Brevity is beautiful.
I watched a much better film. CBS's documentary, 9/11. Holy crap, is this a good film. The backstory's as compelling as the subject.
Last summer, French filmmakers Jules and Gedeon Naudet began working on a profile of a probationary firefighter, or "probie," in New York City and his company, Engine 7, Ladder 1. For the project, the Naudets, who are brothers, teamed up with their friend, James Hanlon, who is also a firefighter in the company. The company's firehouse is on Duane Street in lower Manhattan, a few blocks from the World Trade Center.
They spent the summer shooting the probie, an eager 21-year-old named Tony Benetatos. As the summer went on, they gathered hundreds of hours of tape on Benetatos and life at the firehouse. Around 8:30 a.m. on September 11, the company received a routine call to investigate a suspected gas leak at an intersection less than a mile north of the World Trade Center. Jules went on the call. While there, he heard a roar from above and turned his camera upward, and captured the only known video of the first plane striking Tower 1.
It's an amazing and strange bit of luck -- luck is a huge factor in this film and you end up deciding it's neither good nor bad luck, just very odd luck. The Naudet brothers shot what has to be the greatest film of their lives, but you get the feeling that they would've been very happy to have been anywhere else than there that day.
One brother is in the World Trade Center lobby when the first tower collapses. The firefighters heard this awful roar -- the camera catches the looks on their faces and you can tell they know exactly what it is. They run like hell.
Throughout the film, it's clear that no one on the ground knows what the hell is going on. They surmise terrible facts from where they stand -- occasional loud crashes are, we learn, people jumping from the towers and crashing into the lobby's roof. "It was raining bodies," one firefighter later says.
Part of the problem was that the firefighters just didn't have the radio bandwidth they needed to communicate with each other. Apparently, they never anticipated that much radio traffic in one location. In large part, firefighters were on their own.
I've posted that the American Family Association opposed airing the documentary because of profanity, believe it or not, and put up a petition online to get CBS to pull the film. If you're reading this and you've signed that petition, I have two words for you -- "you" and "ass".
What we see in '9/11' is that the firefighters are heroes, sure, but not angels. They're fellas. Crusty blue collar types, union men and family guys. On hearing that the Pentagon has been hit as well, the original subject of the film, the probie Tony Benetatos, says, "The Pentagon! Somebody's got a lot of balls!"
I've said that strange luck runs throughout this film. As was noted earlier, the Naudet's were the only ones to get the first plane crash on film. After the tower collapses, the firefighters are happy to have Jules with them, since his camera has very bright light -- footage in this part of the film is just what happens to be taken as he uses the camera as a lantern. It's pitch black.
Outside, Gedeon Naudet is nearly certain that his brother's dead. He doesn't lose it, but sort of goes on automatic -- he tells us in voiceover that he's not a firefighter, he's has no medical training, the one thing he can do to help is document the event.
The second tower collapses. More running like hell. More dust and darkness.
The firefighters regroup back at the firehouse, trickling back in ones and twos -- it's clear that they were all operating one their own at this point. No one knew where anyone else was or who lived and died. The strange luck is back, everyone has returned but the probie the documentary was supposed to be about. He's the last to return and it becomes clear that, despite the incredible odds, the first company on the scene (the station was the closest to WTC) all survived. The Naudet brothers survived. And they know that a lot of people -- thousands -- had to have died.
Eventually, they all go back and they dig -- for days. Despite being deeply wounded by the loss of over 300 firefighter brothers, despite the fact that they only pull one person alive from the rubble, they dig -- to recover bodies.
There are no politics in this film, no ideology, just undeniable truth. Ground Zero is a construction site now. And seeing that, I was struck by something I've always believed.
We are best when we build and worst when we destroy. Destruction is easy, almost mindless, while building is difficult. It takes effort and money and planning. It takes a certainty that the future exists. It takes teamwork and intelligence and foresight. Building is hard.
There is nothing that guns or bombs or missiles or kamikaze missions with airliners can accomplish that's as lasting as anything you can build. They can knock things down and destroy, sure, but they can't stop you from building -- we always rebuild.
Maniacs look at the future and see a smoking pile of rubble. They think you can remake the world with guns. These people are idiots. The future isn't a smoking hole.
The future is a hammer and a nail.
Technorati tags: politics; terrorism; politics; propaganda; ABC's the Path to 9-11 is lies, CBS's 9-11 told the truth