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In Memoriam: New York City 9/11/01 (2002)

Reviewed 2002-09-09
: I was lucky enough to see "In Memoriam" (first broadcast on Memorial Day) through the generosity of my employer. I wanted to remember. This HBO documentary will, and should, get wide circulation. But I can hear the objections to the expletives ("Oh, shit!" "Oh, God!" "Jesus Christ!") and to the graphic imagery (explosions, jumpers and dead bodies). "Could we make the deadliest terror attack on American soil kid-friendly, please?" I imagine someone whining.

But "In Memoriam: New York City 9/11/01" is a profoundly moving recapitulation, almost a re-experience, of the terrorist attack against the World Trade Center that took place a year ago this Wednesday. It will premiere at 8:00pm Eastern Time on the pay-cable HBO network. Told through interviews, chiefly with then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and his staff, the production uses stills and motion pictures taken on-site and close up. There is no narration. The effect is astonishingly evocative of the fears and tears of that Tuesday morning when America awakened to the reality that we are not universally loved. There was much heroism on that day: Mayor Giuliani was alerted to the disaster and, instead of flying into hiding, he traveled directly to the site, as if to tell the world that if you're entrusted with great power you must exercise great courage. Anyone can be a chief executive, but to be a statesman takes special talent.

The images were heartbreaking: both jets as the collide, fuel-laden, with the thin skin of each tower; a worker in a window (man or woman?) helplessly waving a white towel for a rescue that could never come; other workers, one after another, making the choice to jump to their deaths rather than be consumed by the interior inferno -- and the fireman describing the "pop" as they hit the street. Indeed, the descriptions of the witnesses and survivors, if they were not eloquent and scripted, were real and evocative. The wife of fireman Terry Hatton recalls that she was grabbing the dust from the ground, believing that her husband was in that dust. Mayor Giuliani noting that if you find too many euphemisms to describe that horrible event, you rob people of the ability to remember it, and to prevent anything like it.

There were heartwarming images, as well, including the firefighters raising the flag over the wreckage. There were, of course, refrains of "God Bless America," although God was somehow otherwise engaged on 9/11/01, and pictures of Jewish, Christian and Muslim funerals. There was much gratitude toward the firefighters and rescue workers, many of whom, like Terry Hatton, risked, and lost, their lives rescuing strangers. The music score was perfectly chosen, including selections from Appalachian Spring and Billy the Kid. I confess I was caught up in the emotion of the event almost from the first frame, each frame confirming its raw reality. Through reaffirmation of memory, "In Memoriam: New York City 9/11/01" once again made the tragedy real for me -- as real as the tears slipping onto my cheeks. As the Mayor pointed out in one of his numerous press conferences, tears make you stronger... but we're right; they're wrong. That I hope we never forget.

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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance reviewer.