Movies After 9/11

David Halbfinger has an artcile in today’s New York Times about an upcoming cycle of films about the trauma of September 11. Perhaps the most intriguing of these films is The Great New Wonderful, which focuses on a group of New Yorkers one year after the events of September 11. Halbfinger’s article, which focuses primarily on promoting films playing at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, addresses many of the representational questions about what these films can show:

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?

The primary representational limit still seems to be the “unanimous reluctance” of filmmakers to show the planes crashing into the towers, primarily out of concern that these images could easily be exploited. Last summer, in my review of Fahrenheit 9/11, I praised director Michael Moore for his restraint in not showing the images of the planes crashing into the towers, primarily because I do fear that these images can be exploited, but this “reluctance” is now starting to give me pause, in part because it has the effect of limiting what can be said about these events (and I think it’s important to note that documentary filmmakers, including at least one of the filmmkaers who contributed to Underground Zero,have shown less reluctance here).

I do think that Halbfinger’s discussion of these epresentational issues points to some of the difficult questions we still face (and will likely face for a long time) when it comes to representing September 11, but one of the things that strikes me about this article — and several others like it — is the almost insistent “forgetting” that seems to be taking place regarding the number of films that have, explicitly or implicitly, dealt with the events of September 11. Perhaps this is a product of the newspaper’s constant cycling of information, but Halbfinger’s is the latest in a series of articles, many of them in the Times, to identify films that seem to be grappling with September 11, with the implication that films haven’t dealt with these events until now (A.O. Scott’s discussion on the recent cycle of “revenge films” and Stephen Farber’s on “mourning films” are two examples). Farber, in particular, implies that “Hollywood” is notoriously slow in making “current events” films, using the delayed production of Vietnam films as his primary example, but it would seem that the opposite is true, with Scott and Farber identifying just a small number of films that deal, however clumsily, with these questions (in IMDB’s completely unscientific categorization, at least 61 films make reference to Septmber 11, though of course many of these films were made outside of Hollywood).

I’m not sure I have any specific conclusions here other than to note that I do think that representations of September 11 raise important ethical and political questions that will likely confront us for some time, but I also think that Hollywood has been more responsive to “current events” than some of these articles would suggest.

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