The American public had to wait until March 1975 to view Abraham Zapruder’s 22-second, 8mm home movie of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The screening on ABC’s Goodnight America came eleven years and four months after the Dallas dress manufacturer filmed Kennedy’s death in Dealey Plaza.
There was no such wait, of course, for the eyes of the world to witness the September 11, 2001 attack on America. It aired live, everywhere. And on the first anniversary of that atrocity, the market brims with books, DVDs, and broadcast specials that commemorate the horrors — and hope — which that day provided. Here are a few of the worthier offerings.
Weighing in at nine pounds, Scalo Publishers has delivered an epic named Here is New York: A Democracy of Photographs. The 864-page volume features pictures related to 9/11 donated by novices and professionals. They originally appeared in an exhibit on SoHo’s Prince Street that now is traveling around the U.S. and Europe. It opens today at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. (A photo I submitted is in the show, but not the book.)
The wealth of photographs depicts the onslaught and what followed from every conceivable angle, physically and thematically. In black and white, we see the Twin Towers in their pre-9/11 glory. We see them ablaze and engulfed in smoke. A distraught man holds his face in his hands while wearing a shirt that reads, “I’ve gone to pieces.”
In color, a group of Hassidic men watch the inferno from Brooklyn. A severed leg rests helplessly in the street, mournfully detached from its owner. A forlorn German Shepard rescue dog heels with a bandage on its front left paw. In silhouette, the Twin Towers stand, carved into a Halloween jack-o-lantern. A graffito on the side of a building says: “You are alive.”
This book includes, literally, hundreds more images like these. Nearly all of them are captivating.
In Hollywood, they call them reaction shots — the camera angles that allow us to see characters respond to what transpires before their eyes. Photographer Kevin Bubriski applies this principle in Pilgrimage: Looking at Ground Zero. His black and white pictures capture people who journeyed to lower Manhattan to see al Qaeda’s handiwork firsthand. There are no images of the buildings, the dust, or the rubble. Instead, we experience the emotions etched these onlookers’ faces. While some understandably appear sad, most display a blank sense of disbelief. Many cover their mouths in awe. This book would benefit from a few less pictures of people wearing dust masks, but it does provide an unusual and intriguing perspective on this story.
HBO’s In Memoriam is the finest 9/11 documentary I have seen. It primarily uses footage shot by amateur photographers and videographers who were in New York City during the attacks. Former Gotham mayor Rudy Giuliani narrates the gripping film which covers the assault on New York and the memorial events that followed. More than the other DVDs I’ve watched, this one is especially noteworthy for its sound quality and excellent score performed by the New York Philharmonic and conducted by Leonard Slatkin.
The DVD includes an interactive map of the World Trade Center and its environs. Viewers can click on spots around the area and hear Giuliani, former NYPD commissioner Bernard Kerik, FDNY personnel, and others explain where they were and what they saw. Another feature suggests where to make charitable contributions. In Memoriam also can be played on computers as a DVD-ROM. It shows the 9/11 Tribute Mosaic, “a collection of voices, images and artwork from around the country.”
CBS News and Simon & Schuster collaborated on a DVD and book called What We Saw. Hosted by Dan Rather, the DVD offers highlights of the network’s coverage of the attacks and the following months’ events.
Bryant Gumbel interrupts his duties at the CBS Morning News for a special report on 9/11 at 8:52 A.M. “We understand that there has been a plane crash at the southern tip of Manhattan,” Gumbel says. While he knows it has penetrated One WTC, he is uncharacteristically mystified. “We don’t know if it’s a commercial aircraft. We don’t know if it’s a private aircraft,” he says.
About eleven minutes later, an eyewitness describing the fearsome scene by phone gasps, “Oh, there’s another one! Another plane just hit!…That definitely looks like it was on purpose.” Gumbel, who must have looked away from his TV monitors, could not believe his ears. “Why do you say that was definitely on purpose?” he asks the caller. After technicians rewind the tape, Gumbel’s skepticism evaporates. “There we see the explosion,” he says.
Less chilling but equally moving are feature stories CBS produced weeks after the attack on such topics as Giuliani’s performance and Ground Zero’s round-the clock recovery campaign. A particularly touching story looks at the FDNY’s Emerald Society Pipes and Drums. Through last November, the bagpipe band played at the funerals of some 300 of their 343 fallen comrades. The ensemble had to split up to appear at 21 memorial services one Saturday. All of the group’s members, however, showed up to perform for Durrell “Bronco” Pearsall, the Society’s 30 year old drummer and its only member who was killed at the World Trade Center.
“He left no parents, no wife, no children,” Dan Rather says.
“The band was his family. And they gathered, as they say, to pipe him to Heaven.”
CNN’s America Remembers provides a thorough look at 9/11 as it unfolded as well as its aftermath. It presents previously unseen footage of CNN’s news room which burst into chaos as soon as Mohamed Atta steered American Airlines Flight 11 into One WTC. The DVD also examines the valiant efforts of the FDNY, NYPD, and other uniformed services as well as the military’s response in Operation Enduring Freedom. For bonus content, the DVD includes President Bush’s stirring address to Congress last September 20.
Tonight, ABC will air Inside the Towers, a special produced in conjunction with USA Today. The program is scheduled for 8:00 P.M., but its timing may vary to accommodate news coverage of memorial events.
Last week, the publication once mocked as “McPaper” published a superb, four-part series that chronicled much of what transpired inside the Twin Towers in the 102 minutes between when One WTC first was hit and the moment it tumbled onto the wreckage of Two WTC. In breathtaking detail and with a masterful sense of story telling and suspense, USA Today staff writers Dennis Cauchon and Martha T. Moore explored several key questions, among them, why some lived and others died. They concluded that “The right reaction was panic.” Nearly all of those below the impact zones in each building who ran like hell survived. Many of those who returned to their desks to grab briefcases, confer with bosses or stare at the carnage outside their windows wound up dead.
ABC News will combine many of the newspaper’s stories with videotaped interviews and computer graphics to recreate what happened within the skyscrapers. Joe Dittmar, a Two WTC insurance executive who survived the mayhem, says that September 11 is never far from his mind. “It’s like my shadow. It’s never going to go away. It goes with me everywhere I go.”