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Bird's Blog

Poetry, musings, observations, commentary, rants, confessions...and who knows what else!

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Location: San Francisco Bay Area

Teacher, writer, poet, grandmother, lover, wine-drinker, chocolate eater, beach comber, hiker, traveler, Giants fan, San Franciscan. All work on this blog is copyrighted material.

Friday, April 28, 2006

The Making of a Master Narrative: Flight 93

United 93, the fictionalized, action-packed account of the hi-jacked SFO to DC flight whose deadly mission was aborted by the heroic actions of the flight’s passengers, opens today in theaters across the country. Directed by Paul Greengrass (of Bloody Sunday and The Bourne Supremacy fame), it’s sure to be an action-flick blockbuster, while at the same time, one of those films that exhausts you emotionally.

I don’t want to see this movie, but I suspect I will – if only to satisfy my curiosity and put some demons to rest.

I worry about this flick. Although it tells of real events, it is nonetheless a fictionalized account. Captured in documentary style (which will, to the unreflective viewer, lend validity to its “truthfulness”), it’s also a disaster-in-the air action flick.

And because it will no doubt be a blockbuster, this film will mythologize the story of Flight 93 and serve as the historical text of that flight for most Americans. It will become a master narrative.

The tale is pieced together from cell phone records and cockpit recordings – but we truly don’t know all the details of what happened on board that plane that day. And so the details of our master narrative will be fleshed out with fiction.

You might recall that shortly after 9/11, the story of Flight 93 revolved around Todd Beamer, one of the passengers on the plane that rushed the hi-jackers. He was raised up on high as a great American hero, and perhaps he was, but the media’s focus on Beamer left other passengers’ tales by the wayside, most notably, Mark Bingham, who also, according to cell phone records and cockpit recordings, played as equally a heroic role as Beamer. He just didn’t have the same posthumous publicity campaign. And he didn’t utter a commonly used, cliché phrase over the phone either – “Let’s roll!” - as Beamer did. Later, entrepreneurs tried to capitalize on that phrase, using it to hawk their T-shirts and other 9/11 souvenir wares. In response, the Todd Beamer Foundation tried to trademark the phrase. Insanity all the way around.

But back to the flick. I wonder whose story is being told in this film. And how real it is; how truthful. Most viewers will forget, or have never understood to begin with, that when you treat a historical event via the Hollywood lens, you fictionalize it , aggrandize it – what’s on the screen isn’t necessarily what happened that day – nor is it necessarily what didn’t happen that day.

I concede that exploring major events through “art” helps us understand those events. What I worry about is that United 93 will be the major way we, as Americans, re-vision that day and that event; the movie will become our primary text, our master narrative of that event, rather than just one of many ways to make sense of, to understand what happened to the people on that plane, to the people on the ground, and to us – all of us – that day.


Blogger K9 said...

/bark bark bark

in a way, all things are fictionalized -by the fog of memory, by prejudice, outside influence.... i hope it isnt taken for the absolute truth, whatever that is, in the same way i hope good night and good luck wont be.

i wait for everything to cycle around to the satellite. i hate sticky theatre floors.


April 28, 2006 10:14 AM  
Blogger The Flabbergasted Heathen said...

From what I hear, the director interacted rather well with the family of those on the flight, and cast several people (mostly emergency workers, ATC's, etc.) who were actually on duty that day.

If you have to make a movie about it, he at least seems to be going about it the right way.

April 28, 2006 11:29 AM  
Blogger ardlair said...

Some comment here about whether it is still too early - for many US people - for a movie about the subject.
Unless it is very sensitively delivered.

You will know better than me.

April 28, 2006 11:34 AM  
Blogger Jack K. said...

I don't intend to see it. I share your concerns about the fictionalized version becoming the end-all, be-all story of that fateful day.

I also understand that a number of the actors took the time to interact with the families of the party they were portraying. I believe that was a wise move on the part of the director and the actors.

Is it possible that the public may never be ready for such a film? My bias is that most folks would rather forget about the events of that day.

it is also difficult for me to accept the tirades against ALL the folks of any other religious group. I have a difficulty with those sweeping condmenations. We should be looking at the behaviors of individuals and treat them accordingly.

Just some thoughts.

April 28, 2006 2:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

exploring the mockumentry is a serious historigraphic topic.

we question this one because it is only just coming out... how do we see those well known documentries practically accepted as fact?

its the new most powerful form of progaganda.

April 28, 2006 7:19 PM  
Blogger infinitesimal said...


Good point.
As you and I both know that this film will be shown in history classes for the next generation.

Whose story is it?

Who will play the bad guys?

Do we know who the bad guys were?

Are we sure?

9-11....what really happened there?

How can we be sure?

April 29, 2006 2:02 PM  
Blogger disguised said...

An interesting article about the middle eastern actors in the movie was recently written in the L.A. times. It seemed fairly sensitive.

One of my students just wrote on this topic, and I think he'd find your post very interesting. I don't want him seeing my blog, so I won't send him the link, but I was wondering if it would be okay if I sent him your post.

April 29, 2006 11:36 PM  
Blogger Aunty Belle said...

Howdy, Bird, flying jewel. Uh huh, chile' good points--I have not followed too closely--is there goin' be some sort of disclaimer to remind the audience that it is fiction fleshing out a wee bit of fact?

Cain't recall the lady author--Antionia Fraser? Barbara Tuchman? --who writes historical fiction and makes the point that she tries to confine her fiction to a likely account of how it would go when she is filling in around historicl figures but that it IS fiction.

May 01, 2006 2:00 PM  
Blogger Aunty Belle said...

Bird, lovely? I done left a message back on LLLTeacher.

May 01, 2006 3:12 PM  
Blogger Pete Bogs said...

bravo, bird! you beat me to this... I was honestly going to blog this story but I'm glad you took it off my hands... I'm just not ready for this film... I get a sick feeling when I see the Towers in establishing shots on "Friends" for God's sake... I grew up in the shadow of those buildings and went to the top four times in all (only once on the roof)...

no, I'm not ready... to one of your points about the documentary style, I understand the families insisted on unknowns so viewers would not associate the victims with stars but with regular folks... I can see that, though I still don't want to see the movie yet...

as far as this making an indelible mark on us - yes, that is a concern... it often happens with fictionalized accounts of true events, even when they're not done documentary-style... we believe too much of what we see, and have surrendered our reality to Hollywood... then again, that day was surreal like a movie, though painfully real... ok, enough for now...

May 01, 2006 7:01 PM  
Blogger Bird said...

After I see the movie, I'll have to repost.

I do hope they don't show the airplanes going into the towers in the movie - i think that might be too much to handle on the big screen.

May 01, 2006 10:32 PM  
Blogger CROAK said...

Hi ya.
will catch up on your writings asap.

May 01, 2006 11:19 PM  
Blogger Pete Bogs said...

bird - I know they show the second plane hit the Towers from the vantage point of the Newark control tower, with the controllers realizing that the first was no accident...

Bowling For Columbine had footage of the Towers being hit, and that was pretty rough...

May 02, 2006 7:30 AM  
Blogger Bird said...

you mean farenheit 9/11 not columbine - geesh - -really twisted my already time-challenged brain there. yeah - that was rough to see.

ugh....maybe i won't go see this flick - generally, i feel that if someone is going to express an opinion about a book, article, movie, etc., they should really, um, you know, like SEE IT. hahahahaha!

Croak -
aha! looks like you're back. i'll have to see if the the froggy-bottom blog has arisen from the dead! you have been sorely missed!

Vanille -
this flick might be shown in enlgish classes too - though more from an angle of anaylzing to see whose story is being told, what the purpose is of telling the story, and who the audience is - the rhetorical triangle of communication.

May 02, 2006 8:03 AM  
Blogger Pete Bogs said...

no bird, I mean Bowling For Columbine... interestingly, F 9/11 does not show the planes hitting the Towers at all... but BFC shows a plane hitting at the end of a montage sequence where "What A Wonderful World" is playing...

May 02, 2006 5:47 PM  
Blogger CROAK said...

I won't see it until Iraq is finished... I can't.

May 02, 2006 10:42 PM  
Blogger disguised said...

Bowling for Columbine also had footage of poor school children helplessly scurrying across classroom floors like little rats trying to flee. It was awful. I don't need to see that. It's like a snuff film. If I want to get that close to being an animal, I'll just go camping in the mountains and take my chances with the bears.

May 03, 2006 1:54 AM  

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