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September 18, 2006

Surprise: Stone's WTC Gets It All Wrong

Interesting article by Deborah Liss who contends that Oliver Stone, for once, went subtle and made the rescue- less dramatic and courageous than it actually was.

This is a case where Hollywood can't be accused of hyping reality—the real rescue was much more amazing and harrowing, especially when you hear the men tell it themselves. In the movie, Jimeno and McLaughlin, who was trapped deeper in the hole, are pulled out so quickly that we do not get a sense of the painstaking struggle involved in saving them or the fear the rescuers felt at the time. It took three hours to extricate Jimeno and another eight to 10 to get to McLaughlin. The space was so confined that the rescuers had to begin digging with their hands, breathing in smoke and dust, as their air packs wouldn't fit.

Watching the re-creation, I noticed how Strauss places the Jaws of Life into the space to remove a cement slab off Jimeno without any apparent hesitation. When Strauss recounts the story, this is the most dramatic point of the rescue and comes only after hours of work. He said he feared the building would collapse further when he operated the tool. "I told Willie that (one of) two things are gonna happen. One is we get out and it works. The other is that it doesn't work and we both get buried. … It started to creak, it started to groan. The mortar started to split on the cinder block walls. And it wasn't enough. The tool reached its limit," Strauss said in a 2001 interview. To make the tool extend farther, it was Sereika, according to Strauss' recollection at the time, who suggested they place rocks underneath for more leverage. Strauss said he couldn't get down there, so Sereika crawled in and positioned the rocks. It was this maneuver that finally freed Jimeno. In the movie, I missed any sense of the tension between the rescuers as one effort fails and they try another, all while dreading death.

Oddly for Hollywood, one of the resucers, a man named Thomas, is played by a white actor. In reality, he was black. What kind of goofball thinking went into avoiding one of Hollywood's favorite feel-good tropes -- the races putting aside their differences to cooperate in a grand undertaking, etc.?

Worse yet, according to Mickey Kaus, the film offers up a silly racial-bonding montage at the end, necessitated, I guess, because so many of the major players in the film were white: "the filmmakers could have eliminated an entire crudely implanted final-reel scene of interracial bonding if they'd gotten [Thomas' race] straight."

Kaus says the film isn't as bad as he thought-- it's worse. I know a lot of people liked it, including a lot of people on the right not inclined to like Oliver Stone movies. I don't know who's right, but maybe right-leaning moviegoers were grading Stone on a steep curve.

And to be fair: Deborah Liss knows too much about this to enjoy the movie. She knows of far too many people who performed bravely that day to enjoy any movie about them, because a two hour movie only has room for so many heroes.

While You're Down There Update: Kaus attacks Andrew Sullivan again.

Is there anyone at all, right, left, or middle, who actually likes Sullivan? Yes yes: he has tens of thousands of readers. But isn't that a severe underperformance for someone with his name recognition?

And let's face it-- half of Sullivan's readers have names like Thomas Ellers, Ellison, Rick Ellensberg, etc.



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posted by Ace at 01:48 PM

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