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Monday, 22 July, 2002, 10:55 GMT 11:55 UK
9/11 documentary shows restraint
Lower Manhattan after 11 September attack
Parts of the film are heart rending (pic: Boudicon One/AP)

The documentary about the collapse of the twin towers of the World Trade Center is gripping and agonising, but it also shows considerable restraint.

After it went out in the United States on the CBS network on 11 March, six months after the attack, one of the widows Judith Murphy told the New York Times: "That was very well done ... it's important for people not to forget."

Her husband Brian had been at a meeting on the 105th floor of the North Tower.

Judith Murphy had tucked up their two small daughters in bed before she watched the programme.

When I saw this film I felt it contained nothing which would cause needless offence.

It does contain a lot which is heart wrenching. That was the nature of the event.

The viewer is taken into the cauldron. Yet there is no sense of the camera being a voyeur, just a witness.

Slow build-up

It was filmed by two French brothers Jules and Gideon Naudet who had been tracking a rookie fireman named Tony in a firehouse in lower Manhattan.

There is a slow build-up to 11 September: Tony and the brothers get frustrated that there have been no fires for weeks.

But Jules and Gideon do not give up and they settle into firehouse life.

They even cook the firefighters a dinner.

Then everything changed.


On the morning of 11 September, Jules Naudet goes out with a crew to investigate a reported gas leak not far from the World Trade Center.

World Trade Center attack
Two French brothers made the film

A plane is heard overhead and, in one of the most inspired pieces of camerawork ever, Jules pans up to catch the shot of the first plane hitting the North Tower.

There is a repeated expletive from someone off camera.

You have probably seen this shot - it was the only one released immediately.

The documentary is really about what happened next.

Jules rushes with the fire chief to the lobby of the Tower which had been hit.


His restraint is demonstrated by his decision not to point his camera at what he saw on entering the lobby.

A woman was on fire, caught by burning aircraft fuel which had poured down the lift shaft.

In the documentary he says that the woman's suffering was not the kind of thing others should be shown. He is right. And it is not shown.

He is equally restrained over what is perhaps the most shocking thing in the programmme, which is not film at all but sound.


It is the sound of bodies hitting the pavement outside the building, the bodies of those who had jumped.

These are not shown either. But the noise punctuates the narrative.

What is shown is the human face of the tragedy and what comes over, above all, is the chaos of those moments.

Nobody really knew what was happening. The firefighters gathered in the lobby and went up into the unknown. The fire chiefs set up a command post but appeared to have little information.

Even when the South Tower collapsed, people in the North Tower lobby did not know what had happened. The film catches the extreme intensity of that moment - the dust, the confusion, the evacuation of amazingly calm people, the search by firefighters for a way out.

Jules Naudet also filmed the removal of chaplain Mychal Judge's body though little can be seen in the confusion and darkness.

Chaplain Judge died from a heart attack in the lobby. Only minutes before he had been seen on film, praying.

And meanwhile outside, Gideon Naudet was filming the destruction of the towers, always wondering where his brother was and fearing the worst.

Slowly the stragglers from the firehouse return.

The brothers are re-united and one of the first things Jules, always the professional, says is: "I got the plane hitting the building".

New York despatches





See also:

24 Jul 02 | Entertainment
22 Jul 02 | Entertainment
04 Sep 02 | Americas
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