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FINEFROCK "WTC" Not A "Disaster"
by Steve Finefrock - Hollywood Forum [scriptwriter] 8/11/06

Oliver Stone dodged a bullet by selecting "World Trade Center" as his latest outing -- for "WTC" isn't about the World Trade Center, any more than a microphotograph of a single skin cell informs you how your five three-jointed fingers articulate with your hand, much less your arm -- or torso plus legs. While Cal adored it, along with K-Lo and a posse of other conservatives, Kenneth Turan despised it, for its faintest hint of rah-rah-America tidbits. Now, America still awaits a film about the WTC, the full panorama of its impact, its meaning, its origins. This "WTC" only dances around the outmost perimeter of a yawning cavern yearning for exploration and enlightenment.


Founder of Hollywood Forum, a speaker-bureau and panel-discussion vehicle to "Bring the Potomac to the Palisades" on issues that overlap politics and culture with the Hollywood film-TV influence on such national concerns. His scripts have addressed politics [including a TV series pilot/bible package about state political combat, called "A State of the Union"], hazardous materials [from twelve years in emergency management, including six years managing FEMA's Superfund curriculum for hazmat], terrorism, equestrian reincarnation, serial murderer killing journalists in the nation's capitol, and fantasy about time-wasters.[go to Finefrock index]

Stone is now Hollywood's second girly-man to swish across the film stage in eight months, after Spielberg's wimping out of examining the bad guys/evil-doers [oooooh, bad word; too Dubya-ish] in "Munich" this Xmas season past. They each are left-leaning in a left-tilted world of 'Hotel Whiskey' -- an appellation drawn from a friend's e-mail abbreviation of "HW" to stand for Tinseltown; as friend is active-duty military, applying the military alphabet -- a realm known well to Viet-Vet Stone -- makes it into Hotel Whiskey, considerably different from other hotels adorning Hollywood, such as Hotel New Hampshire, Hotel California or Heartbreak Hotel. And as a regular guest checking in to Hotel Whiskey, it is a heartbreak to not be invited to sit at the cool-guys' table. Steven and Oliver both want to retain their A-list pass, thus "Munich" gave solace to terrorists with moral equivalency run amok, and "WTC" trumps that surrender by ignoring the macro-view altogether.

"BoB" v "Disaster"

This very week of WSJ reporters' issuing a supposed in-depth view of Hurricane Katrina events, in "Disaster" released yesterday, the third day of "Band of Brothers" airing on the History Channel pairs up with "WTC" opening nationwide. In "BoB" we see the preponderance of FUBAR multiplied by SNAFU, also a common element in natural disasters, and certainly a common complaint amidst response to the WTC, mildly and briefly addressed in "WTC." "BoB" manages to study both the human dimension of a massive airdrop, and subsequent duties by the much-harried 101st Airborne's Easy Company, just a post-Normandy order: they aren't going home, or to England, but are being re-deployed in-country. Just as contemporary events give solace to Aunt Murtha, with an army unit told it won't be rotated home but is getting an extended tour in Iraq. Oh, the wailing and whining the Murthas are proffering, even as the 101st and other units were kept in-country for many months, and many "points" past their entitled return-ticket to their hometowns. "Disaster" gives us so much history, even to FEMA's squirrelly origins, while "WTC" focuses on two men in the rubble.

Indeed, that could have been the alternate, and more accurate title: Men In Rubble. Any two men, in any rubble pile, in any county or parish of the U.S.A. or England or Ireland. A fine character study, with its share of Kleenex moments. But not "about" the WTC. If a film is "about" the WTC, it should spend at least half its screen time telling us what happened all through the WTC site. Here, Stone avoids criticism by the right, and gets their default 'attaboy' for its absence of left-tilt, plus avoids being disinvited from the cool-table at Hotel Whiskey by not exploring the inherent jingoistic extractions this story demands. It's been five years, fer gawd's sake -- let's have a story about the whole WTC. Did "Pearl Harbor" or "Tora, Tora, Tora" explore only the agony of a single downed pilot? "Midway" could have done so, as the lone survivor if the first attack on the Jap carriers, Ensign George Gay, floated amidst bodies and wreckage, a solitary, isolated witness to the overhead battle that turned the tide a mere six months after Pearl Harbor's massive losses.

Towering Sterno

Indeed, even melodramatic hype-films like "Towering Inferno" actually gave more than passing glimpses at the flames and firefighters, alongside the romances and conflict sub-scenarios. But Stone avoids examining the body-politic of WTC issues, and focuses on a single pair of skin cells, until the final act's long overdue presentation of the rescuers' efforts in considerable detail and claustrophobic anxiety. Before then, it's a lot of what Paddy Chayefsky and Sidney Pollack labeled as "rubber ducky" during their early days in TV anthologies: endless exposition instead of action. "WTC" does exit the "tube" element, a la "Das Boot," of the rubble survivors to visit the families, and a glimpse or two of response agency command centers, plus endless background chatter of TV commentators [not a one from Fox News; so much for non-political slant]. But it's a long hour of men finding their inner bliss, cops as girly-men interviewed for "Sassy" magazine.

Perhaps the funniest funny-man blather by this girly-man director was on AMC's Sunday "Shootout" this week, as he chattered to Variety chief Peter Bart and one-time SONY chief Peter Guber, that he'd make one change in his earlier work, by adding to the opening of "JFK" a disclaimer that this film is a work of fiction -- declaiming that he never intended it to be taken as reality! Did you hear the laughter from all four timezones on that one? The two Peters petered out in challenging that absurd assertion. Three girly-men surrendering to the cool-table requirement of Hotel Whiskey.


When "West Wing" came into the light of TV, many conservative chums kept pelting me with comments of commendation: Our message is getting out, Steve; it's getting better -- and I explained how each supposed sympathetic scene was carefully crafted by Aaron Sorkin as a device to shore up liberal values. But the hunger, desperate and gnawing, for Our Values to get the tiniest airing in the pop-culture bakery that is TV made every scrap falling from the liberal dinner table seem like a yummy banquet. Thus came columnist/pundit Cal Thomas, and Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review Online, and a posse of conservative voices thrilled with "WTC" coming to the summer season. Say I, it ain't so -- if you want to bake rightwing muffins and conservative cake and traditional torts, we gotta open our own bakery. We don't need no stinkin' liberals to stone us with Stone's pretense at open-minded filmmaking.

Lynne Cheney penned a minor best-seller, which Hollywood "flipped" on its way to feature treatment: the hero in her book was a conservative community organizer, but when that story became "Dave" the hero/villain scheme had been flipped so the hero was liberal, the originally liberal, nasty executive was conservative. Lynne whined in a lengthy piece in National Review, and still such NRO stalwarts pray for a miracle: a cooperative, fair-and-balanced Hollywood. Their hunger for table scraps is still a painful, driving force to give prayers for even this pabulum of pretense at an "airing" of the WTC issue, event, meanings and lessons.

Apparitions and Marines

"You are our mission" proclaims the rescuers when "WTC" finally enters what should be its second-act meat ["It's a Wonderful Life" may still hold the record for the longest first-act, the second-act/character-arc element beginning almost two hours into its length; thus the poor box-office in its original release]. This rah-rah Marine-theme pronouncement plus the brief Christ-like apparitions we faintly see for a few seconds may irritate the Ken Turans into sleepless nights, or weeks. The Turans of the film world will not grant absolution for the tiniest hint of rah-rah-Americanism, akin to this day's blather on Lieberman's electoral bashing for being merely 90% pure in voting pro-democrat. As goes Lieberman, so goes Stone. As went Steven's lack of cojones, so has gone Oliver's surrender of theme for a misplaced modicum of red-state praise by K-Lo and Cal.

Still to be made is "WTC: The Serious Film" -- written by a conservative, and directed also by One of Us, for it is Our Story. Oliver's story was weakened, watered and wimpish. Fortunately, for us and America, he did not attempt a rah-rah-America film; Rule One of Writing declaims, Write What You Know. And like "Brothers and Sisters" pending on ABC, with a conservative character by Calista "five pounds from Dachau" Flockhart, a Stone's throw at this conservative target would have gone wide of the mark by a country's mile, the country being the Land of the Free. For it to have been targeted by a believer in the endless Free Lunch philosophy of the left would have been a tragedy of Shakespearean, or Mametian proportions.


The mantra of the Phone Booth and the Hollywood Forum continues unabated: 1) conservatives must quit whining, 2) waste no prayers seeking docent courtesy in Hotel Whiskey, and 3) open our own pop-culture bakery. This title has been used and abused [and wasted], but the story -- OUR STORY-- is still there, ripe as a plump strawberry, awaiting plucking by a conservative cabal ready to pump-up the coming cultural combat corps, still yet a mere squad, not yet a platoon, but with the potential to make a "WTC" that is about the WTC.

Saddle up and ride to the sounds of silence, for there was no cultural-combat gunfire in "WTC" -- that opportunity is dangled before us, to become a menu which a hungering American audience is waiting to see on the silver screen. Stone couldn't write, or direct, or even conceive of a true-blue, red-state WTC. It still waits for thee: conservative film community, Stone has left these doors open wide. Girly-men of Hotel Whiskey, stand aside: it's conservatives' turn.

"Hello, Mel? Yeah, when the heat's off, I gotta great project fer ya...."


copyright 2006 Steve Finefrock





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