Verso Books published J. Hoberman’s Film After Film this week, which expands on an essay he wrote for Artforum about cinema after celluloid; it also explores what happened to movies during the Bush-era. In the following excerpt, the former Voice critic reports on how Hollywood reacted in the days and months following 9/11.
The events of September 11 were a cinema event, the most immediately and extensively documented catastrophe in human history.
In the days following the cataclysm, the Los Angeles Times reported entertainment industry concern that “the public appetite for plots involving disasters and terrorism has vanished.” Thus, Warner Bros. postponed Collateral Damage, and the screenwriters, David and Peter Griffiths, suffered another setback when Fox suspended their top-secret project, Deadline, a hijack drama written for James Cameron. Jerry Bruckheimer decided that the time might not be right for World War III, which called for nuclear attacks on Seattle and San Diego. Even comedies suffered collateral damage. Disney put off the release of the Tim Allen vehicle Big Trouble, which involves a nuclear bomb smuggled aboard a jet plane; MGM shelved Nose Bleed, with Jackie Chan starring as a window washer who foils a terrorist plot to blow up the WTC. Scheduled telecasts of the X-Files movie and Independence Day were canceled, along with a Law and Order episode about bio-terrorism in NYC.
The CBS show The Agency dropped a reference to Osama bin Laden. (Concerned about bin Laden’s charisma, the Bush administration contrived to have his video removed from heavy TV rotation and his subsequent US tele-appearances curtailed—except in the context of the Fox show America’s Most Wanted.) Sex and the City trimmed views of the twin towers; Paramount airbrushed them from the poster for Sidewalks of New York. Sony yanked their Spider Man trailer so as to eliminate images of the WTC and similarly ordered retakes on Men in Black II that would replace the WTC with the Chrysler Building. DreamWorks changed the end of The Time Machine, which rained moon fragments down on New York.
A prominent TV executive assured The New York Times that post-9/11 entertainment would be “much more wholesome” and that “we are definitely moving into a kinder, gentler time” (presumably 1988 when candidate George H. W. Bush introduced that phrase). A DreamWorks producer explained that the present atmosphere precluded his studio from bankrolling any more movies like The Peacemaker and Deep Impact. What then would movies be about?