Friday, September 11, 2009

Erasing the Towers

On September 11, 2001, the producers of Spider-Man realized they had a problem. The teaser trailer for their upcoming film - designed to ignite interest and create a buzz while not necessarily showing anything that would actually be contained in the finished product, which was scheduled to be released the following summer - prominently featured a web spun between the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

The twin towers of the World Trade Center served as a landmark and reference for New York City in countless movies and TV shows. Much like the Eiffel Tower for Paris or Mount Fuji for Japan (played up to ridiculous effect in Goldmember), the towers provided a shorthand way of establishing the location of a scene immediately.

When the towers fell, it suddenly seemed to be in extremely bad taste to keep their images in these establishing shots.

I disagreed with this decision. Any given image of the buildings also contains, hidden away, a record of the existence of their occupants. For anyone who worked in the towers, each image is a moment in their life. For anyone who lost a loved one on September 11, 2001 when the planes hit, when the fires burned, when the towers fell, each image is a souvenir of the time before. Who knows whose face might have been turned to the visible windows at the moment any given photograph or video was taken? Who knows what long-lost friend or loved one might be smiling and waving microscopically in those establishing shots?

But the decision was made, and down came the towers.

At least one movie bucked this trend. Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York (2002) ended with a sequence of images showing the development of the New York City skyline from 1863 through modern times. It ends with a shot that includes the World Trade Center. To remove the towers to reflect the events of September 11, 2001 would be at once superfluous and incomplete: any person watching the film could have access to the information that the towers were destroyed, but from his viewpoint in 2002 Scorsese had no way of knowing what would come next* - that information can be supplied by the viewer, current for whenever they are watching the movie.

The towers live on, in photographs and movies and TV shows. Each time you see them, try to think about all those people who were working in those towers, trying to make a better life for themselves and their families. And think about all those who died in those towers on September 11, 2001.

Never forget.

*Indeed, from my viewpoint in September 2009 it is unclear what, if anything, will be going on the spot once occupied by the World Trade Center, and when it might be being built.


Domestic Zookeeper said...

I miss that trailer. Dam good trailer. Thanks for finding it and posting it! Ticked me off to see them redo it. But it is the past and cannot be changed.

Remember 9-11!

Wow. Realizing my daughter will only know of 9-11 from history class, I suddenly feel like my parents talking about how they remember what they were doing and where they were when Kennedy was shot.... but still...

I know I will always remember where I was and what I was doing that morning. In fact, I think I even remember what food I had in my hand at the corner deli that I was buying. Which is remarkable, considering I can't remember what I had for breakfast this morning! Did I even eat breakfast this morning?

I still have newspapers stashed away from that event.

Hollywood may be able to digitally edit the towers out of film, but it can't edit out the day we will remember as well as our own independence day.

The calendar calls it "Patriot Day". The world knows it as 9-11.

hedera said...

I, on the other hand, remember both where I was and what I was doing when I heard that Kennedy was shot (eating lunch in the dorm cafeteria at U.C. Berkeley), and where I was and what I was doing the morning of 9-11 (getting dressed to have breakfast and go to work - since I live on the west coast, by the time I heard about it, it was over).

And we will never forget. But that doesn't mean we should let the fear of another attack drive us into stupid actions. Fear is a bad reason to do almost anything.