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In Memoriam: New York City 9/11/01
THE STRAIGHT DOPE:
The best 9/11 documentaries have taken one point-of-view, one type of observer (firemen, children, civilians), and explored their experience. HBO's In Memoriam: New York City 9/11/01 tackles one of the most high-profile participants in the immediate rescue effort: New York's then-mayor Rudolf Giuliani. The hour-long program features interviews with Giuliani as well as members of his staff like his police commissioner Bernard Kerik, fire commissioner Thomas von Essen, and deputy mayor Joseph Lhota.
In Memoriam doesn't necessarily show the events of the day in a way different from other documentaries, but it does call on some incredible editing to bring the insane pace of events into sharp focus. Using footage from many dozens of sources, including filmmakers whose footage also appears in other significant documentaries on the subject, HBO is able to best simulate the Hollywood notion of "coverage." When the south tower, the second tower, is attacked the film cuts between a number of vantage points. This makes the piece feel more like a traditional film, with slam-bang editing (part of what makes many of the one-camera productions so powerful is the feeling of helplessness the single viewpoint gives the viewer) but it also makes the events very confrontational. There is a kinetic energy to the cutting that draws the viewer in.
The interviews with Giuliani, an old pro at the interview, are interesting to a point. While the film makes no mention of this, Giuliani has long been a controversial figure in New York, hated as much as loved. On September 11th, however, he seemed fearless. He ran directly to the trade center at first word of the attack and helped calm the city's frayed nerves with constant television appearances, recapping the events in a calm, orderly fashion. Whatever you thought of him up to that point, he was definitely up to the task of taking control in those dark days.
Beyond that (and the 9/11 footage of Giuliani walking down the debris-strewn street suggesting to news cameras that New Yorkers stay calm and evacuate lower Manhattan is absolutely fascinating) his interviews aren't that enlightening. The most affecting moments come when discussing Rescue 1 fireman Terry Bratton. Bratton's wife Beth Petrone served as an executive assistant in Giuliani's staff and her interview segments are devastatingly powerful. Given the limited scope of In Memoriam Petrone stands in for all widows and widowers and her haunted eyes really relay the pain.
There are other horrendously powerful moments. A sequence showing people jumping from the highest stories of the towers - some one hundred flights up - remains one of the most disturbing images ever committed to film. It's impossible to look at the people, almost graceful in their final moments, without crying. Some may feel it's tasteless to include this footage and in fact the Naudet brothers made the spur of the moment decision to not shoot this footage (or at least to not use it in their film 9/11), but this is the truth of the situation and to try to understand the depths of sub-human filth that could attack citizens the way the hijackers and their backers did one must confront this information.
Similarly a few voicemail messages left for loved ones by office workers and visitors trapped on doomed floors are played briefly, including Melissa Hughes' now-famous "I'm stuck in this building in New York." These are the voices of the dead and there is no denying their terrible power.
In Memoriam also covers some material from after the day of the attacks including some tributes and funerals. The idea that Giuliani and many others had to attend two or three, and sometimes four or five, funerals a day is proof of the far reaching impact of this crime. But as Guiliani says in the piece, "Every time you cry you have to remember that we're right and they're wrong." Simple words, but absolutely true.
The full-frame video looks like broadcast television. The video sources vary in quality, but overall the presentation is fine.
The Dolby 5.1 audio is also fine. The production has been maximized to give full impact to the anarchy and chaos of minutes surrounding the attacks and collapses. The interviews are clear and understandable.
A map of the downtown area is available with clickable highlights offering information and video clips. This extra should be especially useful to anyone not familiar with lower Manhattan.
In Memoriam fits into the continuum of September 11th programs somewhere between the you-are-there immediacy of 9/11 and the utter sense of loss of Telling Nicholas. No one program can sum up all of the diverse feelings felt that day and, thankfully, few try.
In Memoriam: New York City 9/11/01
WTC- The First 24 Hours
New York Firefighters: The Brotherhood of 9/11
Why the Towers Fell
World Trade Center: Anatomy of the Collapse
World Trade Center - A Modern Marvel 1973-2001