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Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Path to 9-11, Fact/Truth 

It starts off looking long and then becomes instantly accessible. Read it all the way through. It won't take as long as you think.

Here. Read, then come back for the rest.

I don't necessarily agree with every point made. As that poster recognizes, the stories of tragedy and experience -- large and small -- are as much about the emotions of those involved as they are about the hard data. Emotion requires documenting, too, if you want the "whole story" -- and emotional renderings of real-life occurences are by definition subjective. Art, in this case United 93 and World Trade Center (and most certainly not The Path to 9-11 or Pearl Harbor), is about expressing emotion rather than factual data. It is not the duty of art to cross the t's and dot the i's. To be perfectly flaky, art strives for truth. Journalism strives for fact.

(There is a difference.)

The Path to 9-11's obvious political agenda is enough to infuriate, but its claim to accurately represent fact through dramatization is not only dishonest, but morally reprehensible. Jim Emerson claims (when speaking of WTC) that any dramatization of an actual occurence is by nature political, as it "makes choices about what to show and what not to show." Oliver Stone, on the other hand, has said "It seems to me that the event was mythologized by both political sides, into something that they used for political gain. And I think one of the benefits of this movie is that it reminds us of what actually happened that day, in a very realistic sense." (Emerson rightly comments that it isn't as realistic as all that, as it's "a PG-13 movie about mass murder." The full scope is lost when you have to soften the blow for the MPAA so kids can see it.)

We may have a confusion here over use of the terms "political" and "personal." Emerson sees agendas, and Stone is working as an artist. And of course it is impossible to document and dramatize every action of every person tied to that day -- especially when no one can agree on what determines if someone was "tied" to it at all. Relatives of those who died? Friends-of-friends? That WTC is not a political film is accurate; no projections are made about who was responsible, or what came after, or indeed anything outside those 48 hours. The people involved don't yet know what's going on, you see, and can only deal with the immediate situation. Credits roll before aftermath begins.

But it is a personal film, edited, cultivated, and shaped for dramatic effect and the more practical concern of time constraints. What it does -- and very well, I thought -- was show those who were not physically present what it was like to be under or near the twin towers when they were struck, and when they fell. To those who claim they don't need reminders, that they remember it quite well -- no, frankly, you don't. Only a handful of people personally experienced what these men and women did, and fewer still survived it.

But whether you need or want that reminder is a personal choice. So is interpreting the events and putting them through your own personal filter for others to see -- that is the role of an artist. It is not morally "wrong" to do so. Stone may trumpet his "this is not a political film" a little too loudly, but one can only imagine the kind of heat generated when a director like him took on a project like this. But he performed his duty as an artist to his audience, and he did so admirably.

And there ain't a damn thing wrong with that.

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