THE NIGHT BEFORE
On the night of September 10th, 2001, I was making my way across lower Manhattan to a small theatre where a short film was premiering which my cousin had edited. My office was in the World Financial Center (across the street from 1 World Trade Center), and I figured I'd walk the journey to the East Village because back then, no logical transportation route (symbolically enough) connected the financial district of Manhattan to it's (then) most raw artistic center.
This proved to be a mistake. The skies opened up in a torrential downpour. I sprinted from awning to awning, all the way my feet slogged through six inches of water. Having lived in Manhattan (thank you God) for six years, I can honestly put forth that Mother Nature never levied an onslaught onto Manhattan as she did the evening of September 10th, 2001.
By the time I got to the premier, the film was over. My uncle (my cousin-editor's dad) approached me cautiously. He took one look at me and seemed unsettled by my soggy appearance. And with a voice loaded with concern, and perhaps something else, something possibly foreboding, he held the back of my neck and asked, "Are you okay?"
THE DAY OF
I watch clips on YouTube. Just as it has become the informal repository of a wide reaching tapestry of our culture, it has also become a peripheral chronicler of history. There are hundreds of clips uploaded about The Day. And most, unfortunately, are compilations of the systematic hysteria of America's lust for conspiracy: the tragic 'inside job' pornography. I had to sit through endless misfires of these abominations but then I finally found what I was looking for. There is only one film clip I've ever encountered that does it - that captures the sound that the planes made. It is a deafening sound that I can only describe as a manhole cover being dropped on your head.
We talk about the life before and the life after. When everything changed. And so I cling onto films - not films of The Day, but films that captured New York before The Day. There is a brief blessed time when something is yours, before your big boom and film helps us to soak in the artifacts that unleash memory. There was a time when New York was mine, and I was the king of the universe and we all, all of ignorant sleeping America, felt we could walk through the raindrops.
SOME TIME EARLIER
In the past few weeks, thanks to my insomnia, I've lucked upon a number of my favorite New York films on late night cable: Hannah and Her Sisters, Mo'Better Blues, Moonstruck, Bright Lights Big City. These capture a New York a little over a decade before September 11th, when the city was just emerging from the abyss of the 1970's and the Guilianification of the 1990's was a long ways off. I remember seeing these films when I was marooned in Memphis, incongruously forging a new identify as a Southern teenager. These films brought be back to my roots and planted seeds for where I wanted my future to be.
There is a precious time capsule in the backdrops of these films. Films set in cities do this for us. When Michael J. Fox is standing outside a Fifth Avenue department store window gazing up at the mannequin molded after the wife who has left him, I now just look at the cars going by in the background and am fascinated at the flowing river of the automotive past. It's incredibly refreshing to see a New York where stores and restaurants were not overrun by national chains (there's not a Starbucks in sight and characters are (gasp!) forced to patronize local delis and eateries). Furthermore it's most refreshing to watch New Yorkers working at desks without computers and sustaining existence without handheld electronic devices.