’25th Hour’: The Best 9/11 Film Was Always About New York

’25th Hour’: The Best 9/11 Film Was Always About New York

When Spike Lee came under fire last month for the inclusion of 9/11 conspiracy theorists in his HBO documentary series “NYC Epicenter 9/11-2021½”, historians and others expressed dismay that Lee had long dismissed. Giving credence to the claims made. (He later edited them.) But for those of us who have followed Lee’s career, and its intersection with that seminal New York incident from 20 years earlier, the initial decision was particularly shocking. – As Lee also directed what many consider the quintessential. Film about New York City after 9/11.

“25th Hour” is not a “9/11 movie”, at least not in the way that “United 93” or “World Trade Center” are. In fact, the attacks were not part of David Benioff’s screenplay, which Lee signed on to direct, nor were they part of Benioff’s original novel (which was published in January 2001). But Lee is an intuitive filmmaker, open to improvisation and adjustment — and, as “NYC Epicenters” reminds us, he is a documentary that looked at his city in a moment of mourning, sadness, and transition. , and wanted to capture it.

Most Hollywood didn’t feel that way. In the weeks following the attacks, terrorism-plotting feature films were delayed and largely re-edited, including the Barry Sonnenfeld comedy “Big Trouble” and the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle “Collateral Damage”. Films like “Men in Black II” and “Lilo and Stitch” are still in production to address the echoes of 9/11. Horizon Shots Not Yet Released With World Trade Center Edited Out Of “Kiss Jessica Stein,” “Igby Goes Down,” “The People I Know” and “Spider-Man” And That’s One Of The Superheroes The sequence trapping a helicopter in a web between the twin towers – the centerpiece of a popular teaser trailer – was also dropped.

Most controversially, some filmmakers opted to keep their skyline shots intact, but ditch the Twin Towers with digital effects. And thus the World Trade Center with “Serendipity,” “Stuart Little 2,” “Mr. Deeds,” and Ben Stiller’s “Zoolander,” which hit screens less than three weeks after the attacks. The director’s publicist explained at the time that he made the last-minute decision to remove the towers because the film was an escapist comedy and seeing the buildings “would defeat that purpose.”

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Spike Lee disagreed. “You couldn’t show a single image of the World Trade Center. “I said, we’re not doing that.” With filming on “25th Hour” for the next winter, Lee set about weaving the current 9/11 storyline “into the fabric”, as his star Edward Norton explained on audio commentary: “It was like watching it. . Through another story angle, but the gloom that the city was filled with later that year. I think there is an emotional 9/11 impact through this film.”

“25th Hour” is the story of Monty Brogan (Norton), a white-collar drug dealer whom we meet on the last day before reporting for seven years in prison. That night, he hits town with his childhood friends (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Barry Pepper) and his live-in girlfriend (Rosario Dawson), ostensibly for one last blow, but attempts to come up with alternatives. Even in – and thus, mistakes – he has made in his life.

So explicit references to the tragedy are minimal. “Tribute in Light” is the opening credits sequence featuring the art installation, in which 88 searchlights combined to form two beams representing fallen towers (Lee stated that he filmed it the same night he wrote it in The Times). had read about); With a moving musical score by Terence Blanchard, these images say far more about the tragedy than any news footage or explanatory dialogue. Occasionally, that autumn’s almanacs – wanted American flags, temporary memorials, posters of Osama bin Laden – pop up in the background.

One scene, lifted almost verbatim from the novel, finds Monty delivering a long, angry, profanity-filled monologue into a mirror, carefully insulting New Yorkers of every conceivable race, religion, and class (his family, Bin Laden and Al Qaeda were added to his list of bases, before getting down on his friends and eventually himself.

Most poignantly, Lee transferred a scene between Hoffman and Pepper to an apartment opposite Ground Zero, and placed the actors in front of a large window to transfer workers to the human remains. “The New York Times says the air is bad here,” Hoffman noted; The paper dislikes the paper (“I read the post”) and insists, “The EPA says it’s fine.” (It was later disclosed by the federal agency to mislead the public.)

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Some early critics of the film found these additions to be intrusive – AO Scott considered them “intrusive” and “a bit disturbing”. But as the years passed, the value of what Lee was imprisoned has become clear. On the film’s fifth anniversary, film critic Mick LaSalle called it “Rossellini’s ‘Open City’ as an urban historical document filmed in the immediate aftermath of the Nazi occupation of Rome.”

But Lee didn’t capture the way New York looked in those uncertain, perplexing months after 9/11. His film captured how the city feltThe strange silence that engulfed the streets, the overwhelming sadness that engulfed our collective DNA. “The 25th Hour” was not the story of those attacks, but it was about the end of one way of life, and another, less certain one on the horizon.

“We were very careful how we were going to portray September 11 because we know it is still very painful and it will always be very painful for those who lost people,” Lee said upon its December 2002 release. . “But at the same time, we couldn’t stick our heads in the sand and pretend it never happened.” And that instinct, instead of the city we imagined, was the city we lived in. Were, his insistence on documenting it, is what makes Spike Lee one of New York’s essential filmmakers.

Jason Bailey is the author of the upcoming book “Fun City Cinema: New York and the Movies That Made It,” a history of the city and movies about it. He is also the host of the “Fun City Cinema” podcast.

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