September 11: Memorial Edition

| September 18, 2011

September 11, in a decade, has had an opportunity to become all things to all people: A war cry, a cry for peace and tolerance, a call to religion, a call against religions, a binding agent for a country’s sentiments while simultaneously a heat source to deactivate that binding. And though it is clear that 9/11’s effect has brought no single resolution of thought to seemingly any two people, one would hope that the day itself could be the rallying point for galvanization. But if so, what are the stories to be told from that day? Tales of tragedy or triumph? Despair or redemption?
The History Channel’s DVD release, September 11: Memorial Edition, takes an honorable approach at answering this question. The set is comprised of 4 discs, 2 of which focus upon the sheer loss of the day, while the others embrace a pair of that Tuesday’s true miracles.
The set begins with 102 Minutes That Changed America, a gritty film comprised of video footage of over one hundred eye witnesses of that day and moves chronologically through the morning. Save for an unsettling, dissident soundtrack and a recurring digital clock that trudges tragically forward, the footage is free from affectation or commentary. It is an essential compilation for future generations to view, as it captures a staggering number of vantage points throughout the city, as well as the voices of firemen during their last transmissions, 911 dispatcher conversations with the (edited out) voices of doomed office workers, and raw commentary from those documenting America’s worst modern tragedy. An addendum to this particular disc, I-Witness to 9/11, is a throwaway 19-minute short with a handful of the videographers’ tales, complete with clichéd, over-the-top shots of several of the guests as they give thousand-yard stares into the camera and then explain how they came to be where they were that day.
The Days the Towers Fell, a primarily photographic account, covers the same timeline but is propelled forward by the commentary of amateur and professional photographers as their pictures paint the screen. The forty-minute film is even more compelling and intimate than 102 Minutes That Changed America, the still images exuding an artful account that makes video seem almost cheap. New York Daily News photographer David Handschuh runs from the first news assignment of his life (as Tower 2 collapses two hundred feet away), and Thomas E. Franklin of The Record crosses the Hudson and ventures into a devastated downtown Manhattan to photograph Raising the Flag at Ground Zero, and before your eyes these people go from covering daily beats to becoming war correspondents.
Yet in the midst of so much death, there were miracles, and the attention paid to these is what gives September 11: Memorial Edition balance. Hotel Ground Zero tells the harrowing story of numerous guests and staff of the Mariott World Trade Center Hotel that rested at the base of the Twin Towers, including Ronald Clifford, an architect who had arrived at the hotel for an interview that morning and learned after escaping the South Tower’s collapse that his sister and niece had been on the plane that hit the South Tower. Most spectacular is the story of Jeff Johnson and his twelve firefighters, who retrieve lawyer Rank Razzano after they are all spared in a small sliver of fire escape, only to survive the second collapse in a small section of stairwell that had been reinforced after the 1993 bombing.
The Miracle of Stairway B continues the through-line of hope, with interviews from surviving firefighters and office worker Josephine Harris who weathered the collapse of the North Tower in a small section of stairwell that refused to come down. Together with Hotel Ground Zero, The Miracle of Stairway B provides a balance in story-telling necessary to understand the truth of that Tuesday in September.
September 11: Memorial Edition reminds us that no matter how high the cost, how unspeakable the act, somehow there is always still hope.

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