Firestorm

Firestorm: American Film in the Age of Terrorism

STEPHEN PRINCE
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 400
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/prin14870
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Firestorm
    Book Description:

    It was believed that September 11th would make certain kinds of films obsolete, such as action thrillers crackling with explosions or high-casualty blockbusters where the hero escapes unscathed. While the production of these films did ebb, the full impact of the attacks on Hollywood's creative output is still taking shape. Did 9/11 force filmmakers and screenwriters to find new methods of storytelling? What kinds of movies have been made in response to 9/11, and are they factual? Is it even possible to practice poetic license with such a devastating, broadly felt tragedy?

    Stephen Prince is the first scholar to trace the effect of 9/11 on the making of American film. From documentaries like Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) to zombie flicks, and from fictional narratives such as The Kingdom (2007) to Mike Nichols's Charlie Wilson's War (2007), Prince evaluates the extent to which filmmakers have exploited, explained, understood, or interpreted the attacks and the Iraq War that followed, including incidents at Abu Ghraib. He begins with pre-9/11 depictions of terrorism, such as Alfred Hitchcock's Sabotage (1936), and follows with studio and independent films that directly respond to 9/11. He considers documentary portraits and conspiracy films, as well as serial television shows (most notably Fox's 24) and made-for-TV movies that re-present the attacks in a broader, more intimate way. Ultimately Prince finds that in these triumphs and failures an exciting new era of American filmmaking has taken shape.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52008-9
    Subjects: Film Studies, Sociology, History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-16)

    When the world trade center erupted in fireballs and came crashing down on 9/11, many people felt they were seeing a Hollywood movie come to life. And when American film was discussed in this context, many respondents ventured the opinion that Hollywood henceforth would have to change its ways. 9/11, it was said, made a certain kind of film obsolete. That was the action film bristling with explosions, mass death, and a wisecracking hero who was amused and unscathed by all the carnage. The industry did curtail the production of these movies for a little while, but the notion that...

  5. CHAPTER ONE THEATER OF MASS DESTRUCTION
    (pp. 17-70)

    Flying airplanes into buildings on a holy warrant from God is behavior that hungers for apocalypse. Indeed, many terrorists throughout history have shared a desire for apocalypse. The Irish terrorist O’Donovan Rossa, for example, dreamed of destroying a city and launched a “dynamite campaign” in the 1880s that aimed to reduce London to ashes.¹ Dynamite alone couldn’t accomplish his epic goal, but more than a century later, expanding technologies of violence promised to give terrorists the means at last of fulfilling grand ambitions. The destruction of the World Trade Center promised terrible things to come—the potential scope and scale...

  6. CHAPTER TWO SHADOWS ONCE REMOVED
    (pp. 71-123)

    Shortly after the attacks on 9/11, director Robert Altman issued a jeremiad blaming Hollywood for what had happened. He targeted the studios’ action films, rife with images of big things blowing up. “The movies set the pattern, and these people have copied the movies. Nobody would have thought to commit an atrocity like that unless they’d seen it in a movie. How dare we continue to show this kind of mass destruction in movies? I just believe we created this atmosphere and taught them how to do it.”¹ Although this idea is provocative, the assertion cannot be proven. But we...

  7. CHAPTER THREE GROUND ZERO IN FOCUS
    (pp. 124-172)

    The man is covered in ash and dust like a second skin. Huddling in a darkened building where he has sought refuge, he glances at the camera with rage and exclaims, “This is a fucking sick movie!” Except that it isn’t a movie, at least not the circumstances in which he finds himself. The World Trade Center has just collapsed, spewing the ash and dust that now clings to him. An amateur videographer, cowering inside the same building, has caught the man’s rage on camera. The moment appears in the documentary film 7 Days in September (2004). The irony is...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR BATTLEGROUND IRAQ
    (pp. 173-233)

    Stung and enraged by the ferocity of the September 11 assault, the Bush administration moved aggressively to reorganize national defenses against terror attacks. The administration feared another attack, and beginning on September 18 several letters containing the deadly bacterium anthrax were mailed to the news media and to the offices of two Democratic senators. Five people died, numerous others were sickened. The administration believed it was a second-wave attack by al Qaeda, and an acute sense of emergency and fear gripped officials. In response, the administration expanded the powers of the Presidency, the FBI and the CIA, and rethought the...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE TERRORISM ON THE SMALL SCREEN
    (pp. 234-280)

    “America is a great place to live if you’re a terrorist,” Ramzi Yousef (played by Art Malik, who also appeared as the arch villain in True Lies) announces as he begins preparation on a bomb intended to bring down the World Trade Center. He’s just arrived in the country and has joined the group of Jersey City conspirators that has coalesced around the blind sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman (Andreas Katsulas). Although the 1993 bombing failed to topple the Twin Towers, Yousef’s work killed six and wounded more than 1,000 and was the opening act in the Islamist campaign on American...

  10. CHAPTER SIX NO END IN SIGHT
    (pp. 281-310)

    The title of this concluding chapter derives from Charles Ferguson’s documentary about the Bush administration’s handling of the American occupation of Iraq. No End in Sight (2007) traces the fateful decisions made by President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and CPA head Paul Bremer that helped to produce a flourishing insurgency in post-Saddam Iraq. Although the film’s title refers strictly to America’s open-ended and ongoing involvement in Iraq, in a broader context the “war on terror” itself shows no prospects for ending. Moreover, the manner in which the Bush administration waged it—according to a philosophy that...

  11. APPENDIX 1: HISTORICAL TIMELINE
    (pp. 311-324)
  12. APPENDIX 2: FILMOGRAPHY
    (pp. 325-346)
  13. NOTES
    (pp. 347-362)
  14. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 363-372)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 373-388)