meeting to go ahead with their new headquarters started as they heard and watched the news – illustrated by footage of the Towers’ attack and WNYC’s reportage. Frank A Bennack, Jr., long-time CEO of The Hearst Corporation: “We pulled our emotions together. . .This is the headquarters of this company. . .This city needs this boost.” Zahn: “In October 2001, the Hearst board made the decision to greenlight the first major construction project after 9/11.” Architecture critic Paul Goldberger: “Its decision to go ahead with this building right after 9/11 was an incredibly important symbol.” Zahn: “Two years after 9/11, Hearst broke ground.” Opened in 2006, the building is included in the documentary How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr. Foster?, without the 9/11 context. (1/17/2014)
Homeland is based on a non-9/11-related 2009 Israeli TV series Prisoners of War (Hatufim) (streaming in the U.S. as of Summer 2012 on Hulu, 2 seasons on Region 1 DVD), but the CIA in this American version was haunted by 9/11 from the opening episode written by Alex Gansa, Howard Gordon, & Gideon Raff. The obsessive CIA analyst, played rivetingly by Claire Danes, starts in an age of anxiety: I missed something once before and I won’t let that happen again. Her mentor, played by Mandy Patinkin, stays cool: Everyone missed something that day. She insists: I’m just making sure we don’t get hit again. He’s sarcastic: Well, I’m glad someone’s looking out for the country.
In the Season 4 opener, “The Drone Queen”, written by Gansa, (1st shown 10/5/2014) “Carrie” is in Afghanistan tasked with approving drone attacks and notes: I saw ‘The Kill List’ after 9/11. Do you know how many names were on it? Seven. Including Bin Laden and Al-Zawahiri. You know how many names are on it today? Over 2,000.
In “Iron in the Fire”, written by Patrick Harbinson (first shown 10/19/2014), the ex-head of the CIA “Saul Berenson” (played by Mandy Patinkin) has a sarcastic exchange with a retired Pakistani military intelligence general “Bunny Latif” (played by Art Malik): The Russians were tough, but they didn't saw our heads off on the internet. Or blow up innocent people. Or fly airplanes into the Twin Towers. “Latif”: Come on, Saul. We both know 9/11 was a hoax. An Israeli-American excuse to launch a crusade against the Muslim world. “Saul”: Honestly, I don't know what to say when I hear men of your deep knowledge and experience talk like that. “Latif”: President Bush lied about Iraq. Why not 9/11? “Saul”: Because it's nonsense. Like saying Bin Laden's not dead. “Latif”: Abbottabad was a CIA plot meant to embarrass Pakistan.
Later in the season, in “Redux”, written by Alexander Cary (first shown 11/9/2014), “Saul” is taken hostage as a human shield by Taliban commander “Haissam Haqqani” (played by Numan Acar), and they debate – “Saul”: So many years at war. Aren't you tired of it? I know I am. “Haqqani”: Well, you could've just left us alone, you know. “Saul”: After you hit us on 9/11? I don't think so. “Haqqani”: We did not fly those planes into the World Trade Center; Al-Qaeda did. “Saul”: You gave Al-Qaeda sanctuary. You harbored Osama Bin Laden. “Haqqani”: Bin Laden was a Saudi. 15 were also Saudis. I don't see you invading that country. “Saul”: We came here to kill or capture those directly responsible. “Haqqani”: And you stayed and stayed and stayed and destroyed our culture and our religion. “Saul: That's not true. “Haqqani”: America despises what it cannot understand. “Saul: And your way is better? “Haqqani”: Only Islam offers a formula for creating a just - and godly society. “Saul: Your version of Islam is regressive and backward. “Haqqani”: Whatever the Prophet did, we must follow. “Saul”: Subjugate women? Slaughter the nonbelievers? Strap on suicide bombs? I hardly remember reading that in the Hadith. “Haqqani”: Be careful, my friend. “Saul”: You have taught an entire generation to live with one foot in the afterlife. “Haqqani”: We do what is necessary to win back our homeland. “Saul”: You just executed your nephew. And before that, you sacrificed his family in an airstrike. How was that necessary? “Haqqani”: You point your finger at Islam. But if Christianity is to be judged by the misery it has caused mankind, who would ever be a Christian? “Saul”: I'm a Jew.
In her opinion column titled “Good Riddance, Carrie Mathison”, Maureen Dowd in The New York Times, 4/5/2015: “The C.I.A. sisterhood is fed up with the flock of fictional C.I.A. women in movies and on TV who guzzle alcohol as they bed hop and drone drop, acting crazed and emotional, sleeping with terrorists and seducing assets. . . Gina Bennett, a slender, thoughtful mother of five who has been an analyst in the Counterterrorism Center over the course of 25 years and who first began sounding the alarm about Osama bin Laden back in 1993. . .9/11 ‘lasted 10 years.’”
Towards the end of the 5th season, Muslim terrorists issue a video showing a bound CIA operative dying horribly from Sarin nerve gas poison and threaten to release it on the general public if the UN’s Security Council doesn’t recognize the Caliphate. In “New Normal” written by Meredith Stiehm and Charlotte Stoudt (first shown 12/6/2015), “Saul Berenson” (played by Mandy Patinkin) tells his German equivalents: We haven't faced anything on this scale since 9/11. To her billionaire patron, crusading reporter “Laura Sutton” (played by Sarah Sokolovic) argues: 15 years ago, my country was attacked. And thousands did die. Every bit as horrible as that video. And we wanted to get the bastards who hurt us, so we did. We started two wars. Tens of thousands of people died on both sides. And for what? We're still killing them, they're still coming after us, and on and on. . . [E]arly this morning. The police are already rounding up Muslim men outside the mosques. Anyone with a skullcap.
In the Season 6 opener, “Fair Game”, written by Alex Gansa and Ted Mann, the 9/11 reference is strongly implied. An aggressive FBI anti-terrorism special agent (though I thought he was NYPD) “Ron Conlin” (played by Dominic Fumusa) defends his arrest of a young Muslim African-American man to “Carrie Mathison” (Claire Danes), who as a private citizen is now taking on such cases: I'm not taking a chance. Not here. Not in NYC. In the next episode “The Man in the Basement”, written by Chip Johannessen, the advisor to the President-elect “Rob Hemmis” (played by Hill Harper) impatiently watches CIA director “Dar Adal” (F. Murray Abraham) showily enter a downtown New York restaurant: I get it. All your friends are here. You wanted me to see you can make an entrance. Well, I'm impressed. “Dar”: No, that's not why I wanted to meet you here. When The Towers came down I was here, eating in this very restaurant! In this very seat! Me and Roger the Maitre D’, my little friend as you called him, we pulled in people choking from the stree through those very doors. It was a bonding experience, a never forget experience. But the President-elect has forgotten. “Hemmis”: She hasn’t. “Adal”: She's a novice. A mother with a son killed overseas - that's her CV. “Hemmis”: Give her a chance. “Adal”: Presidents don't get chances, they get tested. That night, “Saul” comes to “Adal” at the same restaurant: Your nephew still own the place? You still tell people that bullshit story about dragging people in while The Towers fell down? “Adal”: Only when I have to. Later, in following “A Flash of Light”, written by Patrick Harbinson, “Carrie” explains why she applied pressure to get an accused Muslim conspirator released from jail: Because it's the right thing to do. Because thus whole country went stupid crazy after 9/11 and no one knows that better than me. Two episodes on in “The Return”, written by Charlotte Stoudt, the President-elect “Elizabeth Keane” (played by Elizabeth Marvel) is suspicious of her restrictive guard in a safe house after a bomb was set off in NYC: You don’t find my sequestration strange? Putative Secret Serviceman: Ma’am, I was in the White House on 9/11, we had to physically compel the Vice President to take shelter. She: For once I understand his position. She escapes the safe house with the help of a far-right-wing, Gold Star mother whose negative impression of her convinces her to do a new TV interview in “Imminent Risk”, written by Ron Nyswaner: You've never spoken publicly about your son. Why the change of heart? President-Elect “Keane”: I realized I might've been giving people the wrong impression…Well, that somehow, I wasn't proud of him or the sacrifice that he and so many others made in this war. TV: You were proud of him. “Keane”: Very much so. He loved his country. He believed in the mission. He was the light of my life, and I miss him every single moment of every day. TV: What was he like? What can you tell us about him? “Keane”: Well, he never dreamed of being a soldier. I can tell you that. Physics was his passion Aerospace engineering, to be exact. 9/11 changed all that. TV: That's when he decided to enroll at West Point? You didn't try to talk him out of it? “Keane”: You couldn't talk Andrew out of anything, not once his mind was made up. TV: And once he graduated, he served three tours in Iraq? “Keane: Two full tours. He was killed just at the beginning of his third. TV: And by then, you had come out against the war. “Keane: Yes, and he was furious about it. TV: I remember he criticized your Senate-floor speeches, saying they were aiding and abetting the enemy. “Keane”: Yes. It was a very difficult time for us as a family. He was doing what he believed was right, and I was doing what I believed was right. TV: When was the last time you saw him? “Keane”: 2007, in Baghdad. The Pentagon was in the middle of a charm offensive. "The surge is working. Victory is just over the horizon." I was there with a group of skeptical senators. Well, now it's almost ten years later, and we are still there, and American soldiers are still dying. Her enemies watch her on TV: She's winning the argument. She's a Gold Star mom. She's tough to argue with. (updated 2/10/2018)
Bones, each of the older and younger forensic anthropologists recalled 9/11 differently in “The Patriot in Purgatory” (on Fox, for Veteran’s Day, first broadcast 11/12/2012, nominated for a Humanitas Prize) to the realization that the dead homeless man they are investigating died on 9/11, as written by executive producer Stephen Nathan who explained why: “I guess our victim in the show is representative of all those people whose names we don’t know, and how important it is not to forget them.”
The conspiracy theorist enthusiast “Dr. Jack Hodgins” (played by T.J. Thyne): I’ve studied every conspiracy theory. But only one holds: we were attacked by supremacists who hated everything we represent. We may not be angels, but no one deserved to die that day, no one. His boss, at this fictional Jeffersonian Institute, “Dr. Camille Saroyan” (played by Tamara Taylor) tears up: I was in NY. Working as a coroner. I signed 900 death certificates. And I had to talk to wives, husbands, children. Sometimes all that was left was. . . I’m still here. The FBI agent “Seeley Booth” (played by David Boreanaz) discovers the guy was also a veteran and is determined they should find out the cause of death: We went to Afghanistan because of those attacks. No matter how bad it got, we never left anyone behind.
The interns are assigned the case, and “Finn Abernathy” (played by Luke Kleintank) comments to the Muslim intern “Arastoo Vaziri” (played by Pej Vahdat): Isn’t it difficult for you because you share the same religion as those men? He angrily tirades about what Christians have done through history: But still your words have meaning, don't they, Mr. Abernathy? Those assumptions you made, those quick generalizations. What about the vengeance and the bloodshed in the Old Testament? You share the same religion with men who cherry-picked the Bible to justify slavery. The Crusades, the Inquisition, are these events guided by a religion of peace? No, they were guided by self important men who think they know more than the God they claim to worship. This was not the work of religion. It was arrogance. It was hypocrisy. It was hate. Those horrible men who hijacked those planes hijacked my religion that day, too. They insulted my God. So no, this isn’t too difficult. It’s a privilege to be able to serve this victim, to show him. “Finn” is contrite: Thank you for taking the time to set me straight. Another intern gets frustrated by the case: This guy was there on 9/11. You don’t feel the pressure to solve this one? “Colin Fisher” (played by Joel David Moore, who gave a similar speech in the film Grassroots): 9/11 was a trauma to us all. Not like to this guy or the people who died that day. But it still changed us, and we act like it doesn’t matter. Wendell is freaking out here, and you went nuts. The first rule of the looney bin is to let it all out. I’ll go first: I was in high school. It was my senior year. I was breaking into my history teacher’s desk to steal a test I hadn’t studied for. He walked in crying, he couldn’t less what I was doing. That’s how I found out. So I talked to him, the stolen test in my hand. We both just sat and cried. Next? Aw, come on! The African-American “Dr. Clark Edison” (played by Eugene Byrd): I was working. It was before school, a coffee shop. Everyone was just staring at the TV. No one said a word. The cook came out to watch with the rest of us. I still remember the smell of food burning on that grill. Back to the Southern “Finn Abernathy” I was 9. I had gotten in the way of my stepfather hitting my mama. He stuck me with some scissors. My mama wanted to take me to the hospital, but my hurt didn’t feel like nothing after what happened. Back to “Arastoo Vaziri”: I was at morning prayers. I didn’t believe that day. I didn’t believe in anything that day. The youngest “Wendell Bray” (played by Michael Grant Terry): I was with my aunt, from that morning for the next few days. My uncle was a firefighter in New York. He never came home
It turns out the veteran died from injuries suffered from rescuing 3 people pinned down by debris at the Pentagon. This case brings back memories for the chief “squint” “Dr. Temperance ‘Bones” Brennan” (played by Emily Deschanel): I thought it meant I was strong. I was just afraid. I dug out remains from rubble of The Towers. For 2 weeks I was methodical. Scientist, I did what was asked of me. I did my job. I never shed a tear. I was proud of that. All these years I never let myself think. I could avoid it all before I met you. I had no one I my life. And now I think of those people and I think of you. Anyone of them could have been you. She cries and hugs her partner the FBI agent. (updated 7/17/2013)
Person of Interest (CBS, beginning 2011) premises the attack as the start of the ex-CIA operative’s personal downslide. In the 2nd season’s “Prisoner’s Dilemma” by David Slack, broadcast 1/10/2013, “John Reese” (played by Jim Caviezel) used his real feelings about watching 9/11 to put over a convincing cover story for a false identity: Why I left the military? When the planes hit the towers, I was with Allie in a hotel room in Niagara Falls. I just had gotten out of the service, but as we sat together on that bed watching it all go down, I knew I had to go back. And I looked at her, she was quiet, trying to be strong. I don’t know. Maybe I was scared, I don’t know. But when I looked at her, I saw this whole other life, a life I knew I’d never have if I went back. So I stayed. . .I was an idiot. I let her sip away. I instantly regretted it, but it was too late. Funny how the choices you make change who you become. Pick one path or the other, you hear an explosion at a bank and try to help, and all these years later I still wonder, if I had re-upped when The Towers came down, where would I be now? In the “One Percent” episode, broadcast 2/7/2013, written by Denise Thé and Melissa Scrivner-Love, 9/11 is (implicitly) shown to have affected the controlling save-from-violence computer geek’s mission, too. In a flashback to 2001, “Harold” (played by Michael Emerson) is seen as excited for having pulled an all-nighter working on a new heuristic algorithm. But his partner “Nathan Ingram” (played by Brett Cullen) somberly interrupts: I’ve been trying to get hold of you. Something happened this morning. He turns on a handy TV. The two watch, shocked. “Harold”: Was it a plane? “Nathan”: Two planes. They keep watching, looking stunned. “Nathan”: We started IFT to change the world. Our suits got nicer, our scotch more expensive. We changed, but the world stayed the same. Until today. If we don’t change the world, someone else will. So, what are we going to do to stop the guys who did this? Close up on the computer geek thinking. Then, in a flashback to 2009, he’s proud of having developed (and given away) a machine that knows when people need help. But his partner wants to do more.
The 3rd season finale episode “Deus Ex Machina” (first broadcast 5/13/2014), written by Greg Plageman and David Slack, refers to the 9/11 attack in Washington, D.C.: The pseudonymous “Control” (played by Camryn Manheim) defiantly refuses to testify in an anti-surveillance kangaroo court about her anti-terrorism methods: Where were you when Flight 177 hit the Pentagon? Because I was inside it. I carried out the wounded. I covered up the bodies. And I have spent every day since putting bullets into the people responsible and into anyone who even thinks they can do that to our country again. You want to shoot me because I had to tap a few phone calls, read a few emails? Then you better turn that gun on yourself next, Mr. Collier, because you have broken just as many laws and I didn’t wrap myself up in the American flag and try to convince people I was a hero. “Peter Collier” (played by Leslie Odom Jr.): I believe you love your country. I believe that when you started, people thought what you were doing made a lot of sense. But it's gone too far and it has to stop.
In Fox’s Winter 2013 serial killer drama The Following, 9/11 was referenced as part of “a family curse”. In the “Mad Love” episode, written by Kevin Williamson, “FBI Agent Ryan Harding” (played by Kevin Bacon) is flashing back to his burgeoning relationship in 2005 with “Claire Matthews” (played by Natalie Zea) the ex-wife of the cult murderer. In bed together, she presses him to open up. After he tells how his mother died of leukemia when he was 14, and his retired cop father was killed in a robbery: We had an older brother, Ray. He was a NYC firefighter. She groans: Oh no, don’t say 9/11. He: OK, I won’t say it. She: So you and death go way back.
CBS’s Golden Boy (commentary forthcoming on the May 2013 series finale flashback to 9/11, showing the experiences of the mentor to the detective who is premised as destined to become the youngest NYPD Commissioner.)
The 2nd season of HBO’s The Newsroom, first shown in Summer 2013, is set in the fall of 2011. In the 1st episode, “First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All the Lawyers”, teleplay by series creator Aaron Sorkin, story by Ian Reichbach and Sorkin, “We see that 9/11 and the 9/11 anniversary have a particular meaning for Will [McAvoy]”, the news anchor (played by Jeff Daniels), according to Sorkin in an afterword. After calling the Tea Party “the American Taliban” in a commentary in the finale of Season 1, his boss “Charlie Skinner” (played by Sam Waterston) berates him: I’m going to pull you from the [10th anniversary] coverage. . .I made the decision. . You’re going to be officially condemned on the House floor tomorrow. . Giuliani pulled out, 9/11 widows, First Responders. . . “Will” wryly notes that the U.S. was attacked by Al Queda, not the Taliban and insists: Some 9/11 widows, and some First Responders. Boss: I know, but it’s the critical mass. The op-eds, the boycotts, the advertisers. “Will” accedes, but tells his staff it was his decision to call in sick that day. We see a couple of techies go through the network’s 9/11 coverage, labeled “Attack on America”, to select footage for the anniversary. One notes it was “Will”s: First time in the chair. [He was] the legal correspondent. Almost midnight and he’d been on the air for 16 hours., explaining other anchors were grounded in other cities and blocked by closed bridges in NYC, and that this was pretty much the first time “Will” met the boss, who came in for a pep talk: :I understand you were the oldest brother protecting younger brothers and sisters and your mother from a pretty violent father. Do it again. “Will” faces the camera, and the 2nd techie thought he had frozen, but no, he slowly starts up: I’ve been searching for Biblical quotes. None of them. . .We don’t know how many are dead. It’s going to be a lot. . .We don’t know why attacked us. We don’t know what’s coming tomorrow. And I don’t know what I’m doing. But I’m making you this promise. I’m going to be with you all night. I’m not going anywhere. Ill be right here. In the next episode, “The Genoa Tip”, teleplay by Sorkin, story by Dana Ledoux Miller & Adam R. Perlman and Sorkin, “Will” is watching two replacement anchors reading during the anniversary coverage the script he hand wrote. When the executive producer “MacKenzie McHale” (played by Emily Mortimer) grills a young staffer “Maggie Jordan” (played by Alison Pill) prepping for a trip to cover a story in Uganda: Name the three differences between Shias and Sunnis, she retorts: Did you before 9/11?
“We at Marvel had to address it”, is how the reaction of comic books to 9/11 is described in Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle, in the 3rd episode “A Hero Can Be Anyone (1978-present)” on PBS, broadcast October 2013, as images go by first of Spiderman swinging between the Twin Towers, then standing in shock and sorrow with the first responders on The Pile, and then dealing with the Patriot Act.
On The Strain (horror series on FX, produced by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan based on their graphic novel), “Gone Smooth”, written by Hogan, first shown 7/27/2014, the wife of a victim of a mysterious viral attack on an airplane back home in Flatbush, Brooklyn complains: They keep showing footage of the plane just sitting either on the tarmac, dark, dead, over and over again. Like the Trade Center – remember? Why do they do that to us? It’s just too painful to watch. But the reference went, well, deeper in “The Third Rail”, teleplay by Hogan and Justin Britt-Gibson, first shown 9/21/2014. The vampire hunter, who first encountered “The Master” in a Nazi concentration camp, leads his motley band of fighters to the subway tunnels below the World Trade Center to find his Lair, with fictive, but powerful, inaccuracy: The Master is drawn into scenes of great human suffering. . .This station was abandoned after 9/11. I don’t think anyone’s been down here since. Anyone human that is.
In the 2nd Season’s 2nd episode, “By Any Means”, teleplay by Bradley Thompson and David Weddle (first shown 7/19/2015), 9/11 is referenced for cynical political purposes by the rich evil servant of the vampire “master” “Eldritch Palmer” (played by Jonathan Hyde), in a speech written by his pretty young assistant “Coco Marchand” (played by Lizzie Brocheré), like a modern St. Crispin’s Day goad, to applause and cheers: It's a pleasure to be here with you today for the opening - of our first Freedom Center. I know that most of you didn't come here to listen to some blowhard congratulate himself on what he's done for his city. You came here to get food and necessities for your families, and we're going to let you do that in a moment but I think it's worth reflecting on the quality "you all have in common - You are the survivors. You're the ones who didn't run, who hung on. Why? Because as much as we all love to bitch about our city, we're not about to let anyone or anything take it from us. Now, when the Twin Towers were built, there were very mixed feelings about how they looked, but when terrorists brought them down, they became a symbol for our city. We all banded together, and we rebuilt the site. Because whether we loved or hated them, those Towers belonged to us! Why? Because we New Yorkers are family, and when faced with a threat, we will link arms and help each other up, and we will endure! Because this is our town! We take care of our own! And that's what today is all about! Thank you. Freedom for all. Thank you. The political manipulation continued in “Fort Defiance”, written by Regina Corrado (1st shown 7/26/2015). “Councilwoman Justine Feraldo” (played by Samantha Mathis) has taken charge of isolating Staten Island with the help of some nepotism on her staff: I am pleased to announce that as of 9:00 AM this morning, Staten Island is a plague-free zone. . . Mikey's my nephew. His dad, my brother, was a firefighter with my late husband, Tommy, in Tower 2 when it went down. He's working for us night and day as one of New York City's finest. And with a flourish they display decapitated zombies they hung up as a warning.
Still remembered in Season 3, Episode 4 “Gone But Not Forgotten”, written by Regina Corrado, “Feraldo” got a promotion but she was attacked by worms. Expecting to die shortly she muses to the doctor: When my husband Tony went down in the Towers, there was a few hours when we just didn't know if anyone was alive in there, how many survivors they'd find in there, 1000? 50? All those people lined up outside St. Vincent's to donate blood, ambulances waiting, hospital beds bring prepared. Bodies that never came. We just waited, but then we knew for sure that nobody was coming back. A different hell.
On The Last Ship (global pandemic sci fi series on TNT, based on the 1988 book by William Brinkley), in the penultimate episode of the 1st season, first shown 8/14/2014, “Trials” written by Onalee Hunter Hughes, many crew members have volunteered to test an experimental vaccine. A young black woman “Maya Gibson” (played by Felisha Cooper) considers the risks, in a gratuitous back story: I’m an only child and my parents died on 9/11. . .My boyfriend’s the only person who might even be missing me. After her febrile seizure, she explains: He went in after her, my father, he was a firefighter. He went into the north tower. Guy next to her: Jesus, are you trying to cheer me up? She: Anyway, that’s why I signed up for the Navy. She dies, the guy whispers: I’ll remember you. and their commanding officer says he’ll recommend her for the Navy Cross.
In Fall 2014, PBS/Thirteen’s Theater Close-Up series presented the Public Theater’s production of Richard Nelson’s The Apple Family Plays about the fictional
worried liberal” Apple family of Rhinebeck, New York. Filmed in repertory, in December 2013, the second play in the quartet of personal grappling with the changing political climate from 2010 to 2013 was the 2011-set Sweet and Sad described as: “A family brunch stirs up discussions of loss, remembrance and a decade of change on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of 9/11.”
In the opening episode of American Crime (1st broadcast on ABC 3/5/2015), writer/director John Ridley, who plays with the characters’ stereotyped perceptions of each other, has the distraught mother of the murder victim “Barb Hanlon” (played ferociously by Felicity Huffman) insist on the nobility of her dead son “Matt” (who the audience already knows was a drug dealer) compared to the “illegal” she assumes was the murderer: Oh, yeah. He was in the military. . .Yes, he enlisted right after 9/11. He wanted to do his service. He was in Iraq, and he did what was right for people. Married a beautiful young girl. Married his sweetheart. In episode 4, written by Davy Perez, she repeats that to her uniformed son: Your brother deserves better than this. He was always there for us when we needed him. Even his country, signing up after 9/11. That's the kind of person he was. But Matt's brother “Mark” (played by David Hoflin) clarifies to first her, then to the father-in-law: This story that my mom tells about my brother signing up after 9/11, being a hero It's not true. Matt was doing drugs and selling drugs even back then. And mom didn't know what to do with him, so she made him enlist. She was the one that put him in the army. He didn't want to go. . . you need to know. These lies, it's all my mom has. Her husband split on her. Her son's dead. All she has left is a fantasy. In the 7th episode, written by Davy Perez, the Muslim sister of the accused (played ferociously by Regina King) pressures on his behalf: Meanwhile – the victim? People are calling him a 9/11 hero, not the anti-government drug dealer he was.
Oddly, in Madam Secretary series on a fictional female Secretary of State, 9/11 wasn’t referenced until the first season finale (1st broadcast on CBS on 3/3/2015), “There But for the Grace of God”, written by executive producer Barbara Hall. “Secretary Elizabeth McCord” (played by Téa Leoni) is having flashbacks to her work at CIA Headquarters in 2005. While she’s now interrogating arrested conspirator “Juliet” (played by Nilaja Sun), she remembers then they were co-workers and she was explaining her latest report to the CIA Director: About scaling back on enhanced interrogation tactics. Basic diatribe against the efficacy of torture. Juliet: Not to mention the morality. I'm sure you covered that. Future Secretary: The odd bit of harping on the Geneva convention. Which'll have to do until I can produce the hard science on karma. “Juliet” is sarcastic: The White House is calling the Geneva Convention quaint. Their argument is these aren't your father's prisoners of war. We didn't change the rules, they did. Future Secretary: But then what's the answer? Betraying our own standards of ethical behavior? “Juliet”: I'm just reporting your commander in chief's position. Future Secretary: In no way am I saying we back off this fight. The image of those planes crashing into the Towers plays on a loop in my head. But my argument is that torture is a waste of time. We are squandering valuable resources for little or no return on investment. “Juliet”: I get it. It's complicated. Future Secretary is offered the chief of the Baghdad station, which she justifies taking the job to her husband “Henry” (played by Tim Daly, who was the only reason I watched Private Practice): Yeah, well, then the world changed. Four years. 9/11 was a just a bad day and already, we're starting to forget? He retorts: I served in combat in Iraq. I'm not forgetting anything. And, yeah, people are recovering. She: There's nothing wrong with that. Let tell you something, Henry. There are a lot of people doing what I do, so that they can recover. They have the luxury of forgetting - because we refuse to. He: No one is forgetting. She: That's not what it feels like. He: I am talking about our marriage and our children. She: And I am talking about a higher purpose which serves them. They are still arguing about the job later. He: If you feel you have to go to Baghdad, then go, but I can't pretend it's not going to affect me.
It's definitely going to affect the kids. The one thing it's not going to do is take back 9/11. She: This isn't about atonement. . . .The world has fallen apart. Do you know how many of our troops were killed today? 37. We just broke 1,400 in a war that was supposed to be over two years ago. And that's not even counting the civilians. It's like some monster has been unleashed. I don't even recognize what our government is doing any more. . . How can I just sit by? The world has collapsed. He: But that doesn't mean ours’ has to, to make up for it. When everything seems to be lacking in integrity, you know what you do? You find it in yourself. You change the world right from where you're standing. She: I can't go backwards.
A fictional terrorist bombing in suburban Virginia by “Ishbal Jahed” enveloping the main family in the 2nd season further eclipsed 9/11, until a brief mention in the penultimate episode “Render Safe” by David Grae. Injured on a mission in Pakistan with the Secretary’s husband, Jose Campos (played by Carlos Gómez) confides: I haven’t been to church since 9/11. I”ve been busy and maybe a little pissed off.
In “The Things We Get To Say”, Season 4, Episode 20 written by Joy Gregory, first broadcast 5/6/2018, the titular Secretary of State addresses the winners of a high school essay contest on “"What America Means to Me" ” that includes Dana's unforgettable day at Ground Zero, and her powerful ideas for how to heal hatred and overcome fear. Maybe she went to the Memorial and Museum?
On the series premiere of Quantico (first shown September 27, 2015 on ABC), “Run” written by Joshua Safran, the FBI trainees are assigned to find out an undisclosed fact about a classmate and to pose a yes/no question about it. “Shelby Wyatt” (played by Johanna Braddy) is led through a series of yes/no questions about her family by “Simon Asher” (played by Tate Ellington): What about your parents? What about them? Are they still alive? No. They are not. How did they die? That's not a "yes" or "no" question. Did they die together? Yes. Were they killed? Yes. When I was 16. What's the piece of metal you carry with you? Rephrase. Is that piece of metal part of a plane? Yes. The plane your parents were on? Yes. On 9/11. That's why I'm here. She puts the piece of metal she always keeps with her on the table: That’s why I’m here. In the next episode “America”, also written by Safran, she answers as to why she wants to join the FBI: Because I want to make sure that what happened to my mom and dad never happens to anybody else. The show is structured with a flash forward to when one of the recruits will somehow be involved in what’s repeatedly called: the most devastating terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11. In a class taught by “Liam O’Connor” (played by Josh Hopkins), the students are shown slides of terrorist attacks, including the burning Twin Towers, and are told: Oklahoma City, September 11th, the Boston Marathon. Now, while these tragic attacks may be the reason you think you are here, you are actually here because of Los Angeles in 2000, Detroit in '06, and Chicago in 2014. Attacks the FBI stopped. . .The Bureau's job is not to clean up tragedies. It's to prevent them from happening in the first place. In “Cover”, by Safran, shown 10/1/2015, the flash-forward again describes a reaction: Somebody has to tell me why the next 9/11 was pulled off by one of our own. Because I have to tell the press something anything. As they box each other in a trust training exercise, “Shelby”s roommate “Alex Parrish” (the central character in the ensemble, played by the beautiful Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra) accuses “Shelby”: I guess the zealot who exploits 9/11 should be more careful. They eventually apologize to each other and she sits down, teasing: Well, you might not know this, but my dad died on 9/11. Roommate chuckles: I may have heard a rumor. “Shelby”: And you know what? If I can exploit that right now to help you, I will. You see, my dad always wanted me to be his little country girl, and I was. And my mom wanted me to be her little pageant queen, and, boy, was I ever. But, um, I spent a lot of time trying to make them both happy when they were alive. And when they died, I had to clean up the mess they left behind. And, um Well, let's just say that I learned a lot about them that they probably hoped their little country pageant princess would never find out.. Roommate: I'm so sorry, Shelby. “Shelby”: I'm not. Because while it might look like I joined the FBI as some avenging angel, I'm here for me. And you are here for you. In “Over” (first broadcast 11/15/2015 – 2 nights after the Paris attacks), written by Justin Brenneman, the voice of the trainer “Miranda Shaw” (played by Aunjanue Ellis) is ironically heard over a closing montage – seeing her dying, presumably due to the real mole bomber who appears to be finally revealed: On 9/11, the FBI and the CIA had all the pieces they needed, but they couldn't connect them. And we see the world differently now. And we will stop it the next time. All of us working together. The comparison was also picked up by The Black List (conspiracy thriller series on NBC). In the episode named for criminal “Arioch Cain” (first shown 10/29/215), written by Dawn DeNoon, the non-nonsense head of an investigative commission “Laurel Hitchin” (played by Christine Lahti) chastises two agencies from her findings: We’re not going to repeat the intelligence failures of 9/11. The FBI and the CIA are going to communicate. Which means that you two are going to work together. As the series got increasingly ridiculous, in the “LNWILT” episode (first broadcast 3/20/2017), one of the FBI analysts investigating a financial fraud scheme cites an absurd conspiracy theory as if it were fact: Airline stocks were shorted in huge volumes on September 10th. And if you look at yesterday's index, the same thing happened with RNX. In “ODYOKE” (first broadcast 4/10/2017) written by Jordan Nardino, the team tries to plumb how a false accusation against a Muslim colleague of a terrorist attack on a Dayton, OH shopping center from leading to Congress voting for a Muslim registry. Says “Agent Ryan Booth” (played by Jake McLaughlin, an Army veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.): 9/11? Iraq? It’s hard to vote against fear when fear’s so fresh. [I presume there were more incidental references, but the series got increasingly too ridiculous to watch.]
The New York Times TV critic James Poniewozik noted in “When TV Turns Itself Off”, 11/17/2015, that the 11/15/2015 episode of Quantico opened with a disclaimer about event similarity from the network: “After the Sept. 11 attacks, I remember the numerous cancellations, postponements and think pieces about whether and how ‘everything would change,’ . . .about where the new cultural boundaries were. I had watched the World Trade Center burn from the roof of my apartment building. In those days, yes, a violent TV show could bring up painful emotions. But so could a rerun of Sex and the City set in pre-9/11 Manhattan. My worst trigger was my baby son’s board book about airplanes. After a trauma, there’s no clean line distinguishing what pop-culture content is unsettling and what isn’t, when or to whom. . . Maybe a better rule would be: Tell good, substantive stories about things that matter to people, regardless of the timing. . . It helps us confront our persistent fears.”
Designated Survivor also on ABC, draws on 9/11 references and images even more than Quantico continues to do so, as the premise from the pilot episode (first broadcast 9/21/2016), is a bomb attack on the Capitol building during the State of the Union speech when all three branches of the U.S. government are gathered, except for the titular, in this case the “Secretary of Housing & Urban Development Tom Kirkman” (played by Kiefer Sutherland) who has to be sworn in as President, and in the second episode “The First Day” (both written by series creator David Guggenheim), there’s also a surviving “Congressperson Kimble Hookstraten” (played by Virginia Madsen. I didn’t retain yet the explicit references in the pilot, but in the second: The Congresswoman tells the new president: “This morning I cried and then I prayed. Do you know the last time I did those together? He answers quickly: 9/11. As arguments rage among CIA and military as to who carried out the attack without an international claim and when to retaliate, one advisor warns: It took two months for Osama bin Laden to take credit for the Towers. At the end, the President manages to get to the burning pile to shake hands with the first responders and thank them for their service, in a direct copy of 9/11 imagery.
The references continued in the 3rd episode “The Confession”, written by Jennifer Johnson & Paul Redford. Two competing White House staffers are talking and walking down the hall (a West Wing reference). “Emily Rhodes” (played by Italia Ricci): My boyfriend asked me to marry him. I couldn’t interrupt his proposal. “Aaron Shore” (played by Aden Canto): How long have you been going out? She: Ten months. He: Post-traumatic acceleration : Traumatic events make people accelerate their decisions, having babies, getting married. It happened after 9/11. [She turned him down, and didn’t get to be Chief of Staff either.] “FBI Special Agent Hannah Wells” (played by Maggie Q) orders an IT guy to illegal hack a victim’s camera phone. He protests and she bullies: The greatest act of terrorism on our soil since 9/11 was just perpetrated and if we don’t play dirty we don’t stand a chance. Her boss later chastises her for breaking the law. [I presume there were more incidental references, but the series got far away from the terrorism story into fictional politics to bother to spend my time watching.]
On Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (on NBC) the “Maternal Instincts” episode (first broadcast 10/21/2015), teleplay by Warren Leight and Julie Martin, story by Robert Brooks Cohen, brings on a new sergeant “Mike Dodds” (played by Andy Karl) who has gotten his job through nepotism, via his father “Deputy Chief William Dodds” (played by Peter Gallagher). The father introduces him: He's got plenty of experience, Anti-Crime, Crown Heights.Before that, Special Forces. He signed up out of college, right after 9/11. Can't tell you how proud I am of this kid. The new guy is embarrassed: Yeah, thanks, but I am new to special vics. I know I have a lot to learn.
In the limited series London Spy, which uses the espionage genre as a way to explore changes in gay men’s experiences in Britain, the “I Know” episode, written by Tom Rob Smith (first shown 12/30/2015 on BBC America), montaged quick images of the burning World Trade Center and the attack plotters as math professor “Marcus Shaw” (played by Adrien Lester) quickly described the predictive research achievement of the murder victim/lover.
In Billions (on Showtime), 9/11 was a running plot line from the 1st episode of the 1st season, 1st shown 1/1/2016, in the series created by, and pilot written by Brian Koppelman, David Levien, and Andrew Ross Sorkin, as the key back story for the hedge fund run by “Bobby Axelrod” (played by Damian Lewis), defended by his nurse wife “Lara” (played by Malin Akerman), from a family of first responders whose brother died in The Towers, and targeted by “U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades” (played by Paul Giamatti). One of the firm’s many 9/11 widows, “June Raichlein” (played by Melissa Errico), has not forgotten. [Detailed quotes forthcoming]
On the return of The X Files (first shown 1/24/2016 on Fox), 9/11 was mentioned early on in “My Struggle”, written by series creator Chris Carter, in this min-series version of the 10th season. “Skinner” (the returning Mitch Pileggi): Since 9/11 this country has taken a big turn in a very strange direction.. Former “Agent Mulder” (again played by David Duchovny): They police us, they spy on us, they tell us that makes you safer? We’ve never been in more danger. “Skinner”: You can do something about it Mulder/ This provides the justification for the return of the series’ not-so-wild-seeming anymore conspiracies of corporations using alien technology to foment world domination:
In the second episode of the 2013 British/French series The/Le Tunnel written by Ben Richards (shown in the U.S. on PBS 6/26/2016), lead French Detective Elise Wassermann is investigating the ghastly murder of “Député (MP) Marie Villeneuve” and asks for all the threatening letters she received. Per the subtitles, the politician’s researcher “Gilles Riga” (played by Bruno Tuchszer) brings out The lunatic dossier. Left wing? Right wing?. . .Conspiracy theorists. . .Know who blew up the Twin Towers? Mossad? Aliens? Zinedine Zidane? [famous French soccer player/coach] It’s all in there. [At least one reviewer misidentified him as one of the cops with that sardonic attitude.] The Detective notes: People say things are complex when they want to avoid the truth.
In The Night Of (HBO 2016 8-episode series, adaptation of BBC’s Criminal Justice that I haven’t yet seen but appears less ethnic), Muslim college student “Nasir 'Naz' Khan” (played by Riz Ahmed), living with his Pakistani immigrant family In Jackson Heights, Queens, is tried for the brutal murder of a young woman in Manhattan. While there were indications of prejudices he faced, especially from minorities, during the titular evening and in jail at Rikers Island, the episode “Samson & Delilah”, first shown 8/14/2016, explicitly linked attitudes and actions back to 9/11. “Detective Dennis Box” (played by Bill Camp) figures out why suspect “Naz” transferred from (relatively) nearby Flushing High School in Queens during 9th grade to an honors program in Manhattan – He was suspended for throwing a kid down the stairs, not once, but twice, with a broken arm resulting. “Naz”s lawyers “Jack Stone” (John Turturro) and “Chandra Kapoor” (played by Amara Karan), a young Indian (Hindu) lawyer who was able to bond with “Naz”s parents through language and culture, confronts him in jail. “Naz” monologues”: I was in 5th grade when the Towers came down. I didn't understand why I was getting beat up. Or why my little brother was, or why my dad got jumped in his cab twice. North Africans, or any type of Muslim in school. It was a slaughterhouse. We tried to fight back but that only made it worse. I didn't have a fight with Steve Diaz. I just shoved him down the stairs. Why? Because I just did. I wish I could tell you something else, but I just did it. Like opening a door, I just pushed. My mom to this day still doesn't understand it- ‘This isn't you, Nazir. Why?’ You probably don’t understand either. “Kapoor”: No, I understand. It wasn't so easy for me either. “Naz”: I know what you're thinking - maybe I did kill that girl. “Kapoor”: No, I don't. One irony in this fictional back story is that the young local Muslim guys who FBI undercovers convinced to set their fake bombs in NYC, were graduates of Flushing High School. [I tried, but the transcription is not 100% accurate.]
Conviction (ABC) looks at fictional old NYC cases of those in jail claiming innocence, so I’ve been wondering how they were going to reference 9/11. On “Dropping Bombs” (first shown October 17, 2016), written by Thomas L. Moran, “Detective Stan Sowinski” (played by Frank Deal) admits to the shoddy police work he did: After 9/11 I worked 18 hour days. . .I was disabled. I couldn’t work. and he lists all the horrible things that happened to him because he was in such bad shape, including divorce. There were similar references in the 2nd season’s “Enemy Combatant” (first shown January 15, 2017) written by Eduardo Javier Canto and Ryan Maldonado, where the D.A.’s team is seeking to free a Muslim-American citizen who has been imprisoned in a Virginia military facility for six years on a terrorism charge. Ex-police detective “Maxine Bohen” (played by Merrin Dungey) meets with a CIA-type guy: Obviously Omar Abbas was on a terrorist watch list. CIA: I can neither confirm nor deny-- “Bohen”: Your team connected him to Al Queda within 48 hrs of his arrest. CIA: That’s based on classified intelligence– “Bohen”: I was on the job on 9/11, if this guy is connect to Al Queda I have no interest in exposing your sources or getting him out. All I want to know. . . Later they realize the real terrorist is a angry, white, blonde son of a factory worker. Later she asks a police official if she can review the security tapes from Occupy Wall Street: Yeah, since 9/11 we keep all the trouble makers on file.
Berlin Station (British series, first shown in the U.S. October 2016 on Epix) In the 2nd episode, “Lights Don’t Run On Loyalty” written by series creator Olen Steinhauer, were two (direct and indirect) 9/11 references: American CIA agent “Steven Frost” (played by Richard Jenkins) wants to move ahead with full tracking of a Muslim suspect. Warns German intelligence agent “Hans Richter” (played by Bernhard Schütz) about his boss: You seem to be living with the mistaken assumption that we don’t care. Europe has had its own share of terrorist attacks since 9/11. Until you can prove he's a threat, she won't authorize audio up. In a parallel plot within the station, “Robert Kirsch“ (played by Leland Orser) erupts to agent “Hector DeJean” (Rhys Ifans) about his gay Muslim contact/lover: You want to resettle Faisal in a 2 room apartment in Jersey with a view of the Freedom Tower? It's not going to happen my friend! In the next episode, “Riverrun Dry”, written by Bradford Winters, “Frost” confesses his embezzlement to his lover/colleague “Sandra Abe” (played by Tamlyn Tomita): Kelly and I were hit hard by the subprime crisis just like every other fool for real estate in America. And we had to cash in our 529 fund, which was Laura's college tuition. And I had to borrow money from friends because no bank would take us. And at the same time, Robert was squeezed out of every last penny by his ex-wife for alimony. There we were two broke schmucks who watched while Langley's budget skyrocketed after 9/11. But our shit salaries never moved. So we started running fake agents who existed only on paper and we took the payments for ourselves. And that was a world that I lived in seemed like forever.
Chicago Fire (NBC, first broadcast 11/22/16) Though this portrays a Chicago firefighters squad, the Wolf Productions are behind all the Law & Order series that were based in NYC and each have dealt with 9/11 in some way. I’ll describe in detail “That Day” episode, directed by Dan Lerner, written by Michael A. O’Shea, when I get a chance.
On Colony (first shown January 11, 2017 on USA) the 2nd season premiere with the resonant title “Eleven. Thirteen.”, written by Ryan J. Condal, was a flashback to the day the aliens attacked (I hadn’t notice the date parallelism in the first season). “Katie Bowman” (played by Sarah Wayne Callies) gets an advance warning from her husband in law enforcement that something’s up and she calls her sister: I don’t know what’s going on, but you’re going to stay calm. “Madeline” (played by Amanda Righetti) This is like September 11 or something!
On The Bureau (Le Bureau des Légendes) (from France, Imports, seen on Sundance Now) In the first episode of the second season of this spy series about the agents of France’s DGSE (General Directorate of External Security) (shown in the U.S. 12/14/2017) written by Capucine Rochant, the local CIA chief (played by Peter Cassidy) alerts them to a mole. The main character ”Malotru” (played by Mathieu Kassovitz) correctly suspects an ex-employee “Dr Laurène Balmes” (played by Léa Drucker): What made you work for them? She: My husband’s death in New York on September 11. In one of the planes. He: Why not DGSE? She: I felt closer to the Americans at the time. In the third episode, his boss “Henri Duflut” (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) tells his boss how he was looking for anyone with an interest in American culture or a connection to the U.S.: The first person on the list is Dr. Balmes…Her husband died in 9/11 in one of the planes… I’ll try to draw her out into the open. His boss is suspicious: Some people just like hamburgers. If you’re caught you’re fired. After “Henri” visits her office, she searches for bugs.
In the post-zombie-apocalypse Fear The Walking Dead women-centered episode “This Land Is My Land”, first shown on AMC 10/1/2017, written by Suzanne Heathcote and directed by Tribeca Film Festival Ephron Award winner Meera Menon, there was a surprising monologue reference: “Christine” (played by Linda Gehringer) to young leader “Alicia Clark” (played by Alicia Debnam-Carey) after she just mercy killed a hide-out’s worth of infected humans on an isolated ranch near the Mexican border: You know my husband was in the first tower when it fell. I tried calling his cell over and over. I must have called it a thousand times. Because then there was a chance, a chance I might hear him again. Even when you’re hopeless, hope is all you have. You’ve given us a few precious hours, there’s no shame in that. I met my second husband at a support group for the families. Jerry was a paramedic, a first responder. God, he used to make me laugh. They have to make you laugh, I mean good sex and all that, sure, but if they’re not funny, forget it. . .Jerry was convinced that the Towers falling were the beginning of the end, and I started to believe him. So when we heard about Otto and the ranch it just felt like a perfect fit ... We spent our last years hiding from the world and we could have been out there exploring it. Promise me you’ll never make decisions based on fear.
And then there’s the jokes:
Band Aid (2017) – in this poignant marital examination by filmmaker Zoe Lister-Jones, the husband’s mother “Shirley” (Susie Essman) keeps nagging her son for them to have children: At book club, they pass around so many photos it’s like 9/11 all over again. Her son chides her that is not in good taste – but she also doesn’t know the couple is having difficulty recovering from a miscarriage.
The Big Sick (2017) – the rom-com movie written by Emily V. Gordon & Pakistani-American comedian Kumail Nanjiani about their courtship some ten years previous, and played by Zoe Kazan and Nanjiani, includes several 9/11-related jokes. Parts of them are in various versions of the trailer, with Ray Romano as the father-in-law Terry Gordon from North Carolina by way of New York, and Adeel Akhtar as the older brother Naveed. When Gordon asks about 9/11, Nanjiani quips: How do I feel about 9/11? Angry- we lost 19 of our best guys. No, of course it was a tragedy.
While the responses of Saturday Night Live, hosting Mayor Giuliani and first responders, as well as Jon Stewart on The Daily Show and David Letterman on Late Night, host Brooke Gladstone of WNYC’s On the Media, per the podcast “spoke with Will Ferrell right after the attacks, and Marc Maron ten years later, about comedy in a post 9/11 world.”
Brockmire (on IFC) In the episode “Kangaroo Court” (first shown 4/12/2017), written by Joel Church-Cooper, the titular alcoholic now-minor league baseball sportscaster played by Hank Azaria is on one of his rants: ”Goofy pictures?” You're in goddamn lingerie kissing a woman dressed as a man…Well, of course I've seen them. Everybody's seen them. And why'd you have to be so goddamn attractive in them, especially after 9/11…9/11 has to do with everything. People are still fragile. They can't handle the confusing feelings brought on by the combination of your delicate features and muscular build.
Children’s Hospital (on Cartoon Network’s post-midnight Adult Swim), the scabrously funny parody of such TV shows as Grey's Anatomy, started right in on satirizing 9/11 in its 2nd episode “Monkeys, That’s What They Are”, first shown on 12/8/2008, written by series creator Rob Corddry. “Lt. Chance Briggs” (played by Nick Offerman) takes “Dr. Owen Mastro” (played by Rob Huebel) out for beers in his car: You have to come back to the force. Doctor: I can’t Briggs, not after what happened to us on 9/11. Cop: You have to get over 9/11. It was 7 years ago. Doctor: It almost seems like it, doesn’t it? Cop: No, it’s 2008. 9/11 was 7 years ago. Doctor: You sure it wasn’t 2002? I thought it happened in January. Cop: Forget it, just come back to the force.
In the first season of Community (on NBC), “Introduction to Film” (first shown October 1, 2009), written by Tim Hobert and Jon Pollack, “Abed Nadir” (played by Danny Pudi) says why his father is sending him to Greendale Community College: My dad will only pay for classes that will help me run the family business. 9/11 was pretty much 9/11 for the falafel business. So he can’t follow his dream to take filmmaking courses. In the election satire “Introduction to Political Science” (2nd Season, Episode 17, first shown February 24, 2011), written by Adam Countee, the students take turns presenting their campaign platforms: I’m Jeff Winger. I’m no politician, I’m just a fella. I think that beer should be cold, boots should be dusty. I think 9/11 was bad and freedom? Well, I that’s just a little bit better. To thunderous applause and an angry from his competing friend Annie Edison. In the satirical “Pillows and Blankets” (3rd Season, Episode 14, first shown April 5, 2012) written by Andy Bobrow, as a hilarious mockumentary of Ken Burns’s The Civil War, the ponderous narrator quotes “Jeff Winger” (played by Joel McHale) answering an accusation of “Ferris Buellerian tactics to delay school” a slanderous betrayal akin to 9/11, then admitting to it, amidst the giant pillow fight.
The Good Wife dealt in passing with the issue of humor and 9/11, in the 11/11/2012 “Anatomy of a Joke” episode, written by Craig Turk, Robert King, and Michelle King. A scatological comedienne in the mode of Sarah Silverman, “Therese Dodd” played by Christina Ricci, is appealing to the Federal Communications Commission not to fine her and the network for her on-air naked breast examination against breast cancer. But as she’s leaving a commissioner’s office, she notes a paperweight that’s a hunk of molten metal: First effort in shop class? The shocked gentleman notes that it came from 9/11. She adds brightly, yet trenchantly: Damn those terrorists and their paperweights. There was a sarcastic reference in the “Parallel Construction, Bitches” episode, written by Erica Shelton Kodish, first broadcast 3/9/2014, when rival federal agencies are arguing over a legal wiretap of the law firm’s phones. The DEA wants priority In case you didn’t know it, there’s still a Drug War going on in this country., but NSA snipes: The Drug War didn’t bring down the Twin Towers. DEA retorts: Oh God, do you guys love pulling that out. This has gone way beyond terrorism. . .If we were given the power you are. . !
On Showtime’s raunchy satire House of Lies, in the 2/24/2013 “Family Values” episode (first shown February 24 2013, written by Wesley S. Nickerson III, horn dog management consultant “Clyde Oberholt” (played by Ben Schwartz) annoyingly came on to his co-worker’s bikini-clad girlfriend Sarah (played by Jenny Slate) pool side at a corporate retreat. He offers to apply sun block on her breasts: in case you forget. “Sarah”: No one forgets their tits. Clyde: Never forget…they’re like 9/11. He helpfully adds that’s a pun on her “Twin Towers”. The mocking continued into the 1/26/2014 episode “Boom”, written by David Walpert. The dumb-seeming new member of the consulting team “Benita Spire” (played by Lauren Lapkus) complains about increasing NSA surveillance and data mining: I’m on the horns of a dilemma. I definitely love my country. I definitely don’t want another 9-1-1. “Doug Guggenheim” (played by Josh Lawson): What 911? It’s 9/11. Devout Christian “J.C. Butterman” (played by Brad Schmidt): A lot of people died, no matter what you call it. “Doug”: Hey – a guy who once dated my aunt worked at Cantor Fitzgerald so don’t you give me the high hat!
On MTV’s high school comedy, Awkward in “That Girl Strikes Again”, by Todd Woldman, first shown in May 2013, obnoxious “Sadie Saxton” (played by Molly Tarlov) to a guy who acknowledges the girl she’s looking for is his girlfriend: We were best friends until 911. He and her friends double-take. She goes on blithely: The 9-11 horseback riding competition. . .She was a total 12–14.
On the crass, NYC-set, but Hollywood-filmed, 2 Broke Girls (on CBS) 5/13/2013 episode “And the Window of Opportunity”, written by series creator Michael Patrick King, a health inspector complained about a lack of bathrooms at Ground Zero and flirted with the smarmy diner proprietor to use theirs. Let alone the hair-netted cook was sarcastically accused of looking like Bin Laden’s ghost.
On the satirical sketch comedy Inside Amy Schumer, “Terrible People” (first shown on Comedy Central 6/25/2013), Amy and a guy are waiting on line at a downtown coffee shop. Amy and a guy (I’m trying to ID the actor) are waiting on line at a crowded downtown coffee shop. He: Freedom Tower is, like, really coming along, huh? God, I can't believe it's been 12 years since 9/11. . .Time really flies. She is distracted: I can't remember, do they take a long time here? . . He: I was actually supposed to be meeting my girlfriend at the World Trade Center that day. I mean, I'm on, like, Walker Street and I hear this crazy noise, but, like, I wasn't thinking it was anything bad, but then I look up. But Amy babbles on about the mayo order: I'm like, why did I act like I didn't want it? But I don't have to go and talk to them. I am so present and here with you right now. . .Okay, so what's going on in the story? What were you?. . .Keep going. He: The fireball. . .Yeah, so for hours, I'm like, calling my girlfriend and-- I can't get through to her. Amy is distracted by a possible sighting of a minor celebrity: Oh, sorry, what's happening? He: Yeah, I'm calling my girlfriend. And I can't-- Like, I can't reach her, 'cause all the cell phones are jammed and everyone is trying to call-- She: Verizon. It's Verizon, right? They cannot get it together. It's been like 130 years, like-- Like, help us out. Help us make a call, right? Verizon, it's like, run a business. Can we stand over there? I'm scared I'm not gonna hear when they call my name and I want to keep an eye on my sandwich. He: It's loud over here. She: You thought she was dead? He: Yeah, so finally, at like 8:00 p.m., my girlfriend calls me, but she's so hysterical, I can barely understand a word she's saying-- Amy interrupts so she can identify the loud song that’s playing: Yeah, wait, speaking of that, can you just stop talking for, like, one second? He: Anyway, so she made it out, but, like as they were running, they heard these loud noises and they realized that it was a-- Amy is totally distracted by her mis-ordered sandwich and discard the lunch order in disgust: Why is my life the worst life? God, I'm in the worst mood now! He: So where were you on 9/11? She: I don't remember. In the 2nd season episode “A Chick Who Can Hang” episode (1st shown 4/15/2014), she gives an inspiring speech to her fast food restaurant manager on making a decision between fries and apple slices: Yes, JJ, apple slices. That's the post 9/11 world we live in now. Unless you change the dialog If anyone can do it, you can.
On the sitcom satire Garfunkel and Oates (on IFC), in the season finale “Maturity”, first shown 9/25/2014, “Kate Oates” (played by Kate Micucci) is preparing for her kazoo parade by ironing her Uncle Sam costume. She misunderstands her partner’s concern: Don’t worry – I had it dry cleaned after 9/11.
Comedian Jim Norton remembered the late Joan Rivers in The New York Times Magazine, 12/28/2014, “I went and saw her at the Cutting Room here in the city. And it’s the only time I ever watched her perform live. A hundred people was all it sat; it was a small room, and she’d work on her material. She had a few notes on the floor, just bouncing around ideas. And — I’ve said this before she died — it’s the most barbaric set I have ever seen a comedian do. And I mean more than Pryor, more than Kinison. It was AIDS jokes, it was 9/11, and I mean really, really harsh jokes. I loved her so much for that. There was not one moment when you watched her where it’s like, Oh, she feels bad about this. It was so pure.”
On TV Land’s Younger, the 40-year-old “Liza Miller” (played by Sutton Foster) re-constructs her life to pretend to be 26-year-old “new Liza” in order to get a publishing job, in “Liza Sows Her Oates”, written by series producer Darren Star. She maps out her new time line and her best friend “Maggie” (played by Debi Mazar) asks: What’s the connection between 9/11 and first hand job? Answer: Both happened while I was on a school bus.
On FX’s Married episode “Aftershocks”, written by Samantha McIntyre (first shown 7/23/2005), the lead wife’s brittle friend “Stacey” (played by Michaela Watkins), foreshadows her depression: I haven’t had a real job since 9/11.
On IFC’s Maron, “Mad Marc” episode, written by Sivert Glarum and Michael Jamin (1st shown 6/11/2015), stand-up comic “Kumar Sanjani” (played by Vik Sahay) challenges Jewish Marc Maron, who is going through anger management, for calling him too “soft”: Do you think that I've had it easy?! Is that better? Is that a better word "easy"?! I grew up in Pakistan, surrounded by thieves and terrorists and religious zealots, and my mom, you should meet my mom! Do you think you could survive that?! No, you couldn't. And then I hit the job market in 2001. Do you recall what else might have happened in 2001? Maron hesitates in shame: 9-9/11? “Kumar”: Pardon me? “Marc”: 9/11. “Kumar”: Bingo! Yes! 9/11! Douche bag! All right. I'm not soft! You asshole!
In Louis C.K.: Live at the Comedy Store (special shown on FX, May 2015, Emmy nominated): America is like “a terrible girlfriend to the rest of the world” -- “Because when somebody hurts America she remembers it forever- ‘It’s because of 9/11, asshole!’” He extended that to torture and bombing, “But if she does anything bad it’s like ‘What? I didn’t do anything!’” He had discussed humor and 9/11 earlier in his stand-up routine.
On 2/12/2017, SNL mocked the seriousness of this year’s Super Bowl commercials, in a sketch of two ad agencies competing for the Cheetos account [also a sly reference to the 45th president]. As the executives continue to wax enthusiastic over the pretentious suggestions of their competitor, ideas that mimicked actual ads, the loser tries out this idea: We open on the Twin Towers… but the Cheetos execs immediately protest “No!” as that’s going too far.
9/11 In Song
Since 1989, I went to summer concerts in the plazas of the WTC and World Financial Center, but by the summer of 2001 they had finally gotten the stage placement and sound balance right; that summer I was there three nights a week. So I very much associate the Twin Towers with music. I still avoid looking at Ground Zero as I have to walk around it to get to the replacement concerts downtown and am reminded as I have to walk three blocks out of my way to cross West St. to and from the same subway station as the pedestrian bridge from the WTC to the WFC no longer exists. For sounds surrounding the WTC, including the concerts I went to, is public radio's sonic memorial. Music excerpts are included under stories/cultural programs in public radio's collaboration on "Understanding America After 9/11."
In the documentary Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda, Japanese, Brooklyn Heights resident Ryuichi Sakamoto shows the photographs he took of the burning towers with a flock of birds flying around them in a contrast with nature, the ashy aftermath, and the numerous memorials in Lower Manhattan. Surprisingly, he says there was no music heard for a week – until he saw a young man play a beautiful version of “Yesterday” in Union Square, and he could return to music, with a focus on peace, anti-nuclear and environmental advocacy as he has faced his own mortality. (preview at 2018 Tribeca Film Festival)
On the 15th Anniversary, Willie Nile posted on Facebook a home video of him playing “Heaven Help the Lonely” there on 7/16/1991, with the dedication “Sending this video out in honor of all those we lost September 11, 2001. Rest in peace all the innocent ones, including dear friend and great bass player Jeff Hardy. . .Jeff worked as an executive chef on the 101st floor of the north tower.” Though I couldn’t see myself sitting on a chair, I’m sure I was there.
While the rest of the country was cheering Toby Keith’s militaristic revenge anthem “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue”, and Steve Earle was sensitively imagining how the American Lindh got caught up with the Taliban, in "John Walker’s Blues" on his Jerusalem album, here's notable musical tributes that I feel accurately reflect New Yorker's reactions (unlike Alan Jackson's Middle American fiction “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” on his Drive album):
The lyrics of "Gates of Hell" by ex-cop Chris Byrne with his band Seanchai (recorded on their CD I [shamrock] New York).
The lyrics of Dan Bern's Woody Guthrie-esque description of "New York 911." and the accompanying song America, Hometown of the World." (both of which he performed on 9/25/01 at WFUV in the Bronx"). In 2010 he posted a performance of a revised version" on YouTube.
For what it was like for New Yorkers in the days after, listen to Loudon Wainwright near the beginning of his October 19, 2001 interview on NPR's Fresh Air (the interview seems to be accessible by Quick Time in the archives but I can't get it to work).
For New York songwriters tribute downloadable CD. Participating musician Suzanne Vega also includes images of 9/11 in her 2007 CD Beauty and Crime, but the main character of the record as a whole is New York City.
Bruce Springsteen's The Rising CD as a musical evocation of the Portraits in Grief bios of the victims in the New York Times, reviewed in my Best of 2002 selections. It was very emotional when he performed those songs at the Meadowlands and at Shea Stadium at the two concerts I attended.
For lyrics to related songs by John McCutcheon "Follow the Light" and "Not In My Name".
Elliott Murphy's "Ground Zero" (live version from 9/11/2002 on downloadable MP3) effectively captures the feelings behind the images of those posters up around Lower Manhattan immediately after.
Lucy Kaplansky's "Land of the Living" (from her album The Red Thread) may not be factually correct about that day, but speaks to the feelings in our diverse and scared city that day.
Holly Near was prescient on her 2000 CD Edge with "I Ain't Afraid" though she now sings an edited version with its chorus of:
I ain't afraid of your Yahweh
I ain't afraid of your Allah
I ain't afraid of your Jesus
I'm afraid of what you do in the name of your God.
Dayna Kurtz in "Day of Atonement, 2001" (scroll down on Another Black Feather) sorrowfully links that sentiment with sadness at the revenge that has been wrought. Ian Hunter has a similar feeling in tribute to a cousin who died in the WTC in "Soul of America" (scroll down for the lyrics) from his 2007 Shrunken Heads CD:
The Alamo shuddered, Pearl Harbor as well/The Statue of Liberty wept as they fell/And echoes were heard in the Liberty Bell/When they came for the soul of America/And the Manhattan skyline blew my mind the first time/We went down to the scene of the crime/Lookin' for the soul of America. . . /There's souls in the city, there's souls in the sand.
Eric Nicholas's "Election Day" (click on political and scroll down) expresses NY'ers resentment of political abuse of 9/11. After all the only states actually attacked by terrorists voted blue.
Rodney Crowell's "The Obscenity Prayer (Give It To Me)" on The Outsider" uses WTC as an example in a greed rant that's very like Phil Ochs's "Love Me I'm A Liberal": "Give to me my Aspen winter/Sorry bout the world trade center."
Willie Nile's "Cell Phones Ringing (In the Pockets of the Dead)", from his Streets of New York CD/DVD, was inspired by the terrorist attack on the Madrid train station, with 9/11 resonance.
Jack Johnson in concert performances says he wrote "Times Like These", from On and On (in 2003), a couple of days after 9/11 and thinks of NYC whenever he sings it.
CNN’s 2017 docu-series Soundtracks: Songs That Defined History included an episode ”How music helped us heal after 9/11”, produced by Maro Chermayeff first shown 4/27/2017, which focused mostly on “comfort” songs about New York and the U.S. rather than songs about the attacks: “Fragile” by Sting; “Sound of Silence” by Paul Simon; “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge; “New York State of Mind” by Billy Joel; “Boot Scooting Boogie” and “Only in America” by Brooks & Dunn; and “God Bless the USA” by Lee Greenwood, with “The Rising” by Bruce Springsteen, Alan Jackson’s “Where Where You (When The World Stopped Turning)”, “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” by Toby Keith directly referencing 9/11, while the Dixie Chicks’ “Travelin’ Soldier” and “Not Ready to Make Nice” instead caught the zeitgeist of the resulting war and pro and con political reactions. However, I have found these CNN docu-series so nostalgic and superficial, compared to quality TV documentary-series that I haven’t watched this series, which previewed at 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.
Now there's songs about attending memorials, like ”Kingdom Come”, by Judy Collins, which she performs on Wildflower Festival. Tom Paxton explains why he wrote ”The Bravest”, on the CD Looking for the Moon: “As I sat and watched the horror unfold on 9/11, I could smell the acrid smoke drifting south from the Pentagon. There was a never ending line of cars heading away from Washington. With the rest of the world I watched the towers come down and among the victims were 343 New York firemen. I'll never be able to look at a fireman or woman again without knowing that he or she would lay down their lives for me without ever knowing my name. We can never thank them enough.” As one of his topical “Short Shelf Life Songs”, a download is available. Celtic musician Liz Carroll recorded a lovely cover version that was played on WFUV" Sunday Irish music program, but I can’t find if it appears on an album.
But here's a rant on music tributes
The aftermath of the attacks includes the war in Iraq and anti-war songs:
Luka Bloom's "I Am Not At War with Anyone" as performed by school children, and the voice of God through Hamell on Trial's "Don't Kill" from his Tough Love CD.
I hadn't picked up that Green Day's "Wake Me Up When September Ends" was about 9/11 when I first heard their rock opera American Idiot and put it on my Best of 2004 selections, but the poignant, seven minute video shows the connection with soldiers today, and may do even more so in the theatrical version.
And so many related songs from the troops’ POV:
Richard Thompson’s "Dad’s Gonna Kill Me", from his Sweet Warrior CD
Black 47’s "Downtown Baghdad Blues", from their Bittersweet compilation CD, a theme they expanded on into a full album Iraq.
Neil Young, who sang a tribute to the passengers on Flight 93 in “Let’s Roll on his 2002 Are YouPassionate? album, compiles Living With War protest song videos and Songs of the Times, some of which are seen in CSNY: Déjá Vu.
So this was all on my mind when I turned to look at the new “Freedom Tower” on 8/22/2015, when the annual Blues & BBQ was held for the first time at Hudson River Park’s Pier 26 in Tribeca:
9/11 In Literature
Newsweek in an unattributed 10th anniversary summation of “What We Read” about 9/11: “But not one novel can yet claim to have captured that moment and the ensuing years. . .Instead, it is nonfiction, including such now classics as The Looming Tower [by Lawrence Wright], Ghost Wars [: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 by Steve Coll], and The Forever War [by Joe Haldeman], that speaks to our unceasing attempt to understand the messy realities of the word that engulfed us. Our Zolas and Dickenses are our war correspondents and journalists.”
At the 15 th anniversary, Alexandra Alter reported in The New York Times, “A Wave of 9/11 Novels Seeks a New Audience: the Young Reader”. She cited: Love Is the Higher Law by David Levithan (Knopf, 2009); Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story written by Nora Raleigh Baskin (Atheneum, 2016); Somewhere Among by Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu (Atheneum, 2016); All We Have Left by Wendy Mills (Bloomsbury, 2016); The Memory of Things by Gae Polisner (St. Martin’s Griffin , 2016); and Towers Falling written by Jewell Parker Rhodes (Little Brown, 2016).
Opened on Broadway March 2017: Canadian musical Come From Away, after runs in La Jolla CA, Seattle, and Washington, D.C., written by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, is about passengers diverted to Gander, Newfoundland after planes were grounded on 9/11. On NY1’s Theater Talk, first shown 3/25/2017 which integrated the channel’s footage from 9/11, the creators were careful to describe it as a “9/12 musical”. Not having seen the show, a key reference to 9/11 for sthe general public has been promotion of the song “Me and the Sky”, notable for the stirring performance by Jenn Colella as “Beverley”, a groundbreaking female pilot:
Suddenly I'm flying Paris to Dallas
Across The Atlantic and feeling calm
When suddenly someone on air to air traffic says
"At 8:46 there's been a terrorist action"
And the one thing I loved more than anything was used as the bomb
Suddenly I'm in a hotel
Suddenly something has died
Suddenly there's something in between me and the sky
Published March 2015: Small Mercies by Eddie Joyce (Viking)
In “Staten Island Helps Define a Native’s First Novel” by Rachel Swarns, in The New York Times, 4/13/2015: “So Mr. Joyce populated his novel with working-class and middle-class people like his parents, his aunts and uncles, his friends and neighbors. And in his tale of an Irish-Italian family grappling with the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he brings to life an island that is often slighted and overlooked in the city and its literature.”
Published January 2014: Andrew’s Brain by E.L. Doctorow (Random House)
In The Wall Street Journal interview with Barbara Chai, 1/6/2014: Q: “Those Sept. 11 scenes are especially vivid. How did you distill them? [A:] When 9/11 happened, a little bit afterwards, a man named David Finn, who is quite a photographer but also runs a public relations agency, said he'd gone around taking pictures of the aftermath, of little shrines on the sidewalk and in front of the firehouses. I wrote an accompanying text to his photographs and the book was called Lamentation: 9/11. That stayed in my mind so that some of that comes out [in Andrew's Brain]. I resisted writing about that for many years because you don't want to turn it into fiction. You don't want to exploit it. It's the same when critics have said you cannot write about the Holocaust in any way that's commensurate with what actually happened and the monstrousness of it. And if you do write about it, you're somehow reducing it. I always accepted that idea and stayed away from that until I wrote City of God. This occurred to me when I found myself at this point in [Andrew's Brain] that I could do this now. Enough time has passed. And I can do it so that it's commensurate with the awfulness of what happened. I hope that it's worked.”
Published June 2013: Seven American Deaths and Disasters by Kenneth Goldsmith (PowerHouse Books)
In The New York Times, 6/18/2013, “The Words We Heard As Horrors Sank In: ‘Seven American Deaths and Disasters’ Transcribes The News” by Dwight Garner: “But mostly he is an adept literary magpie. He concludes his section on Sept. 11 with morning news from Chinatown, news that somehow captures this book’s horrific yet eerily quotidian tone. As the world sits in smoking rubble a few blocks away, a reporter says: ‘They’re shopping, they’re ... they’re ... they’re buying their fish. Uh, it’s ... it’s as if this little corner of New York City was totally unaffected, but you know it’s at the top of their minds. They’re talking about it. They’re pointing up in the air periodically and they’re continuing with their card games. So it’s, uh, just a little snapshot of, uh, a piece of New York as they deal with this immense tragedy.’”
Published May 1, 2012: Fountain, Ben, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk,
National Book Critics Circle Award, L.A. Times Book Award, and finalist, National Book Award -- Note: Amidst Super Bowl hoopla, more and more Texans show their support for the decorated 19-year-old who was caught by a Fox News embed in the midst of an instinctually heroic capture of a bridge in Iraq, at the cost of his sergeant mentor, the references to 9/11 are humorously pointed. Like the Abilene matron saying that watching the footage: “was just like nina leven. I couldn’t stop watching those planes crash into the towers. . .I was just so happy that day, I was relieved more than anything, like we were finally paying them back for nina leven.” A young blonde too admired the footage: “It was just like nina leven all over again. I sat down and cut on the news and got the weirdest feeling I was watching a movie on cable.” “’You guys rock’ says her husband, a handsome, strapping fellow in the Patagonia parka and heirloom-quality cowboy boots. ‘It felt damn good to see us finally getting some payback.’” Another at the party: “‘I’ll say this for nina leven,’ a man confides to him, ‘it shut the feminists up.” Another: “We aren’t barbarians. We didn’t attack on nina leven. Or at Pearl Harbor for that matter.” Billy’s now vocally disabled father is a DJ-turned conservative talk radio host who “The morning after 9-11 Ray was on the air advocating ‘nuclear cleansing’ of certain capitals, playing ‘Bomb Bomb Iran’.” The head of the Dallas Cowboys sounds like a politician, as he considers investing in a movie about the Bravo soldiers achievements – while paying them bupkis: “Ladies and gentlemen, nine-eleven was our national wake-up call. It took a tragedy of that magnitude for us realize there’s a battle going on for the souls of men.” (A recommended selection of our Fiction Book Club.)
Disgraced, a 2012 play by Ayad Akhtar that came to Broadway in 2015, was awarded the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for its portrayal of Muslim-Americans dealing with life post-9/11.
Published August 2011: Amy Waldman on her novel The Submission (Farrar, Straus and Giroux):
In The Wall Street Journal, 8/13/2011, “Truth in Imagined Things”: “My new novel tells the story of an anonymous competition to design a 9/11 memorial. A Muslim-American, Mohammad ‘Mo’ Khan, wins. Mo himself, obviously, had no historical precedent (I had completed my first draft well before the controversy over a proposed mosque near Ground Zero). Yet I came to believe that he had historical analogues. I studied those individuals to see how their temperaments shaped—and were re-shaped—by their predicaments. Mo is an architect—prideful, stubborn, even arrogant about his work.” She cites Jorn Utzon, as a foreign architect of the Sydney Opera House, Maya Lin, as the Asian-American designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in D.C., and Alfred Dreyfus in France. . . being certain you are right—as Dreyfus was, as Mo Khan is—can make it harder to convince people that you actually are.” In an interview with Pieter M. van Hattem in WSJ, 8/16/2011, “Reimagining Post-9/11 Through Fiction”, the former reporter who covered 9/11 for The New York Times, put her book in somewhat more of that context: “On the process and technical work, I found it much more challenging than journalism. But emotionally, it was easier for me in that I wasn’t writing about real people. I found it very hard after 9/11 to call someone and ask, ‘what’s it like now that your son has died?’ Compared to that, sitting in my room inventing was nothing.”
Published Spring 2010: A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan has a final chapter that envisions Ground Zero in 2021 and how the generation born after 9/11 will perceive and use the space. (A recommended selection of our Fiction Book Club)
Published Fall 2009:
Home Boy by H.M. Naqvi - about being Muslim in U.S. post-9/11, inspired by his brother's experiences.
Motoko Rich in The New York Times 9/2/2009 describes A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore as taking "place in the aftermath of 9/11, with the threat of terrorism and war hovering over a liberal university town described as 'the Athens of the Midwest.'" Jonathem Lethem in his 8/27/2009 review in The Times cites: "In a 2005 interview, Moore made an allusion to this 'post-9/11' aspect of the work that grew into this novel: 'I’m . . . interested in the way that the workings of governments and elected officials intrude upon the lives and minds of people who feel generally safe from the immediate effects of such workings.'”
Published May 2008:
On Amazon “Question: How is the world of Netherland particular to the United States after 9/11? Joseph O'Neill: The story takes place in the aftermath of 9/11. One of the things it does is try to evoke the disorientation and darkness of that time, which we only emerged from with the election of President Obama.”
Published May 2007: Don DeLillo, Falling Man, (Scribner, 246 pages) The 5/2/2007 review by Adam Kirsch in The New York Sun cites additional 9/11 novels by: John Updike (The Terrorist), Thomas Pynchon, Philip Roth, Salman Rushdie and Ian McEwan. And I’m way behind in noting more and more.
Published Fall 2006: First Tragedy, Then Chicanery - reviewed in The Wall Street Journal by Kyle Smith, September 8, 2006 - The Zero By Jess Walter (2006, Regan Books, 326 pages) (fair use excerpt) - "Are you ready for '9/11: The Comedy'? . . .The Zero lacks any ritual sense of piety or sentimental tribute to the usual 9/11 truisms. Indeed, it recasts many of those involved in the cleanup effort -- from the street cops and FDNY "smokers" to the brass -- as cynical opportunists who brag that they've never bedded so many women and fight about which celebrities they get to escort around Ground Zero. The story also metaphorically paints U.S. attempts to crack terror networks as blundering at best, morally dubious at worst. But the book's brilliant ironies, its deadpan truths, its insider smarts and its everyguy hero may lead even skeptical readers to forgive the irreverent point of view. The Zero could end up as the Catch-22 of 9/11. . .
"Many writers published obituaries for irony in 2001; in reality, it merely took a 20-minute coffee break. Mr. Walter is among the first to diagram the tragedy-into-kitsch machine that many of us have stumbled across ourselves. It was only weeks after the attacks that Manhattan sidewalk vendors began selling watercolor paintings of Ground Zero decorated with crosses and American flags -- this century's Elvis on black velvet. My own experience was typical: A friend from Los Angeles stopped by my New York office on a whirlwind weekend with her boyfriend. 'First we're going to Ground Zero," she told me, "then we're going to see Chicago!' . . .Though the idea that it was patriotic to keep New York tourism dollars flowing wasn't absurd, Mr. Walter takes it apart hilariously. The Boss, referring to a cheesy off-Broadway show, says: 'We will fight back even if it means every American sits through Tony and Tina's goddamn Wedding!' [OK, we went to see Urinetown the Friday after 9/11 out of a feeling of patriotic support for the coming back of Broadway.] . . .In a 'beautiful ghost bar,' rescue workers loot bottles of top-shelf booze, each time leaving behind a joke tip of a buck. News trucks go 'grief fishing,' cops strut in new federally supplied satin jackets 'like a slow-pitch softball team' and volunteers deliver heart-warming loads of the superfluous. . .It's not the emergency response but the frenzy to leverage the attacks into something -- cocktail-party prestige, an appearance on a box of 'First Responder' cereal, an excuse to beat people up -- that draws Mr. Walter's barbs."
Published Summer 2006: Claire Messud, The Emperor's Children (Knopf, 448 pages) - She explains “How Sept. 11 Invaded Her Novel” about New Yorkers in this 9/8/2006 NPR interview with Roseanne Pereira.
Published Spring 2006: Martin Amis, The Last Days of Mohammed Atta, a short story, first in The New Yorker 4/24/2006, then reprinted among his collection of essays The Second Plane: September 11: Terror and Boredom (Knopf, 2008), along with "In the Palace of the End", imagining the life of the double of Saddam Hussein’s son, who was later portrayed in the 2011 film The Devil’s Double.
After a Long Wait, Literary Novelists Address 9/11 by Edward Wyatt, from The New York Times, March 7, 2005 (may be more than a fair use excerpt)
. . .After three years of near silence about the attacks of Sept. 11, the literary world has begun to grapple with the meanings and consequences of the worst terrorist attack ever to happen on American soil. . .
In Windows on the World (Miramax), Frederic Beigbeder imagines a divorced father's breakfast with his sons at the restaurant on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center. In The Good Priest's Son (Scribner), Reynolds Price tells of an art conservator whose flight back to the United States is diverted to Nova Scotia on the morning of Sept. 11, while his apartment in Lower Manhattan is blasted with debris.
In Ian McEwan's Saturday (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday), saturated with a sense of dread that makes any calamity into a possible act of terrorism, a father and daughter debate whether Iraq had anything to do with 9/11. The Writing on the Wall, by Lynne Sharon Schwartz (Counterpoint), portrays a librarian whose cloistered world is ripped apart as she walks across the Brooklyn Bridge and sees a plane hit the trade center. And in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Houghton Mifflin), by Jonathan Safran Foer, an indefatigable 9-year-old searches the city for a lock that fits a key he found in the closet of his father, who died in the attack. . .[Reviewed by our Fiction Book Club].
And while the attacks have already found a place in a handful of mysteries, spy novels and other works of mass-market fiction, only now are books being published that some literary critics are saying take the substantial risks needed to give them staying power.
The delay of more than three years reflects both the logistics of producing a bound volume of a lengthy manuscript and the more subtle, complex process of creating a novel.
"Some art forms, like poems or the drawings of Art Spiegelman, lend themselves to a more immediate treatment of an event like 9/11," said James Shapiro, a professor of English at Columbia University who has taught the "great books" curriculum there. "But a novel really has to do more. A novelist has to sustain a story that feels right to people who actually lived through the event, who have a sense of what really happened. It has to be more than just a recounting of the event."
By no means is that an easy task, of course. Joyce Carol Oates, the author and critic whose recent short story The Mutants dealt with a woman trapped in her Lower Manhattan apartment on 9/11, said novels might not be the art form best able to address the events of that day.
"This does seem to be about the right time for these novels to be coming out," Ms. Oates said. "But the greatest art form to deal with this might be film, because it can capture the hallucinatory nature of the long hours of that siege." . . .
Other 9/11-related books, like Windows on the World and The Third Brother, by Nick McDonell, also attempt literal representations of scenes from Sept. 11. Some authors take a more figurative approach: Mr. McEwan's novel, which takes place long after 9/11, opens with a cataclysmic event that is assumed to be the work of terrorists.
Windows on the World, coming this month, has already been a best seller in Mr. Beigbeder's home country, France, despite the tensions between France and the United States over the aftermath of 9/11.
Of the attacks, Mr. Beigbeder (pronounced big-bid-AY) recalled: "Many people here said, 'It's their turn. They deserve it.' No one deserves something like 9/11. But if a catastrophe happens, we have to make it useful, so that we can try to make it never happen again. We have to understand it, and that is why I wrote this novel."
Using fiction and imaginary characters can sometimes make an overwhelming event feel human. But with so many people personally connected to those who were killed on Sept. 11, taking a reader inside a World Trade Center tower, as Mr. Beigbeder has, can evoke hostile reactions.
"I've had people say it is really obscene and disgusting to do that," he said. "But that is the idea of writing fiction about history. It is always shocking. We should not be afraid of writing about what is important." Mr. McDonell, the 21-year-old author whose acclaimed first novel, Twelve, was published when he was a teenager, said he knew almost immediately after 9/11 that he would make it the subject of a book.
"I started taking notes the day after," Mr. McDonell said. "I spent a bunch of time downtown. I walked around the site, and I talked to everybody I know who'd been down there."
He also read the 9/11 commission report, as did Mr. Beigbeder. And when he retreated to Hawaii for three months last year to write the novel, he found himself spending a lot of time talking to soldiers who were preparing to ship out to Iraq.
Both authors say they were warned away from the topic, by friends, editors and others. Morgan Entrekin, the publisher of Grove/Atlantic, said that in Mr. McDonell's case, "I was a little worried about him trying to take on that subject."
"I feared it would overwhelm him a little bit," Mr. Entrekin said. "He's so young - 2001 is ages ago to him." But the resulting book,- written in three parts, with the middle section set on Sept. 11, as the lead character speeds downtown in search of his brother - is "incredibly powerful," said Mr. Entrekin, who admits he is a bit biased. . .
With 9/11, Mr. Shapiro said, "somebody has to come along and see something that happened at that moment in a way that is new to the people who breathed it, who felt it and who saw it again and again on television."
The Intertwining Legacy of Terror Attacks and Fiction by Caryn James, The New York Times, August 3, 2005 (this may be more than a fair use excerpt)
Written after 9/11 but before 7/7 meant a thing, Ian McEwan's novel Saturday creates a hero who looks out his window, sees London "waiting for its bomb," and worriedly thinks "rush hour will be a convenient time."
Today this fiction may seem as prophetic as Chris Cleave's Incendiary published in Britain on 7/7 itself, in which suicide bombers kill hundreds of Londoners in a soccer stadium. But both authors agree that their plots are based on sheer common sense and the awful fulfillment of our fears.
"How could we have forgotten that this was always going to happen?" Mr. McEwan wrote in an Op-Ed piece the day after the London subway and bus bombings. (His article appeared simultaneously in The New York Times and The Guardian of London.) That same day Mr. Cleave wrote on his Web site, "I don't think my book is unusually prescient - we all knew this was coming."
Faced with such inevitability and the persistent specter of terrorism, some of the most ambitious novelists in London and New York are not addressing the 9/11 attacks themselves but their intangible legacy, what Mr. McEwan in Saturday calls "the general unease" and Michael Cunningham in Specimen Days sees as a change that shook New York's "dreams of itself." Along with Patrick McGrath's Ghost Town: Tales of Manhattan Then and Now (coming in September), these writers are depicting how the air has changed in cities living with terror: the jittery feeling that comes and goes; characters who think they are adjusting, only to lose their grip on reason. . .
The impact of terrorism is more direct in Incendiary (Alfred A. Knopf), narrated by a woman whose husband and small son have been killed by the stadium bomb. The novel is shaped as her letter to Osama bin Laden, a form that is both an attention-getting trick (it's hard to ignore a book that begins "Dear Osama") and an effective literary device. This unnamed woman has been driven mad by grief; it becomes increasingly clear that the letter is a symptom of her derangement.
Mr. Cleave's satirical touches don't always blend smoothly with his narrator's anguish, but Incendiary is stunning in its portrayal of a city living with terror. Like 9/11, the stadium bombing in May instantly gets its nickname, "May Day." Bodies are not identified for weeks. And the way residents are told to carry on with ordinary life is the most familiar detail of all. A Scotland Yard official says, "We win by persuading the Brits" to stand up on the Underground "and ask Does this bag belong to anyone?"
The New York writers, looking back on the attack on their city, take a longer historical view. Different though they are stylistically, Mr. Cunningham's poetic Specimen Days and Mr. McGrath's psychologically resonant Ghost Town share a remarkably similar structure: each is composed of three stories set in three different historical periods, suggesting that terror and its shock waves are nothing new.
The first section of Specimen Days (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25) takes place in the 19th century and the final section is set in the 22nd. The frighteningly plausible middle story, "The Children's Crusade," deals with contemporary terrorized New York. (Where Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway was Mr. Cunningham's blueprint for The Hours here Walt Whitman's poetry is a touchstone for three traumatized characters.)
The heroine of "The Children's Crusade," a New York City police psychologist named Cat, takes a call from a boy who later straps a bomb to himself and blows up a stranger on a downtown street, "right by Ground Zero." Afterward Cat sees three girls pause to look in a store window but quickly move on. "Were they thinking of being showered with broken glass?" she wonders. "The danger that has infected the air for the last few years was stirred up now; people could smell it." Her own grief, predating 9/11, is stirred up too; after a second and possibly a third child suicide bomber appears, Cat becomes as unhinged as the narrator of Incendiary.
Similarly, the contemporary section of Ghost Town (Bloomsbury, $16.95) concerns a psychiatrist who becomes as unsettled as her patient. Mr. McGrath, the author of exceptional, darkly psychological novels like Asylum sets his first story in the 18th century, when the narrator looks back to the American Revolution, and the second story in the 19th century. The final section, "Ground Zero," takes place in the weeks after 9/11, when the psychiatrist treats a longtime patient who suddenly falls in love with a prostitute. . . .
The political always comes down to the personal, yet the long historical view isn't necessarily comforting. Many of these novels envision a fortress-like future in which civil liberties are severely curtailed. The extraterrestrials and androids in the final section of Specimen Days are tracked by electronic surveillance not many steps ahead of today's. In Incendiary, after the stadium bombing, Muslims working on planes or in hospitals are fired as security risks, and London is put under nighttime curfew.
The characters in all these affecting, post-terror novels are not only grieving some personal loss; they are also mourning their vanished, secure way of life.
Dark Day, Big City: On McInerney's New Book, a Blanket of Dust from The New York Times, by Edward Wyatt, August 22, 2005 (make be more than a fair use excerpt)
. . . Alfred A. Knopf will publish The Good Life Jay McInerney's first novel in more than six years. Its cover, designed by Chip Kidd, shows a photograph by Quyen Tran of dishes covered with concrete dust. Subtly peeking through the lettering of the title and the author's name is a faint image of one of the World Trade Center towers on fire.
On the spine is an ash-coated drinking glass, half full, or half empty. And on the back cover, a platoon of shirts, neatly arranged on hangers in a store, draped in the soot that enveloped Lower Manhattan when the twin towers collapsed.
Mr. Kidd, who has designed book jackets for Knopf and other publishers for 20 years, said he immediately thought of such an image when he first heard about the subject of Mr. McInerney's book.
Set in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, The Good Life traces the story of Luke, who is late for a breakfast meeting at the World Trade Center that Tuesday morning, as well as those of several characters first seen in Mr. McInerney's 1992 novel, "Brightness Falls."
"I originally thought of that shot of the tea set covered in the ash from 9/11," Mr. Kidd said, referring to a photograph by Edward Keating published in The New York Times on Sept. 20, 2001. The photograph, taken inside a Cedar Street apartment that faced the World Trade Center, was part of a package of photographs that won a Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography for The Times in 2002.
Mr. Kidd asked researchers at Knopf to accumulate images from ground zero for consideration, and they found Quyen Tran's photograph and the others in the collection Here Is New York. The collection, published by Scalo Publishers, was culled from a storefront photo gallery that sprouted on Spring Street in SoHo soon after 9/11. . .
One of the few recent novels that made an explicit visual reference to 9/11 was Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, published earlier this year by Houghton Mifflin. Included in the book is a sequence of photographs of a body falling from one of the trade center's towers. The photographs are printed in reverse order, however, so when the pictures are flipped through, they create an effect, as imagined by the child narrator, of the body moving upward, away from death.
One other book that came close to using a recognizable 9/11 image on the cover was The Writing on the Wall, by Lynne Sharon Schwartz, published in May by Counterpoint Press. When early copies of the novel were distributed to reviewers, the cover included a photograph of bouquets of flowers stuck in a chain-link fence, evoking the impromptu memorials that sprang up after 9/11.
David Steinberger, the chief executive of the Perseus Book Group, which owns Counterpoint, said that the cover provoked intense discussions among the company's marketing and sales staff.
"There was a concern that this was an image that was recognizable to New Yorkers but not necessarily around the country," he said, plus a fear that "the audience that would be interested in this book would not respond to" such a "harsh image" and the memories it might dredge up.
So before the book was sent to stores, a new cover was designed, with a more subtle image: a hazy, ghostlike photograph of the Lower Manhattan skyline, taken from the Staten Island ferry shortly after 9/11.
From When National Catastrophe Stokes Personal Anguish from The New York Times, August 22, 2005, Janet Maslin’s review of Nick McDonell's The Third Brother (fair use excerpt): “gropes awkwardly to find its subject matter. . . At that point its main character, Mike, wanders catatonically toward the wreckage of the World Trade Center, immersed in his own residue of family pain and destruction. The book comes outrageously close to turning the events of Sept. 11, 2001 into a narcissistic reflection of Mike's state of mind. . . .
Mr. McDonell uses language with elegant, minimalist precision. And that careful tone becomes increasingly inadequate as terrible things continue to happen. The anomie grows so intense that the last words on page 158 are: 'There is nothing to say.' The last words on page 159 are: 'He thought of nothing.' And the book, like the more gripping Twelve, is designed with a good deal of white space, furthering the impression of numb suffering and emptiness on the page.
. . . By the time The Third Brother reaches its 9/11 epiphany (followed by a limp back-to-Harvard finale) its imaginative elements have been beggared by reality. . . . But when this book reduces an epic disaster to myopia, it takes an irreversibly wrong turn. The facts that Tweety wanted to see snowflakes and that the World Trade Center's ashes are floating through Lower Manhattan are not easily equated.
’Mike thinks he sees body parts, like strange, horrible animals sleeping in the street,’ Mr. McDonell writes, sustaining a degree of stylish detachment even in the face of the unspeakable. . . ."
From Too Soon to Tell by Chris Cleave, author of Incendiary, a novel about an imagined terrorist attack on London, in The New York Times, September 11, 2005:
"Witness the critical reaction to some post-Sept. 11 books. A beautiful novel is "sentimental" (Mr. Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close). Colossal and erudite is "gratuitous and pretentious" (Michael Cunningham's Specimen Days). Idiosyncratic and questioning becomes "bitty and incomplete" (Art Spiegelman's In the Shadow of No Towers). . .This oft-repeated charge of exploitation finds a softer echo in the whimsical British tendency to file away such novels as Ian McEwan's Saturday or Salman Rushdie's Shalimar the Clown as "post-Sept. 11 fiction" - as if terrorism will turn out to be a blip and a genre that addresses it short-lived."
In Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics (on AMC), The 4th episode, “City of Heroes”, first shown 11/27/2017, thoroughly details the context, reaction, and follow-up of the comics to 9/11, with interviews by authors (including Jeffrey Moulton on The Superhero Response: How 9/11 Changed Our Superheroes and Why It Matters and Marc Dipaolo on War, Politics and Superheroes: Ethics and Propaganda in Comics and Film); artists and writers of comic issues (including Kaare Andrews, Mark Millar, Joe Quesada, Rick Remender, and Guz Vazquez), writers and filmmakers (including David Goyer, Jonathan Nolan, and Wally Pfister), and TV. (incomplete synopsis)
From “Hero and Superhero: How did Marvel cope with 9/11 and the horrors of Ground Zero? By sending in Spiderman and Captain America. Stefanie Diekmann on the most sensitive project in comic history”, from The Guardian, April 24, 2005, about issues that first came out December 2001, and more.
Wiki page that compiles “List of comics about the September 11 attacks”.
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