Sunday, January 13, 2008

My New York: Movies and the destruction of Manhattan

Sure, I like a good ol' destruction of the world movie just like everyone else but when posters for J.J. Abrams' Cloverfield began to appear all over subway station walls and in the streets I admit I gasped a bit.

It wasn't the image of a beheaded Statue of Liberty that got me it was the - shameless? - way that the promotional materials show a decimated ground zero at the exact site where the Twin Towers used to stand (a clip available at the movie's official site shows that the film also plays with the awful imagery of that morning as well: Buildings collapsing on themselves, horrified crowds running away from looming clouds of smoke and debris, people rushing into deli stores just as the clouds are about to envelop them - scenes that could have come straight from Jules and Gedeon Naudet's extraordinary
"9/11" documentary ).

Not that this is fresh commentary: The New York Daily News had an article a couple of days ago just on this and the New York Times also looked at "The Irrisistible Urge to Destroy New York on the Screen."

I'm not sure how these images play outside New York and it wouldn't surprise me if the movie plays better elsewhere than in Manhattan. But I'm pretty sure that I'm not the only one who is reacting this way to the posters.

For the past 15 years I have worked in midtown Manhattan and I remember often looking down at the Twin Towers through the city's cement canyons almost every morning. Since September 11th, of course, those towers are no longer there and what remains - as a point of reference - are the two shorter World Financial Center towers that served as their "skirt," if you will (you can see both in the picture on the right and they are featured prominently in Cloverfield's poster as well).

It sometimes makes me sad to feel that I no longer remember just how much higher the towers rose above them or their exact relation to them.

Immediately after the attacks, it would have been impossible to think that Manhattan would have seen as healthy a real estate market as it has over the last few years. And, though it's great that the city has been able to avoid a deep economic recession, one of the unfortunate things that has happened is the proliferation of functional but architecturally bland apartment towers. They have certainly changed the Manhattan skyline for the worst.

I plan to see the movie. I know the difference between reality and entertainment and probably will enjoy it despite the fact that some of the imagery will probably have deep ressonance for reasons other than entertainment. I know of people who have stayed away from other movies that have addressed the day's events in fictionalized form and I respect that. But I have a feeling that I'll feel sadder down the line - long after the movie has opened and closed - when I look down Sixth Avenue and see that new high-rise obscuring the surviving World Financial Center towers.

Not necessarily mass destruction but a reminder that New York is no longer what it used to be.


Anonymous said...

I'm glad to see I'm not the only one bothered by the poster image of smoking rising from South Manhattan...

Anonymous said...

You appear to be playing into the phobias perpetuated by Fox News.

While some scenes will no doubt trigger some emotions generated from 9/11/2001, the notion that such is the first time in which New York City was the abject target of terrorism (domestic, national, international, or spatial) or some huge over sized beast (King Kong, Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, Godzilla 1998) is bordering a little on the absurd.

By the way, Godzilla 1998 walked right thru a building I used to work in. Ten years later, it's still a freakish scene.

Anonymous said...

so maybe it isn't so weird that i instantly begin to kinda cry a little bit every time a commercial/trailer comes on...

circuitmouse said...

I'm so glad to know it wasn't just me that felt weird whe I saw that. As if that wasn't bad enough (you may not want to know this), there's a commercial running in Southern California for the San Manuel Indian Casino which features people falling out of the sky.