Review of 9/11 (2002)


Seen in 2020.

I had been in this street three times in the last hour. First time it was full of people. The second time, everybody was running away from it, and the third time, getting out of the last collapse, there was just... nobody. And everything was white.

The Naudets’ own material conveys the shock well, and is adequately contextualized with extreme long shots from other sources and a few relevant talking heads. The framing of it is slightly absurd. The since-defunct, oligopolized wireless service operator Nextel presents the film with purportedly minimal interruptions, because US TV at the time was so saturated with ads that the profit-driven business promoting itself by presenting the film had to warn people about the lack of other commercial propaganda to preserve calm. The title card stylizes the date with a pipe character as “9|11” to match the logo of “Nextel|”.

Robert De Niro also chips in as a presenter, which is again irrelevant. It is as if the network thought the country was still in such deep shock that it had to have the paternal company rep and the paternal movie star holding the viewer’s two hands to get through a movie about firefighters, working-class heroes. To control emotion, the aftermath is scored with plaintive choral music, Steve Buscemi asks for your contribution, and De Niro closes by denying that the firefighters felt terror.

Despite these culturally specific choices, it’s a good introduction to the topic for generations born after the event. The man the Naudets originally wanted to make their main character, Tony, inadvertently provides a metaphor for how the immediate chaos shown here was gradually woven into a series of historical narratives:

You find a little spot, and you just keep going and digging and digging, trying to find something. And you find a foot. And then they say the building’s gonna collapse, and you run away.

Another fireman says, apropos of subsequent recruits, “All we can do is tell them the stories and show them the tape.” See this film for the history and for how to film on a found-footage premise. Work like the Naudets’, though it is barely competent in its own right, would inform the next decade’s action cinema, just as this presentation of it is informed by prior cinema. The heroes themselves would be largely forgotten, with subsequent legislatures delaying, limiting and trying to kill the Zadroga Act.

References here: Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004).

moving picture non-fiction