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Laura Kessel is managing editor of The News-Herald in Willoughby. She writes a weekly column and shares her thoughts here.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Brothers’ film the only way to remember

I’ve never been a big fan of disaster movies.

In most cases, you walk in knowing that something bad is going to happen. Then you spend a few minutes getting lulled into a story that is meaningless to the plot.

Then, BOOM — the disaster begins.

The rest of the movie deals with the disaster.

I developed this aversion back in the television days of shows such as “Ants!,” which was subtitled, “It happened at Lakewood Manor.” It starred Suzanne Somers and dealt with a pack of maniacal, poisonous black ants.

They were everywhere. For two hours. Then, magically, they were gone in time for the next show to start.

Every disaster movie has the same formula: Happy times. Disaster, disaster, disaster. Survival!

As you can probably guess, I wasn’t a big fan of movies such as “Armageddon,” “Independence Day” or “Titanic.”

I knew what was coming — disaster, disaster, disaster. I successfully skipped the first two, but peer pressure led me to think I had to see “Titanic.” It was exactly what I figured it would be — but add in a few subliminally suggested bathroom breaks because of all the water.

Since then, though, I’ve been strong and avoided the temptation.

Except for one instance nine years ago, when CBS debuted a program called “9/11,” a documentary that depicted the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

It was filmed by two French brothers, Jules and Gedeon Naudet, who were in town the experiences of a new firefighter in New York City.

This wasn’t Hollywood fiction, it was brutally real.

The horror of 9/11 was still so fresh when the show was broadcast on Sept. 11, 2002.

I had my doubts when the program began — with the back story of Anthony Benetatos, whom viewers came to know as “Probie.”

A probationary firefighter, Tony was the new guy in the firehouse. That meant that Tony did all the scut work that no one else wanted to do. He washed the dishes. He cleaned the windows. He emptied the trash.

The guys obviously liked him, because they worked hard to teach him as he went through his probationary period.

The Naudet brothers talked about picking the wrong summer to film a firefighter in New York, however, because there were no big blazes.

That meant they had nothing to show for their work, just a bunch of routine calls.

One September morning, while out on a report of a gas odor in the street, all that changed.

Jules Naudet suddenly wheeled around as the sound of an engine passed overhead and caught the impact of a jet into the side of the north tower of the World Trade Center.

What follows is the finest depiction of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, that I’ve ever seen.

A few minutes after the first plane hit, Gedeon Naudet captured the second plane’s impact with the south tower as he walked down the street from the firehouse toward Tower One.

Later in the broadcast, Jules Naudet caught the fall of the south tower from inside the north tower.

The firehouse’s detailed description of the day’s events, and their feelings of fear and sadness made me forget that I normally don’t enjoy this type of programming.

Over the years since its first broadcast, I’ve told friends that this program is my personal way of marking the anniversary of the attacks. I sit down every year and solemnly watch what unfolded that day and honor the memory of those who were lost.

If schools are looking for a vehicle to teach future generations about the attacks, this is the only choice.

Every aspect of that day is covered: the gorgeous morning, the shocking impact, the fear, the damage, the towers’ jumpers, firefighters’ climb and then retreat as the buildings were set to fall and the concern over the loss of loved ones.

They even somehow managed to capture the death of beloved NYFD chaplain Rev. Mychal Judge, and the moving transfer of his body out of the rubble.

It’s gripping and emotional. And, it’s real life.

This year, in honor of the 10th anniversary, the brothers updated their story by visiting with those who were featured in the first film.

I can’t wait to catch up with them when it airs at 8 p.m. Sunday on WOIO-TV 19.

I can only hope they left the ending intact. In any other setting, “Danny Boy” might seem a little over the top. But when it’s played over a rollcall of the firefighters who died on Sept. 11, 2011, it just feels right.
Twitter: @Lauranh


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