Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tuesday Review: 102 Minutes That Changed America

I had never heard of this 2008 documentary from the History Channel until this year. I caught a commercial for it a few weeks ago and made sure to add it to my DVR list. On the evening on this year's 9/11, I watched a little bit of it in passing, but didn't sit down to watch the whole thing until the next week.

The film is comprised of eyewitness video footage and civil service audio recordings. Together, these "found" records pull the viewer right into the most terrifying and confusing emotions of that day. Initially, I thought I would be most gripped by seeing stuff I hadn't seen before - another angle of the plane, how fast the dust cloud was moving or what it was like downtown. Granted, I did get to see all that, but I was unprepared to be so captivated by the people filming. The evident terror in their voices and tears couldn't be avoided and I was quickly much more interested in their reactions than in seeing clips that network tv didn't show when the went occurred.

From a filmmaking perspective, the documentary is a brave work. Except for an opening intro, the movie has no narration...its just footage. Most documentaries require some sort of host to guide us through the complexities of a film, but the filmmaker has decided to let the people of New York tell their story instead. It's also remarkably well organized, I can only imagine how hard it was to make sure the dozens of clips remained consistent with the timeline of the events that day.

The anonymous nature of these faces is just as engaging - traditional filmmaking would tell us that we need some sort of narrative to insure our investment in these people but in the sudden effect of the terrible events of that day, we find ourselves as connected as possible. Just as the film depicts hundreds of strangers in Times Square watching the news coverage and being forced to get to know each other, so too are we involved. The gift of retrospect may instill some larger understanding of the disaster, but it doesn't lessen the pure, naked need for consolation on display in this project.

The goal of the project doesn't seem to be historical in the pure sense; the crash at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania aren't covered (short of secondary audio from newscasts in the background). But there's still tremendous historical value in catching a small glimpse of what happened on the ground. For some of us, viewing this may be some sort of closure as it forces us to face a darkness we might normally ignore, but for many of us, it reminds us if the things we've forgotten and puts a little of that good sobriety back in our memories.


Liz said...

They played this a documentary this year & last year on the History channel on the evening of 9/11. I'm assuming it's this same one you're reviewing. We've watched it 2 years in a row.

The biggest thing for me was watching the firemen go into the building. Coming from a family of firefighters (my dad's retired, both of my brothers in law are firemen) & cops (Larry), I was completely enthralled with these men & women. Watching them go into the buildings, knowing what we know now...that 99% of them would never come out...was SO hard to watch. I'm pretty sensitive to media where death is concerned. Death is such an intimate thing. Seeing someone take their last breaths before meeting Jesus is especially difficult for me. In the media, that is. Being in the room with someone is equally intimate, but in the media it kind of turns my stomach (movies, newscasts, etc). Anyway, watching the men who went in to save lives lose to watch, but so amazing.