How to Remember 9/11 [UPDATED]

August 31, 2011 at 10:30 pm (By Amba) (, )

I was determined not to—once was enough—and then I was walking past the IFC Film Center this afternoon and . . .

Impulse-bought a ticket to see “Rebirth.”  What did it was probably my oblique personal connection to the late FDNY Capt. Terry Hatton, whose friend is one of those interviewed. His wife was Mayor Giuliani’s personal assistant Beth Petrone; her brother was the publicist we’d hired because I had an article about J’s slow recovery from trauma coming out in Oprah’s magazine.  Curiously, it was called “Journey to Healing,” and it appeared 9/10/2001.

Small, silver lining: Hatton and Petrone had been trying to conceive; afterwards, she discovered she had, and daughter Terri was born the following year.

The movie is very, very good and very moving in the parallels it finds between the rebuilding of bodies, lives, and buildings — in all cases a halting, back-and-forth process, more complex than you might expect. The people whose lives were followed through the years from 2001 to 2009 were amazingly brave about revealing their emotions. This was sort of the premiere and the filmmakers were there to answer questions, as well as two of the principals. After the film I felt absolutely compelled to stay and talk to Terry Hatton’s friend, Tim Brown, which was absurd because my connection to the family was so tenuous, but they were “my” 9/11 family nonetheless. Terri Hatton is “doing great” and still has on her wall cut-out heads of Miley Cyrus, Justin Timberlake — and Tim Brown! The film will be at IFC film center down the block from me for some weeks, and in other theaters around the country, and will air on Showtime on 9/11. Try to see it on the big screen, because the panoramic time-lapse photography of the site is breathtaking, and the intimacy of the close-ups is enlarged.

There’s also a marvelous middle-aged Chinese-American woman in the film, Ling, who was very badly burned and went through 40 surgeries trying to regain freedom of movement constricted by terrible keloid scarring. In spite of everything, she is FUNNY. She was there and I got to tell her she was my hero because she was funny. And I got to point out to her that when she got up her “reserved” sign was stuck to the seat of her pants, which was very much in her spirit.

This is the way to remember 9/11 — not static but dynamic.

UPDATE:  The most spiritual person in this movie is a construction supervisor.  He does not utter a Christian piety, nor is there even a hint of new-age Candide, “all’s for the best in this best of all possible universes.” Rather, expressed in completely new words which he gropes for and finds onscreen, it’s his direct response to the site, which he instinctively senses is sacred, and from the moment his firefighter brother dies there, Brian is possessed and driven by the imperative to rebuild it, right through and out the other side of the PTSD that blindsides him a couple of years after the event. It’s the first time you’ll ever think of a construction worker as an agent of resurrection.

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20 Comments

  1. mockturtle said,

    I well remember Beth Petrone and her poignant story. It’s nice to know of the silver linings that bring a glimmer to the darkest clouds and Beth’s and Terry’s baby is certainly one of those. The fascinating book, 102 Minutes also reveals the compassion and caring those in the Twin Towers showed toward each other, mostly complete strangers, during that horrific event. I have the excellent DVD In Memoriam which documents the events of September 11, 2001. I shall watch it again, as I do every 9/11, and will cry. Again.

  2. amba (Annie Gottlieb) said,

    Watch Rebirth too. Then you will cry because you will be moved by life’s stubborn instinct to come back and the winding path by which it does so. I needed to see that for other reasons, and so do you.

  3. mockturtle said,

    I will, Annie! Perhaps it’s a bit like Mt. St. Helens erupting in that, not only did nature recover, but in many instances flourishes better than before the devastation.

  4. justkim said,

    On September 11, I plan to take Baby Cat to the park, maybe one with a splash pad. There, I will watch her run and play and dance, without knowing that it is a day marked with sorrow.

    Life will stubbornly carry on!

  5. Tom Strong said,

    Sounds a bit like “Treme,” which though uneven I’ve found to be quite powerful the few times I’ve watched it.

  6. Icepick said,

    Sunday just isn’t the right day to … commemorate? … 9/11. It will always be a Tuesday.

  7. Donna B. said,

    You’re right, Icepick. Saturday and Sunday already have a ‘specialness’ attached and there is something so ordinary and normal about Tuesday.

  8. mockturtle said,

    Yes, but Pearl Harbor happened on a Sunday.

  9. wj said,

    Your update puts me in mind of a story I heard as a child. As I remember it (the versions I found on-line are different) a man is supervising the building a cathedral. For whatever reason (I don’t remember if it is even specified in the story), he has to lay off two workers (out of three). So he goes out to the job site and asks them what they are doing.

    One says “I am constructing a wall.”
    Another says “I’m working to support my family.”
    The third says “I am building a cathedral to the greater glory of God.”

    The last guy is the one who gets kept. As I say, the online versions I found differed — google that last quote for details. But they all had one thing in common: a construction worker who viewed his work in spiritual terms.

  10. amba (Annie Gottlieb) said,

    That is completely in tune with how this guy feels. The more I think about it the more he’s the soul of the film to me, because he’s the one who links together healing in the flesh and rebuilding in the world. And because he’s quiet and unassuming and not the kind of guy who ordinarily expresses his innermost thoughts about these things. The director’s gentleness and the way he earned these people’s trust, and their courage to reveal themselves in response, was what “made” the movie — quite a definition of “filmmaking.”

  11. amba (Annie Gottlieb) said,

    I was in fact very annoyed that the audience didn’t give the director and all of them a standing ovation. How New York blasé is that?? (Of course, it was the premiere and many of them may have been insiders who would have felt awkward applauding themselves.)

  12. mockturtle said,

    I don’t get Showtime. Maybe I can get someone to tape it for me.

  13. amba (Annie Gottlieb) said,

    There are also theatrical showings, but not many at this point. I am sure it will have a theatrical release. Even if someone tapes it for you, it’s worth seeing on the big screen.

  14. mockturtle said,

    My mother and I were talking on the phone yesterday and she has a different take on 9/11. In her opinion, there is too much memorial and ceremony. She thinks it gives the perpetrators [or those of like minds] a sense of victory.

  15. amba (Annie Gottlieb) said,

    Not this movie. I am of like minds with your mother; that’s why I was surprised by the impulse to see any film about it at all, but this one was more about the impulse to heal and rebuild than about the particular wound. Anyone reeling from any of life’s blows will benefit from it, and in fact it is being used for grief and trauma counseling generally. There is very little about the actual attacks and it’s only radio, no video.

  16. Icepick said,

    MT, it’s not that bad things, even atrocities, can’t happen on a weekend. It’s that this one happened on a Tuesday. In fact, being a weekday was imperative for the attack to maximize damage. Like federal holidays usually being celebrated on a Monday, regardless of the actual date being commemorated, 9/11 should only be commemorated on a Tuesday.

  17. mockturtle said,

    I see your reasoning, Icepick. Pearl Harbor’s impact was maximized by its being on a Sunday. The level of readiness, especially at the high command level, was lower. But should ‘the day that will live infamy’ always be remembered on whatever Sunday falls near the early part of December or shall December 7 be the date to observe? I think that using a consistent date, rather than day, is simply easier to remember.

  18. Icepick said,

    July 4 is easy to remember too. We celebrate that on whichever Monday the government tells us to. Just sayin’.

  19. amba (Annie Gottlieb) said,

    Um, did the original signing of the Declaration of Independence take place on a Monday, by any chance?

    Actually, we “celebrate” the 4th on the 4th, right? but we get a day off work on the nearest Monday. Somehow I forget what happens when the 4th is on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday

  20. Randy said,

    IIRC, the Declaration of Independence was signed on the 2nd. It was a Sunday. FWIW, I believe that the July 4th holiday is not included in the Uniform Monday Holiday Act.

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