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April 15, 2006

LA Times on United 93

Regular readers will notice that I've been following the controversy surrounding the promotional trailer and upcoming release of Universal's United 93, which depicts the hijacking and eventual crash of United Airlines Flight 93 near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and Jason Apuzzo of the conservative film blog, Libertas, has posted an LA Times article asking whether or not the United States is "ready" for a film about 9/11. Apuzzo argues,

Of course, the Main Stream Media is now scratching its head, wondering whether America is properly ‘ready’ for movies about 9/11. Again, it’s odd that this debate didn’t accompany Michael Moore’s film, or the recent V For Vendetta (as obvious a War on Terror metaphor as we’ve seen), but now that realistic depictions of the War on Terror are being presented, suddenly some people are very worried about the public’s ability to ‘handle’ (i.e., absorb on their own) what’s coming at them.
Apuzzo then goes on to criticize "left-leaning 'intellectuals' [talking] about what ‘complex,’ ’sophisticated’ wartime films should look like." To be fair, like Apuzzo, I think the Times article is asking the wrong question by focusing on whether or not America is "ready" for a film such as United 93. Given the ratings success of A&E's TV movie version of this story, it's clear that many people want to revisit these events, whether as a means of working through their grief, making sense of what happened, or out of some other motive altogether. Instead, I think the more crucial question--the one we ought to be asking--is how these films will present this history. I have been concerne about the discussions of the film as "realistic," often with the implication that this realism is a guarantee of an objective representation of what happened, which is a rather dubious claim. More crucially, focusing entirly on the flight itself may in fact obscure crucial elements of the historical narrative about 9/11.

But I also want to address Apuzzo's dismissal of "left-leaning 'intellectuals,'" in part because he misreads the comments of the film scholars who were interviewed for the article and in part because this misreading plays into Apuzzo's absurdly simplistic binary between "patriotic movies" and what he calls "movies in which America loses." It's worth noting that Apuzzo conveniently omits film historian Robert Sklar's comments about the Office of War Information and the films produced by directors such as Frank Capra and John Ford, which were made to rally US support for the war, with Sklar implying that with past tragedies such as Pearl Habor, audiences were almost immediately "ready" for films that depicted the attack by the Japanese military. USC film professors Richard Jewell and Howard Rodman do call for more subtle and nuanced depictions of the events of 9/11, but the article offers little evidence of their specific politics. In fact, Jewell, despite Apuzzo's characterization, actually suggests that we might have been better off if studios could have "miraculously gotten this film out in the first three months."

The focus on major studio film representations of 9/11 also overlooks the number of independent and documentary films that have already dealt with the topic in a variety of ways, but more crucially, the article ignores the fact that television shows, such as 24 and The West Wing have been dealing with the events of 9/11 for some time. I still think that the trailers promoting United 93 could have been handled more gracefully, but I don't think the question is whether audiences are "ready" to revisit the events of 9/11; instead we should be more concerned with how those stories will be told.

Posted by chuck at April 15, 2006 4:05 PM

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V For Vendetta (as obvious a War on Terror metaphor as we’ve seen)

This is a curious statement as the recent film is a fairly faithful rendition of the comic, which is something like two decades old and deals much more with cold war issues.

Posted by: Thomas at April 16, 2006 3:53 AM

That's Apuzzo's analysis, and I thought he may have overstated that analogy, too, but the film seems highly critical of the use of propaganda, whether of the 1980s-Thatcher or the 2000s-Bush variety, and V's story was played to recall prisons such as Guantanamo.

And Moore himself didn't really regard the film as a faithful adaptation at all.

Posted by: Chuck at April 16, 2006 9:52 AM

I'm ready for anything that is well-reasoned and entertaining, a rare combo that Paul Greengrass seems capable of delivering

Posted by: Keith Demko at April 17, 2006 6:14 PM

For whatever reason, I couldn't get through The Bourne Supremacy (if I had seen it in theaters, I might have reacted differently). I do think his previous films suggest that he deserves the benefit of the doubt, but I still think the marketing of the film raises some questions.

Posted by: Chuck at April 17, 2006 6:42 PM

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