Sunday, April 09, 2006

Exploitation?

September 11, 2001. A day like any other day. We lived in New Westminster, British Columbia. Kevin worked for Telus Mobility. I worked at a local school. We had a top floor apartment and a Sebring convertible. In six weeks we were scheduled to fly to Tunisia.

Yes, a day like any other day. It was meant to be, anyway. We got up for work. Early. 5:30 am. Got breakfast, sat down to watch the news.

And watched a plane fly into a building.

A morning like any other? For us, 9/11 and the unfolding of the horror started becoming a reality while there was still sleep in our eyes.

Why am I bringing all of this up? Hollywood is wagering that we’re ready to see 9/11 on the big screen. The first of the 9/11 movies – United 93 – is scheduled for release soon and trailers have already hit theatres.

And in some cases, the ad has already been pulled from theatres after people protested and some movie-goers cried from the shock.

To quote from an article on this: (One victims daughter) thinks (the criticism is) unfair. "This story has to be told to honor the passengers and crew for what they did," she says. "But more than that, it raises awareness. Our ports aren't secure. Our borders aren't secure. Our airlines still aren't secure, and this is what happens when you're not secure. That's the message I want people to hear."

What I haven’t found any evidence of in all the discussion is people asking if this is a story that HOLLYWOOD should tell. Let’s face it. No matter how meticulous they say they’ve been about asking what people wore on the plane, a lot of what happened isn’t known. This isn’t an entirely “true” story – it’s a fictionalized, sensationalized account of a real event that people are still living with the scars from.

Now, apparently all the family members of the victims on the plane have given the movie their blessing.

But what about all of the families of all of the victims of 9/11?

This is not a story that can be compartmentalized or told in isolation. Multitudes more died in New York than on this particular flight. That in no way diminishes the loss of those people or the tragedy of United 93. However, even with the permission of those families, this is a movie that capitalizes on the grief of all of the other victims’ families as well.

This isn’t the only movie that will be hitting theatres this year that deals with 9/11. Nicholas Cage is in another one coming out in August. But it has been said this one will bear the brunt of the criticism and, in my opinion, rightly so.

You can disagree with me on this, and that’s fine. I’m not trying to disrespect the opinions of people who support this movie. But how many movies that Hollywood puts out emphasize truth more than the hype, are about more than making piles of money and winning awards?

If this movie was really being put out in the interests of telling the true story just because it needed to be told, something more like 50% of the TOTAL profits would be going to the victims of 9/11 instead of 10% of the opening weekend take.

I’ve seen the advert. I can say for me it is too soon. And I feel a bit awkward about expressing an opinion on it, but I have friends in NYC. I stayed very close to the location of the bombings in Bali, and I feel the same about that event. It would tear my heart in two.

We’re still living with this wound. The story and the repercussions are still unfolding. This movie can hide behind the idea of making statements about unsafe airports, but I personally find it interesting when people say things like that if they haven’t been signing petitions and lobbying congress and going on a hunger strike or whatever to prove their point.

How do we make our points now? We make a movie?

The bottom line for me is that I can well imagine what it would have felt like to be in that movie theatre and seen this trailer come on. In a dark theatre with a giant screen in front of you. For God’s sake people, we still have
Giuliani
testifying about the horror of watching people die that day.

We still have soldiers overseas, dying.

If you decide to go see this movie, I respect your decision. But please don’t try to convert me on this. One thing Kevin and I were discussing was how, until now, there had been a prohibition of sorts surrounding 9/11.

That all ends with the first movie coming out. Maybe it will be tastefully done, maybe not. But after this one, there will be more movies. And they’ll likely get a little more graphic, go for a little more shock value.

The tragedy is now a commodity.

9/11 is something that, though I experienced it only as a spectator, I think we all feel the shockwaves of. Bali shocked me in the extreme, more because we walked past that place almost every day when we were there.

And if a place I visited for a vacation can have the kind of impact on me, how much more then for New Yorkers does 9/11 impact them?

I just can’t believe we’re ready for this. I am with the other voices, crying out, “Too soon, too soon.”

There are other ways to tell the story. Without the sensationalism. Without the multi-million dollar budget.

Without the studio board rubbing their palms in anticipation raking in the dough at the expense of pouring acid in the gaping wounds of the people even now still putting their lives back together in the face of overwhelming, senseless loss.

15 comments:

Erik Ivan James said...

Wow. Heavy post.
I'm with you, 100%.
Unfortunately, since "it's all about the money", others are not.

The stories should be told, all of them, at some appropriate time in the future, but not as entertainment movie fiction. Instead as possibly feature length documentary.

Hollywood will not be able to resist sensational fiction "for the sake of art". What they will really mean is; "for the sake of money and awards", as you suggested.

I agree, it's too early. But then, I'm not a member of the victims.

Bernita said...

Tragedy has always been a commodity, directly or indirectly.
Have a book about the Titantic published that year.
Tragedy sells newspapers and safety devices.
Of course, there's the claim of quid pro quo in news/information/lives, etc. when tragedy is sold direct.
Hollywood is such an easy target.
I wonder how many still prefer to think the terrorism of 9/11 was a one-off thing and prefer to bury it with the dead.
Idle thoughts on a Sunday morning.

JamesO said...

This is a tricky one. Sure, Hollywood is in it for the money, but only because it knows it can make it from this subject. How many times have you seen the image of the airliners hitting the twin towers since 9/11 - isn't that a slap in the face to the bereaved every time it's on the television?

But I agree with Erik - there's some subjects that shouldn't be treated as entertainment.

And seeing how Hollywood has treated other real life stories in the past, what will actually come out will probably be a ham-fisted attempt to show Americans as the hard-pressed saviours of the world, struggling heroically against a rising tide of insane bearded mullahs.

Or am I just being cynical?

Cornelia Read said...

I still have my Sari Club t-shirt from 1988, when we were staying in Kuta. 9/11 was devastating, but the Bali bombings hit home too.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I don't know that you're just being cynical, James. People need their heroes to fill the void in themselves. And there were many heroes on that day. But I think this is the stuff of documentaries, of books, of serious treatment.

And if you go to the link you can watch the trailer - if it's the same one that I saw on tv here, the guy rips open his shirt and has a bomb pack on. Really? Why would anyone have even TRIED to overpower someone with explosives? Do people not watch the news?

Okay, I'm shutting up and turning the rant off.

Meleta McHarlin said...

Every Saturday, my boyfriend, his mother, and I go to the movies. It's a tradition that we all love. We were sitting in the movie theater watching the previews when they showed the trailer for the upcoming movie about 9/11. Immediately, I choked up. It surprised me. I thought I was over it. I thought the post traumatic shock (or whatever it's called) was gone. Apparently not.
After I got control of my emotions, I looked over at my boyfriend's mom sitting to my left. She was staring at me. We both said the same thing at the same time. "I'm not going to see that one. I can't."
Only time will tell if it's too early for other people. The main judge will be ticket sales. But it's still too early for me.
Exploitation? or creating heros? Profiting on pain? or telling a story? Each person will have to decide for themselves.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I think you're right, Meleta. Everyone will decide, people will feel differently about it.

Though I definitely think this is one of those movies that people are going to not lecture people about going to see. Could be wrong. But I hope that people have enough sensitivity not to pressure people who aren't ready for it.

I know when I saw the advert, I resented the emotional manipulation. That's how I interpreted it. But again, that's just me.

M. G. Tarquini said...

There was a movie on The Learning Channel, or one of those cable channels about the flight that went down in Pennsylvania. I saw bits of it on Larry King when he interviewed some of the actors and parents of some of the better known passengers on the flight.

I dunno. The bits I saw were very realistic. But it happened less than five years ago. The images are still pretty fresh. I won't go see any 9/11 films on the big screen. Mostly because I'm afraid the film will trivialize it or, as you say, become a big wad of emotional manipulation. The Longest Day was released twenty years after D-Day. Forty years after it was released, it's still a powerful film. I can wait another 15 years for a film about 9/11.

Frankly, I'd prefer thoughtful documentaries on the topic, not Hollywood. There haven't been many of those made yet.

I watched Schindler's List with my eyes closed and I'll never watch it again - as important and valuable as I think that film is - I'll never watch it again.

Lisa Hunter said...

I'm a native New Yorker and was in the city on 9/11 -- it was my son's first day of first grade. (We had just gotten the kids settled in and feeling safe when we had to evacuate amid pandemonium. The kids thought all the fire trucks were a parade.)

I don't object to someone's making a film about 9/11 -- most historic events are memorialized in film sooner or later -- but I VEHEMENTLY object to showing the trailer. To expect us to re-live that day, then sit back and eat our popcorn and watch the coming attraction for Bringing Down Da House 3 is beyond insensitive.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Thanks for that Lisa - I can't imagine as a parent what that must have been like. Horrid. Terrifying. There aren't words.

And I really agree about the trailer. I think, in part, I could have ignored the whole thing and been less rattled by it if I hadn't seen that on tv. I really can't imagine what it would have felt like to have seen that in a movie theatre.

What I remember from 9/11 was getting phone calls from friends in the US, asking if we were okay. I think that's when it first sunk in that until the skies were clear, anything was possible. They did a security shutdown at my husband's work, and at the time it all seemed surreal.

Plus, I worked with kids. So my first conversation of the morning was with our resident news junkie, wanting to discuss this. You had kids who needed to talk and other kids plugging their ears, some who were clinging to radios - and you're supposed to make sense of what you don't even understand yourself for them all.

The security when we flew to Tunisia was incredible.

Lisa Hunter said...

I think for some people, United 93 may actually be a cathartic experience. The overwhelming feeling that day was helplessness -- particularly in New York, where all the bridges, tunnels and exits out of town were shut. You were trapped and had no idea how many more attacks might be coming. (I was a science writer at the time, specializing in bioterrorism, so my imagination was working overtime. I STILL don't let my son drink tap water in New York.)

People like to imagine themselves standing up to evil and being brave. That's why Shindler's List meant so much to so many people. I'm willing to believe United 93 is more than just make-a-buck sensationalism. But I don't want to see it myself. And I don't want to see it advertised cavalierly, as if it were an ad for Milk Duds.

Sandra Ruttan said...

My word, with your career it must have been doubly horrid. It's always worse for people who are incredibly aware of all the potential dangers, I think.

What did it for me was seeing the ad. The flashing of, "From the director of..." I can't remember what the one movie was, the other listed was The Bourne Supremacy. It struck me as ego-centric as any other ad, and the musical emotional manipulation factor.

Now, I speak only for me. I don't like that on regular tv. I watch The Wire and if you ever listen to their commentaries you know the philosophy against using music to manipulate emotions. The story does the job on its own, and very effectively.

I do appreciate movies like Schindler's List. I never lost anybody in the war, but I'm as moved over WW2 as anything and I've been to Dachau and to Bergen Belsen. One of my favourite tv movies was Murderers Among Us: The Simon Wiesenthal Story. One of my favourite books as a child: Twenty and Ten, which my husband just tracked down for me.

Really, truly, yeah, we all knew it would happen sooner or later. But I, for one, wish it was later.

And in truth, people don't have to imagine anyone standing up and being brave. The firefighters (my husband is a firefighter, my best friend's husband is a firefighter as well) the police officers, not to mention the people that really did bring this plane down.

But looking ahead to summer, I'm a bit disturbed by the thought of remembering 9/11 being tainted by images of a heroic Nicholas Cage flashing through my brain. I'd rather remember the real, though that's truly just me.

Out of curiosity, if you feel like answering, have you discussed this with your son now that he's older? I don't envy parents who had to decide how to address this with their children, especially those that live in NYC.

For The Trees said...

On thinking about it, I would have to say I'd feel like the flight 93 movie and its depiction of 9/11 as I did about Mel Gibson's Passion of Christ. I don't want to see it. There's too much blood and gore involved, and I'm still trying to clear my mind of all the horrors I have for nightmares.

To have sat through the Crucifiction - which was widely panned for too much blood - would be as hard as sitting through the 9/11 disaster.

And I think it trivializes the whole thing. Kids see these films and it removes the emotional impact. Starts the event on the road to "just a movie, no biggie." And so many movies are so sensational it trivializes trauma, pain, death, terrorism, etc. I can't even go to the movies anymore. Too much blood and gore. No, I said that already.

Thanks for a great post. I enjoyed it.

Lisa Hunter said...

In answer to your question, no, we don't really discuss 9/11 directly, though it's come up unexpectedly at times. For example, he no longer wanted to go to Coney Island amusement park, because you have to take the bridge to Brooklyn and can see where the buildings used to be, and that made him sad.

We DO talk about how glad we are to be living in Canada now (for reasons totally unrelated to geopolitics). And these days I write about visual arts instead of smallpox epidemics. A quiet life is a blessing.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I, too am a New Yorker, but Upstate (and Lisa your right, don't let your son drink tap water in the City. Your reservoir is up here by me...and the momo's guarding it are inept!)

Back to the point. They haven't shown anything about the movie on our channels and I'm pretty sure the movie won't come here. The wounds are still too open and real!