It’s a gray, drizzly, foggy morning here in Michigan; if I didn’t know better, I’d think I was back in Seattle. The weather is actually pretty appropriate, as it’s a good match for the mood I’m in this morning. One of those days where you want to just leave the lights off, lay on the couch, and listen to the rain fall.
A big reason I’m in this mood is a program the History Channel aired yesterday, 102 Minutes that Changed America. I’ve seen a lot of programming about 9/11, particularly in the last few days, but this one was different. It affected me much more profoundly, because of the way it was put together. Pretty much the entire thing consists of amateur video and home movies. Apart from some raw footage shot from news helicopters (which isn’t broadcast-quality), there is no professional camera work. We do get occasional graphics on the screen, informing us of the time and where the video in question was taken (“Three blocks Northwest”, or “Five Miles North”). There are no instant replays of big moments; everything plays out in real time, from when the first person noticed the first tower was on fire and turned on a video camera, until several minutes past the collapse of the second tower. The only professional news reporting or commentary we get is what was playing in the background, as the home video cameras rolled.
What makes this program so deeply disturbing is that it is so raw and so real. By “raw,” I don’t mean graphic. There is nothing in here that’s any bloodier or more graphic than anything that’s been shown in other TV programs. It’s more the raw emotion, and seeing it through the eyes of ordinary people as they absorbed what was happening and were trying to make sense of it. Was that first fire in the first tower a bomb? How did they get it up there? Or was it some other kind of explosion, like a gas line? Someone heard it was a plane? A small plane? How did it get lost and crash on such a clear day?
Another especially memorable portion is the footage from Times Square, of ordinary people staring up at the big video screens and watching the news play out. The expressions on their faces are indescribable; you can see the shock, and the questioning, and the wheels turning in their heads as they grapple to process the images they can’t believe they’re seeing.
And there are the videos rolling in elevators, and where average people are gathering, passing along speculation and wondering what is going on. There is the shear terror and emotional meltdown of the girl who was filming from her living room window when the second plane hit; she puts the camera down (still rolling, pointing into the middle of the room), and we hear her wailing hysterically as she runs from her apartment, calling out “I can’t be on the 32nd floor of this building anymore.”
It was especially sickening watching all the firefighters rushing to the scene from all over the city; there is lots of street-level footage of emergency vehicles, and the prevailing attitude is: There is a building on fire. People are trapped. We’re going up to put the fire out, and get the people out. If anyone believed the towers might collapse, there’s no sign of it on these videos — everyone was regarding it as just another building fire that had to be extinguished, and you do that by sending in an army of firefighters. Was really difficult to watch this, knowing what was going to happen to all of these men in just a few minutes.
When the first tower collapses, we get the confusion of one family that’s filming through the window of another building: Wait a minute. I can’t see the other tower. Where is it? Is it behind all that smoke? I can’t see it.
I could go on and on, but you get the idea. This is an extremely well-produced program, which really puts the viewer on the streets of NYC on 9/11. It affected me like no other 9/11 programming, and is going to stick with me for quite some time.