Monday, April 24, 2006

too soon for a 9-11 film?

By now we have all heard about United 93, the first major film about the events of 9-11, opening April 28. I can already tell you that I will not be watching this film. I also never watch the viral movies of persons leaping from the buildings. While I understand some persons need video or film images and want to relive tragic occurrences to remember, I am not one of those persons. I did not need to see Passion of the Christ to understand the awful price paid by Jesus. I did not need to see Saving Private Ryan to understand what men like my father went through during WWII (although both were fine films). My imagination is terribly vivid.

My initial thoughts concerning the film were less than positive, until I saw the Director attached to the project and realized it will be tasteful, intense, immediate, frighteningly realistic and emotionally wrenching (along with probably making a few people sick that cannot handle his extreme usage of handheld cameras). Paul Greengrass made the wonderful Bourne Supremacy and before that brought immediacy and dignity to the tragic circumstances of the Bloody Sunday tragedy in his film of that name (great movie). He knows how to draw people into real life. But, I am not ready for his style of filmmaking coupled with this event.

Why not?

First of all, in today's society film becomes reality. We believe Christ lost more blood than humanly possible because of the Passion. We believe that LBJ had Kennedy killed because of JFK. We believe that Gangs of New York, Alexander, Amistad, Walk the Line and Capote. Heck, we believe that our hearts will go on because of Titanic. Revisionist history is fine, but too few people study history and believe if it is onscreen it happened.

My concern here is, unlike most historical films, no one really knows what happened and fiction will become reality. Unlike films such as Bloody Sunday, Schindler's List and Munich, there are no survivors to tell the actual story. So, we are left to a filmmaker for historical accuracy. It reminds me of the film Perfect Storm, most of which was a guess at best (and without the historical importance).

Unlike the film 25th Hour, the show Third Watch or Bruce Springsteen's The Rising, which are pieces of art influenced by 9-11 and struggle to tell the story of how this event affected individuals, this purports to be the truth. 30 minutes of a black box are not quite enough for me. History will be distorted once again, even if the attempt is to tell the story of people that acted heroic. Even an attempt to tell a story of a fictional character dying in 9-11 would be a better approach for my tastes. And, we have plenty of excellent documentaries telling the days story.

I am sure the masses will tell me I am wrong and find me unpatriotic (or something) for my beliefs here.

By the way, Stevenson Swanson of the Chicago Tribune has a very evenhanded article on the controversy surrounding the film and the emotional responses on all sides. Read Too Soon?

10 comments:

Dustin said...

i agree.

g13 said...

me too.

i would also add that munich was, in large part, a revisionist piece as well. there is nothing to suggest that those who undertook that mission for mossad wrestled with the ambivalence that is personified by avner. i enjoyed the movie while at the same time realizing that it was a form of propaganda.

but then again, what "historical" movies aren't.

shakkahop said...

if they can't be considered historical, factual, are they for mere entertainment. is this how we should be entertained?

i like how active the families have been in this film. it is moving to me that they are alive to see this.

the need for the rest of us to see it, i question.

porthos said...

Let me state right off the bat that if you don't want to go see it, don't. There's certainly nothing unpatriotic or whatever about not going. If you find it too disturbing, don't go.

But, I think suggesting people shouldn't go because "in today's society film becomes reality" and that "no one really knows what happened and fiction will become reality" are poor reasons.

People that accept movies as truth are delusional, but that doesn't mean we should stop making movies about historical events. I mean, that's the logical end result of your reasoning—if we can't know everything 100%, we shouldn't make films based on actual events. Since when did films get cut out of the "art" category?

And in terms of facts, we have plenty of information to create a very plausible tale of what happened. Remember, this isn't a documentary, it's a feature film. Worrying about "revisionist history" on this is calling a molehill a mountain, especially in light of films like "Kingdom of Heaven" and "Troy". And we have FAR more first-hand information for making "United 93" than for "Perfect Storm". To compare the two is disingenuous.

While we may not know who rushed the cockpit first, it doesn't really matter. We have ample information (phone conversationd, cockpit recorderings, black box info, etc) to tell the story of people who acted with courage and died to protect innocent lives. I mean, that's downright Christ-like! If this isn't a story worth telling (especially as a TRUE story), what is?

To the "It's too soon" remarks, I ask, "When will it ever be time?" The pain will never go away. The horrible tragedy will never have not happened. And there are thousands more terrorists willing to do the same thing if they get the chance.

To refuse to be reminded of those events on philosophical grounds is to act in denial. Either that, or it's because some political stance keeps people from doing anything that might seem to indicate support with current policy and actions, which is equally foolish.

If you don't want to see it because it physically or mentally distrubs you, by all means don't go. But don't downplay the importance of what happened on that flight and on that day. And the relevance of "United 93".

Rick said...

WARNING- WARNING- rant coming...


Thank you for dropping by Porthos. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinions on this matter. However, you went beyond mere "opinion."

I would take umbrage with many of your statements, including:

1. calling me disengenuous. Your usage of the word is incorrect. You may want to choose a less inflammatroy word. Disingenuous is "giving a false appearance of simple frankness." It is clse to telling a lie. If you choose to dismiss my simile, that is one thing. To call it disingenuous is either a misunderstanding of the definition, a mistake in usage or an uncalled for attack.
I will assume it was a mistake in usage.

2. You say, "But don't downplay the importance of what happened on that flight and on that day. And the relevance of "United 93"."

A. I never did downplay the importance of the flight and day. At the same time I will not deify what happened on the flight.
B. I did not underestimate the film's relevance. However, the relevance of any single film cannot be seen until it opens and is responded to. To assume it is
relevant beforehand would be improper. Films are usually seen to be more relevant than they are (see Passion and "the greatest outreach opportunity in 2000 years").

BTW- i could say it would be disingenuous of you to say that I downplayed the importance of that day. but I won't do that.

3. you said "But, I think suggesting people shouldn't go because "in today's society film becomes reality" and that "no one really knows what happened and fiction will become reality" are poor reasons."

Actually I never suggested that people should not go (to say otherwise would be disingenuous). I cannot give a flip if people see United 93, Snakes on a Plane, Basic Instinct 2 or the Last Temptation of Christ.

Stating that my assessment is a poor reason with no backup is poor reasoning. I stand by these theses. In fact, historians, as well as many politicians I could quote will agree with the first assessment. Look at the furor surrounding JFK.

4. So much of your argument is poorly reasoned and debated I find it difficult to discuss it. You state that the logical conclusion of my argument is something that it is not. You state that people that believe movies are delusional. Guess what, you have just insulted most of the world. I could say most people that believe Fox News are delusional also. But, I wil not say that.

Most people believe what they see until they are given reason to believe something else. That is a fact. I can give you plenty of psychologists that agree with this.

4. "To the "It's too soon" remarks, I ask, "When will it ever be time?" The pain will never go away. The horrible tragedy will never have not happened. "

So, understanding your logic, a film based upon the events of 9-11 would have been proper 2 months after the event. Or, do you also decide what is "too soon?"

A film telling a partially true story can be told the day after the event takes place. Umm, okay. Sure. I think Oliver Stone would agree.

I would not say it is too soon to tell stories of 9-11, stories inspired by 9-11 or to create art based upon the events. in fact, if you read the blog, you will see I have no problems with those.

However, it is unprecednented for a major film to be made so soon after such an occasion. Look at other moments of horrible human tragedy, such as Pearl Harbour, Munich, Bloody Sunday, Chenyrobal (sp), the Tsunami, etc.

People took more time. It is always better to take a bit more time, than too little. We will see how people feel.

5. "And there are thousands more terrorists willing to do the same thing if they get the chance."

What? So, making a film will stop the terrorists? What does that have to do with anything?

6. "To refuse to be reminded of those events on philosophical grounds is to act in denial. Either that, or it's because some political stance keeps people from doing anything that might seem to indicate support with current policy and actions, which is equally foolish."

What? So, to refuse to be reminded of these events in the form of a fictional film that can grossly misinform through the very media is to refuse to be in denial? To refuse to be reminded of Christ's death by Mel Gibson is to be in denial? To refuse to watch grainy pictures of people jumping to their death is denial?

I guess I should make a film of my friend George getting shot in the stomach while we were kids so I can relive the occasion and not be in denial. Give me a break.

Ludicrous, maybe moreso than anything else I have read.

The final piece of the statement related to political agenda is equally ludicrous.

7. Finally I do not think "plausible" is enough in this case. Plausible when dealing with recent history with such emotions involved, etc. is not what I am interested in.

Sorry to be harsh. I am sure you are a wonderful person who usually does not personally attack bloggers. But your rhetoric, assumptions, misreading of my posting and generally condescending tone demanded it.

kidpositive said...

i wonder when it will be soon enough to tell the stories of the tens of thousands of innocent iraqi civilians that have perished as a result of their country's invasion.

PReSON said...

oh, here we go ***rolls eyes***. Haven't we already had like 15 or 20 inaccurate films about iraq already?

...anways, I think it was shot down, but thats just me (or is it?). That would be the accurate way to end the movie. I'm with rick, but for completely different reasons. I'd rather not capitalize on things like that, other things... yes, that... no. I'd rather see a light hearted comedy right now. ;)

porthos said...

First off, let me apologize if my tone came across as demeaning or harsh. I never intended it to. I’ve got a feeling the cold, hard Internet added a little more vitriol to my words than I intended. I’ve enjoyed reading your blog for a few weeks and decided to comment. Probably not the best topic for a first comment. :-)

As for those comments, they were entirely directed at your ideas, not at you. So please don’t count them as personal attacks. I even made sure to start off my comment by addressing your concern of being called unpatriotic by those might disagree.

For example, I might have called your comparison disingenuous, but I never said you were a liar. As I re-read my comments, I don’t see anything directed at you personally. Your ideas, sure. But, that’s the whole point of a discussion, right? If you feel attacked personally, I apologize, but that was not my intent.

Also re-reading my comments in light of your response, I do see some places where my remarks may seem like they’re attributing intent to your words which is unsupported by your original post or that veer off into tangents. I apologize. Towards the end of my comment, I was speaking more broadly about responses to the movie than your post deserved. Sorry about that.

So let’s hone in on the relevant parts. I will use your quotes as points.

1. calling me disengenuous.
See above re: personal attacks. Regarding usage, I don’t think either of us wants to devolve into a vocabulary debate. I find the word usable colloquially as a synonym for “unfair/na├»ve”. We can disagree if you want on this.

The point is: comparing “United 93” to “Perfect Storm” based on available facts is a terrible analogy and indeed is somewhat deceptive (to use your definition of disingenuous) in this regard—people who don’t know any better will believe you.

2A. I never did downplay the importance of the flight and day.
Fair enough. My bad.

2A. At the same time I will not deify what happened on the flight.
No one is asking you to.

2B. I did not underestimate the film's relevance.
Fair enough. My bad.

2C. To assume it is relevant beforehand would be improper.

It’s relevant enough for you to post about. But the topic is tangential, so I’ll stop.

3. Actually I never suggested that people should not go (to say otherwise would be disingenuous). I cannot give a flip if people see United 93, Snakes on a Plane, Basic Instinct 2 or the Last Temptation of Christ.

I think there’s two things going on here. One, you’re just stating that you’re not going to go. The second layer is the implication that such movies shouldn’t be made because people will see these films as truth. That your reasons for not going are universal. I mean, that’s why you have a blog instead of a Word doc to journal in, right? To share your opinion of what’s good, bad, and ugly. You think there’s some truth and reason to your ideas or else you wouldn’t have them. I just think they’re poor reasons.

NOTE: I am not saying you have poor reasoning skills or are a bad/stupid/evil person, just that your concerns of revisionist history and mass buy-in are weak.

I don’t have to show sociological studies proving that all people in today’s society don’t believe “film becomes reality”. I say, “I don’t” and we’re through. By making blanket statements (especially “Heck, we believe that our hearts will go on because of Titanic”) that you could never support with facts, you completely devalue your point.

4A. You state that the logical conclusion of my argument is something that it is not.

Yes, it is. You said (in summary) that you won’t go to United 83 because people believe movies based on historical events are how it really happened. You listed a number of movies, from Passion to Titanic to support your point.

The logical end result is that we shouldn’t make any movies based on historical events. How is this not accurate?

4B. You state that people that believe movies are delusional. Guess what, you have just insulted most of the world. I could say most people that believe Fox News are delusional also. But, I will not say that.

What facts do you have to support that most of the world believes movies are facts? Or that they’d be insulted?

If a person believes movies are gospel truth, they are foolish. I stand by that 100%. If a person believes Fox News is gospel truth, they are foolish as well.

4C. Most people believe what they see until they are given reason to believe something else. That is a fact. I can give you plenty of psychologists that agree with this.

I won’t discuss the validity of those statements (not that I disagree with them) because they are inconsequential. People have plenty of other information sources to discern with, to “believe something else”. The 9/11 Commission report, the audio from the flight recorders, first-person testimonies from the people that talked to the guys on the flight, etc. It’s not like United 93 sits in a vacuum of information. If people don’t CHOOSE to go out and educate themselves, and instead believe whatever they’re told, that’s their own fault for being lazy.

4D. So, understanding your logic, a film based upon the events of 9-11 would have been proper 2 months after the event. Or, do you also decide what is "too soon?"

You’re putting words in my mouth. My comment was from today looking forward, not looking back. I’m not saying we should have made it sooner, I’m asking, “If not now, when?” It’s an honest question. No one seems to be able to answer it more with more than a “later”.

We can discuss whether or not the country’s collective psyche can handle it, but really the only way to tell is by the reactions of the people who see the movie. Everything else is just guessing. If they are touched, moved and inspired, it was not too early. I’m not sure what reaction would support an “It was too early” stance.

4E. However, it is unprecednented for a major film to be made so soon after such an occasion. Look at other moments of horrible human tragedy, such as Pearl Harbour, Munich, Bloody Sunday, Chenyrobal (sp), the Tsunami, etc.

Actually, no. It’s been five years. Read that Chicago Tribune article you linked to.

“’Coming Home’ and ‘Apocalypse Now,’ two of the first big post-Vietnam War movies, came out within four years of the North Vietnamese victory in 1975.”

5. What? So, making a film will stop the terrorists? What does that have to do with anything?

You’re misrepresenting the spirit of my comment, but either way it was tangential to the issue you raised.

6. What? So, to refuse to be reminded of these events in the form of a fictional film that can grossly misinform through the very media is to refuse to be in denial?

Once again, my remarks got off-track of the original topic. I won’t hijack the post by readdressing.

7. Finally I do not think "plausible" is enough in this case. Plausible when dealing with recent history with such emotions involved, etc. is not what I am interested in.

Plausible is all we’ll ever have about retelling any historical event. Every telling of an event is colored by the teller. Facts are always going to be left out and others emphasized, whether intentionally or not. What details do you think this movie is missing? As I type this, I realize you can’t even answer that because we haven’t seen it yet.

In this case, I think we have ample evidence to create a HIGHLY plausible scenario of what happened. Enough to even discount the conspiracy theorists who say it was shot down or whatever. They have no evidence whatsoever.

What would you consider a good/fair/accurate movie based on historical events that would pass muster?

Anonymous said...

Pearl Harbor?

Rick said...

sorry it has taken a while ot get back to this. Life interferes every once in a while.

I thank you for clarification and more thoughts. I would say that I think you misunderstood what I was saying (which is not something I am surprised by- I am usually misunderstood, but not misunderestimated).

What I was attempting to convey was that I was concerned by what was going on, that I feel we need to take care as lay historians, filmmakers and storytellers and watchers. We need to fight for the utmost responsibility, which is not usually the case with history and film.

As a lover of both history and film, I can handle things getting messy, but I hope my little posting will make those that watch historical films take pause to consider the real story and not be duped by a filmmaker (not Greengrass, as you may remember he is among my favorites).

I am impressed with what I have heard from critics surrounding this film. I would expect nothing less from Greengrass. He is the consumate pro and brings history to light. This does not take away my concern, mostly for responsible watchers of film.

I have spoken to friends concerning my usage of Perfect Storm and United 93 and it has been mostly approved. I think your characterization is unfair, and a bit picky.
In fact, the more I think about it, the more impressed I am with the analogy.

Again, I never imply that historical films should not be made. I have never had such a thought running through my brain. I have only been concerned that care is taken and filmmakers are responsible to the historical record. Since people are lemmings that believe what they are shown, we must be careful with the facts if we are storytellers, politicians, preachers, filmmakers, parents, etc.

We should also teach people to reason for themselves and watch everything with a discerning eye.

Once more i will state that your assumptions of my implications and reasoning are incorrect (3 and 4A).

4B- speak to anyone about the history of gangs in NY that has seen Gangs of NY. They will give you the film facts, which are not close to reality. Read the book Past Imperfect about historical filmmaking and the historical facts. Speak to many people I know about Fox News vs. reality. They will tell you Fox is truth and the rest is lies.

Those are but 3 examples. I haven't the time in such a format to continue to prove this point.

Does this mean these people are foolish? I will agree with that (just not delusional). Most of us are foolish until we are taught to filter these things.

If something works within a person's worldview, then it is truth (for them). Look to the Swift Boat Vets as an example.

As for 4E, we need to remember the films you speak of were fictional, not based upon specific events that the world considers important to history. I can still think of no other films that were made within 5 years (4.5 or so)of such a catyclismic (sp) event.

By the way, those people believing the planes were shot down have plenty of evidence. It is just not evidence you or I (or most people) would find adequate to change our understanding of what happened.

As for films I think would pass muster. I would say none without a filter and taking time to find out what historians say, unless a person does not care.

But, I would say Greengrass's 1st film Bloody Sunday passes muster pretty well. As a student of history that studied this event in Irish history I found it well within the framework of historical understanding of the proceedings.

Also, unlike United 93, it is an undertold chapter of history. If it is undertold, then I think it is a better story to tell. With 93, we know so much, think we know so much, have such strong reactions, have political agendas attached, etc, it is not as needed.

Now, would I think Flight 93's story would be a needed story in 25 years, when people have forgotten the day? Yes. Moreso than 5 years after.

Other such films include:
Schindler's List (untold chapter, even though some of the characters did not exist)
Hotel Rwanda is on my list.
Glory is on my list even with its inaccuracies.
The Killing Fields- ditto

I would add that Braveheart is not on my list. Saving Private Ryan is not on my list (outside of the first 25 minutes). The Untouchables, as much as I like it is not on my list. I could go on forever.

Oh and Matawan, 8 Men Out, Apollo 13 are a few more good ones.


i am tied and done.

Thanks.