September 11th. With the announcement of two major networks competing for their own TV movies chronicling the largest terrorist act upon American soil, it seems as though our nation has finally moved beyond the horror of that fateful day and instead placed it into the same category of television movie sensationalism normally reserved for wives who run over their husbands or feel good holiday films. As time passes the events of September 11th seems less and less visceral, happening what seems like a lifetime ago and losing most of its immediate impact. Of course American’s still care greatly about the lives lost and the suffering of that day but at the same time there was a period where even the discussion of trivializing the event with a staged, generic television movie (let alone competing movies) would be dismissed as insensitive and offensive. September 11th has begun to transform from immediate threat to history and with the country at war this is a dangerous position to take. Given this background a film such as “20041102.Last.Chance” gains all the more power for not only being a stark reminder of the events of September 11th but also for being one of the subtlest yet most effective anti-Bush films made yet.
While the viewer may be used to footage from that day, such as the planes crashing into the World Trade Center and the ensuing chaos on the streets of New York City, “20041102.Last.Chance” is different in how it arranges the footage. Dividing the screen into four sections like “Timecode” multiple images are shown at once. A clock in the center of the screen links the footage together and text, supported by the sources cited, pops up from time to time recounting where the planes were and what was being done on the ground (or not being done on the ground) to stop them. The footage ranges from news coverage taken from Fox and CNN to a Japanese news broadcast in New York City to sound bites from on the planes to the seven minutes of President Bush sitting with the class of children after he heard we were under attack to actual footage from firefighters in and around the towers. The compiling of such shocking images such as watching Bush calmly sit in the classroom as the children recite their lessons and watching from first person perspective a firefighter dash away from a tower as it collapses, hiding behind a car as a cloud of smoke and debris rushes past, is engaging but it is in the integration of the images the film derives its strength. Often times the audio will bleed together with the news reporters talking over one another. The children’s reading in unison takes on an odd, eerie quality when contrasted with the excited newscasters and the disaster footage from the other sections. Whereas this footage presented alone or one at a time would have had an impact, this stylistic choice of jamming it together sums up the true scattershot feel of that day.
Instead of simply being a piece regarding the attack, as the title suggests this is in fact an Anti-Bush piece of filmmaking. The text shows, through sources such as the Associated Press and the 9/11 commission, where Bush was throughout the morning and seems to be pointing to a lack of leadership quality. The filmmaker lets the fact Cheney was the one to inquire about shooting down the plane on its way to the White House and not Bush speak for itself. It is a daring choice to let the viewer decide what they are seeing based on the images and the text framing them, instead of telling the message flat out.
Whether the message against Bush succeeds or fails is up to the objective viewer. A Democrat would probably see a man unable to lead without being told what to do whereas a Republican could surmise Bush was trying to stay calm and collected in the face of crisis. What cannot be argued with is the emotional impact of the images provided. This is a far more effective tribute to the insanity of that day than most of the follow up pieces provided by the mainstream media because this film is so raw. One day, as with Pearl Harbor, we will be reconciled with the events of September 11th and it will have taken its rightful place in the history books but we are not there yet as proven by the continued threat of terrorism. “20041102.Last.Chance” works best as a grim reminder that as much as we’d like to be, we’re not out of the woods yet.
Posted on November 9, 2004 in Reviews by Greg Bellavia
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