Sunday, September 11, 2011

SEPTEMBER 11TH AND THE MEANING OF MOVIES IN OUR LIVES


I hope you'll bear with me for a time while I pause during my blog posts to reflect and express myself in my own fashion on this day of rememberance and reflection...

You know, milestone anniversaries are a funny thing and I suppose each and every person has their own way of giving such events personal meaning. Take me for instance...on September 30th of this year I will have been married to the woman I (still) love for ten years. And what's more, she will having been putting up with the likes of ME for ten years, as well. In October of this year, I will have officially "gone DVD" for ten years (this blog of mine might never have been possible if I'd remained with VHS). But, of course, today being the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001, we all may be taking a little time out of our lives to reflect on the past and what it's meant to our present and our future.

But I suppose it's impossible for me to talk about that tragic Tuesday ten years ago without telling you all where I was that morning. Where I was, was on my way to work in Greenwich Village when the subway train stopped at Christopher Street. The doors would not close and we were not moving for some time. Being the impatient person I can be sometimes, I decided to get out and walk the rest of the way to my office. As I made my way to Varrick Street I could see many people gathered in large masses on the street. I'm looking around and I can't account for a reason for any of this. I don't see a traffic accident, a fight breaking out, nothing. It actually doesn't occur to me to raise my head and look up for several minutes. When I do, I'm shocked to see that a huge plume of smoke is smouldering from the first tower hit by the plane at the World Trade Center. I should also clarify that from my perspective on the street, I could only see one tower, as the other one was directly behind it, hidden from my view. A short time later, I witnessed the great ball of fire that was the explosion of the second plane hitting the second tower. But I didn't know this yet. From my perspective, it appeared as if the explosion stemmed from the first building - a result of the ongoing fire, I imagined. By the time I'm in my office and listening to radio, I, like every other American that day, am learning what is happening to our beloved country. A short time later, I and many of my colleagues were standing in the conference room facing the buring towers. Try to imagine a roomful of architects discussing whether the steel structures would hold, when all of a sudden they come down. I believe my exact words were, "Holy shit, they're coming down!" By the time I left work after lunch, I ended up walking home in what seemed to be like a long exodus going north up the island of Manhattan. Once I reached home, my wife Beth (fiance at the time) held each other like we never had before. We were actually only about three weeks away from our wedding.

So now you know where I was and what I was doing. What I'd like to do now is give you a sense of what went through my mind at certain times and the feelings I was experiencing in terms of movies and how I allowed them to enter and affect my life. To begin with, when I saw that second explosion occur from the street, I swear on my son that the first thought that went through he head was that I had just witnessed a scene directly out of INDEPENDENCE DAY. Because downdown Manhattan was closed below 14th street for several days, I was home glued to the television like many others. When I could no longer take the stories and images anymore, I switched channels and found myself consoled by a broadcast of one of my favorite films, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (thank you Steven Spielberg, for saving me that night). When I could no longer take the confinements of my apartment any longer, I walked to the local movie theater to see THE OTHERS. Not an uplifting film, but a good, solid ghost story that helped take my mind off things. By that weekend, Beth and I went to see an outrageous French comedy called THE CLOSET. The following weekend, when we were back in the Hamptons, we went to laugh at the likes of SHREK on screen for the second time. Some time later, I even remember thinking about and anticipating EPISODE II of the STAR WARS saga due out next summer. I remember thinking to myself, "George Lucas, we need you now more than ever!" Yes, it's very safe to say that in the short time following 9/11, the movies helped to save my fragile state of mind.

But there's also something very specific that comes to my mind in terms of the motion picture industry and how movies were being handled and marketed in the wake of the 9/11 tragedies. Hollywood displayed a very rare (and very TEMPORARY) sensitivity to any form of violence and destruction on the screen and attempted to do what little they could to raise the spirits of the American people. They began by immediately pushing back the release of the Arnold Schwarzenegger terrorist-action vehicle COLLATERAL DAMAGE to Spring 2002. A scheduled airing of PASSENGER 57 on Cinemax was cancelled (for obvious reasons) and even an NBC-TV airing of BACK TO THE FUTURE was sensitive to the use of the word "terrorist" and actually deleted it from the film's dialogue. Frankly, I think that may have been taking things a little too far, but there you have it. Hollywood even shocked me by simultaneously re-releasing nearly every comedy that had already been on the screen during the entire Summer of 2001 because nothing can heal like the power of laughter on screen. Yes, it appeared that the insensitive money-whoring pigs who run Hollywood were actually capable of acting like human beings when national tragedy called for it.

Like I mentioned, though, it all didn't last long. Before we knew it, movie makers were up-and-running again in an effort to destroy as many of our American cities as box office tickets would allow. Whether through natural causes in THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW, invading aliens in WAR OF THE WORLDS, giant robots in TRANSFORMERS, a videotaped monster in CLOVERFIELD and more recent forms of Earthly destruction like 2012 and BATTLE: LOS ANGELES. Shit, I haven't seen this much destruction on the screen since the Summer of 1998 when New York City was being clobbered by a giant coment, an asteroid the size of Texas and Godzilla himself! Obviously, nothing sells movie tickets to the common multiplex moron like good ol' fashioned self-destruction.

Now take a moment, if you will, to think back to the state and mood of our country immediately following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. We can remember the enourmous amount of war films released only months after the attack. American heroes like John Wayne lit up the screen to fight for our country and our lives. Yes, there was violence and destruction on the screen, but it was targeted against our ENEMIES overseas and not our own cities here at home. Why is it so impossible to think that this patriotic film formula would not have worked on us today? I mean, if there HAD to be another John Rambo film in this new century, would it not have been truly exciting to see Stallone kick some royal Al Qaeda ass?? Maybe it's just me, but not only would I have paid good money to see this kind of sequel, but I would have cheered my fucking American ass off!

So now let me put forth this question - is it going to take another fatal tragedy on our beloved American soil before the powers-that-be of Hollywood once again wake up and realize that movies CAN be meant to serve a much higher purpose and responsibility than the usual Friday night crap box office intake? I've said this before and I'll gladly repeat it now...movies, when done with a certain degree of intelligence and sensitivity, have the power to reach us, teach us, and perhaps every so often, give us some positive meaning and inspiration in our lives. I've kept a pretty close eye on the big studio's releases over the past decade and I can't claim inspiration from anything! I'm sorry, but endless superhero sequels just aren't going to cut that sort of mustard!

What's the answer then? Are movies EVER going to be great again? Will they ever "save" our lives again? I honestly don't know what the answers are. Perhaps the answers can only depend on us, as human beings and how we choose to embrace the films out there today. If we choose NOT to invest our time, money and minds on crap, then perhaps Hollywood will get the message and start using their imaginations of originality again and treat their audiences with a little more respect and a little less insult. That's unrealistic, I'm sure, but the change can, at the very least, start with ME. It HAS started with me.

Finally, I'd like to dedicate this 9/11 post to my Uncle Steven (on my mother's side), who through luck or whatever good fortune or power he and others may choose to believe in, walked out of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 and home to his beloved family.

And now, let's continue with the next film in my collection, and this time we'll all try to laugh a little...

4 comments:

  1. Haven't we been looking for a superhero since then, haven't the movie themes in the last 10 years represented our despair and need for a savior. I agree that movies have been lacking in an aesthetic; however, I would argue that the art(less) is reflecting our own numbness back to us. Comfortably numb?

    ReplyDelete
  2. So glad I checked your post today. A great essay for 9/11. Thanks for sharing. I agree with your comments about how Hollywood has failed us since that day. If you look hard there are still some great films but not as many that inspire. I feel a bit closer to all New Yorkers after reading your experience. Fight On.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Coolspec, I won't deny there are still some good films out there if you look hard enough, but they're only being released by independent film companies that are practically underground. My argument is that the major studios of Hollywood aren't making them any more (or it would seem).

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks, Richard. Somehow, some way, somewhere, films need to matter again.

    ReplyDelete