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Monday, 9 September, 2002, 07:57 GMT 08:57 UK
Has Hollywood forgotten 11 September?
The World Trade Center
The World Trade Center featured in many films

For millions of people around the world, the images of the attacks on the World Trade Center on 11 September had a resonance that was a little too striking.

They had seen all this before - but in the harmless surroundings of a darkened room with a bucket of popcorn in their laps.

Nobody actually died in Towering Inferno or Independence Day.

But there was a sense of guilt that Hollywood could have offered such terrible events up as entertainment - even leading some to suggest that the hijackers had got the idea from the movies.

The days following 11 September saw a number of film-makers predict that Hollywood would never be the same again.

Woody Allen
Woody Allen predicted a change in the film world
"I think it's going to change the way we think about everything - I really do," said UK director Mike Figgis.

New Yorker Woody Allen also predicted that the film world would steer clear of subjects that were too close for comfort.

Images of the World Trade Center were immediately erased from films, including Spider-Man and New York-set romantic comedy Serendipity.

Film studios put several films with sensitive subject matter on hold - but they were all released within nine months of the tragedy.

Collateral Damage with Arnold Schwarzenegger
Collateral Damage was postponed - but was still a hit
The biggest of the films put back on the shelf was Collateral Damage, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as a firefighter whose family is killed when terrorists blow up a skyscraper.

It was originally scheduled to be released on 5 October - but was held back until the studio bosses decided that enough time had passed, which turned out to be 8 February.

It certainly still held a horrific resonance for some - but still took $40m (£26m) at the US box office, which was more than Schwarzenegger's last action movie, The 6th Day.

Some analysts even said that, rather than shying away from the subject, people wanted to see more of it to help them make sense of the events.

Others said that the public wanted to see happy endings - which Hollywood, unlike real life, invariably provides.

Certainly, the numbers of people renting action videos has gone up in the wake of 11 September.

The Sum of All Fears
The Sum of All Fears depicted an attck in Baltimore
Collateral Damage's director, Andy Davis, said: "People were interested in visiting this world, not running away from it."

Another potentially difficult film, The Sum of All Fears, centres on terrorists exploding a nuclear bomb in the city of Baltimore.

It opened in the United States at the end of May - taking $120m (£77m) and, like the other movies, avoided a backlash.

But producers had removed the most graphic scenes and were keen to trumpet the support it received from the Pentagon.

Hollywood seems to have been tentatively testing what cinema-goers are willing to stomach.

One screenwriter, Ron Hutchinson, said film-makers had initially panicked because they realised "the burglars were in the house".

Spider-Man had to be reshot following the attacks
But now Hollywood had "found the gun in the tin-box under the bed and is shooting back", he told BBC Radio 4.

Although disaster movies are now back on the agenda, some within the film industry say it is still not back to normal.

"A year is not enough time to weigh the nature of the profound change we will go through because of what happened," actor Tom Hanks recently said.

Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh said he still did not know what the long-term repercussions would be for the film-making community.

"But I don't think its impact is over," he said.

Some unlikely films have been dealing with the events of 11 September.

 Stuart Little
Even Stuart Little 2 was reshot
The sequel to Stuart Little, the children's saga about a mouse that is adopted by a Manhattan family, includes a sequence in which the mouse flies amid the skyscrapers in a toy plane.

"In mortal peril in New York air-space, Stuart is able to parachute safely to the ground," Guardian and Radio 4 commentator Mark Lawson said.

"Surely these scenes were a cathartic re-imagining of 11 September."

But one type of film that is only now beginning to be attempted is stories directly dealing with the events of 11 September.

It has been reported that a TV movie about Flight 93, the hijacked plane which crashed on 11 September in Pennsylvania, called Manifest Courage, is being planned by actress Goldie Hawn's production company.

Flight 93 crash site
A film of Flight 93 is reported to be in the pipeline
A series of short films about the global reaction to the attacks, by directors including directors including Mira Nair, Sean Penn, Youssef Chahine and Shohei Imamura, have been criticised for being "stridently anti-American".

But the first feature film about the day to hit cinemas will be The Guys, based on the true story of a New York fire captain who lost eight men in the attacks and a journalist who helped write elegies for them.

Starring Sigourney Weaver and Anthony LaPaglia, it is based on a play that has been running in Manhattan since December, and the film will get its world première this 11 September at the Toronto Film Festival.

"It's important for this particular piece to have it out and have it be seen as soon as possible," director Jim Simpson said.

"The mode of reacting to something like this is to forget and move on, and I don't know that's always the best idea."

New York despatches





See also:

08 Oct 01 | Entertainment
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