Five Years Isn’t Enough

Today I went to see Spike Lee’s Inside Man. It was a wonderful film: Lee is really quite good at letting his awestruck adoration of New York City shine on the screen, though it wasn’t quite as lovely as 25th Hour. Most of the film was shot near Exchange Street, which is very close to where I used to work; in fact, they show the Trinity Church graveyard at one point, which is where I ate most of my lunches during the summer. Anyway, great film, nice heist, well-written characters.

The trailers sucked.

Paul Greengrass, who made the second Bourne movie, has apparently made a film about United Flight 93, which was the plane that was hijacked on 9/11 but crashed in Pennsylvania due to the resistance of the passengers. This is completely unacceptable. It’s too soon! To start with, I shouldn’t have to face that when I go to the movies. Thinking about that day brings tears to my eyes. I shouldn’t be forced to watch those images. More to the point, though, the producers and actors shouldn’t be profiting from those events!

It is the worst, most exploitative insanity. It’s not being done with reverence or as some form of memorial, as Anne Nelson’s The Guys was done. (I wasn’t happy with that film, either, but at least it tried to be respectful.) It’s about taking a national tragedy and scripting it as an action film. This was an event partially inspired by action films, which takes everything that action films stand for to task for their horrible, gory fantasies.

As a nation, it’s clear that we’re not yet distanced from what happened that day. Most Americans still believe that Iraq, the country with which we are currently at war, had something to do with the attacks. Our emotions and experiences are still raw enough to provoke real political action: to turn them into entertainment is to abuse those possibilities in the name of profit. Filmmakers should know the difference between their art and what journalists and documentarians do. They aren’t here to write the first or even the second drafts of history; at their best, they can take all those drafts and create lyrical restatements. Film has too much power to shape the public’s imagination of a true event to apply that power to something like this, so soon. When it does, our already fragile sense of the difference between the real world and the one on-screen becomes frayed, both on the edges and at the rough spots like that day.

Sadly, the most I can hope for is that it will bomb miserably. But it also looks like Greengrass’s film is just the first in a series of 9/11 movies to the theaters. Oliver Stone has something on the WTC attack coming out this year as well, which will also likely catch me during previews when I least expect it. So basically, I’ll be booing and throwing things at the screen a lot for a while, or else skipping the previews for the next eight months.

I know Hollywood has little sense of shame or propriety, but I thought that their anxieties about the market would be sufficient to hold them in check. This isn’t exactly a 2000-year old crucifixion, you know? I’m not sure how long I expected them to wait, but I think ten years is about right. Perhaps the studios would be willing to shelve these films until 2011? Oliver Stone’s movie, starring Nicholas Cage, might even be good. So let’s watch it at the ten-year reunion. This other film, the one exploiting UAF 93, that can go direct to video, and end up paired with Air Force One in the bargain rack. How’s that for a solution?

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