You mean Leni Riefenstahl isn't dead?
The putrid 9/11 teledrama will air on Showtime next Sunday. In a movie which would do Leni and Sergei Einstein proud, this bit of agitprop turns the fraidy cat Bush into a hero of Eisenhower proportions. The reality is that Bush ran like a little bitch until he was sure he was safe. While off-duty firemen, retired firemen (including actor Steve Buschemi, who had been a fireman in the 1980's) ran into the Twin Towers, Bush ran from airbase to airbase, cowering from Al Qaeda. While real heroes were saving lives and dealing with real horror (burning people falling from the buildings), Bush was reading childrens stories and hiding.
This vulgar fiction is now being done in an Orwellian way to rewrite history.
The turgid DC 9/11 would doubtless have been more entertaining with Harrison Ford or Arnold Schwarzenegger or even Ronald Reagan in the role of the president. DC 9/11 is instead the spectacle of Reagan in reverse: Rather than being a professional actor who entered politics, Bush is a politician who has been reconfigured, packaged, and sold as a media star—dialogue included. Indeed, that metamorphosis is the movie's true subject.
The basic Dubya narrative is the transformation of a roistering Prince Hal into a heroic Henry V (as dramatized in the agitprop version of Shakespeare's play staged this summer in Central Park). In DC 9/11, the young Bush—spoiled frat boy and drunken prankster—is subsumed in the image of the initially powerless president. The movie is thus the story of Bush assuming command, first of his staffers (who attest to his new aura with numerous admiring reaction shots) and then the situation. He is the one who declares that "we are at war," who firmly places Cheney (Lawrence Pressman) in his secure location—not once but twice. (To further make the point, Chetwynd has Scott Alan Smith's Fleischer muse that the press refuses to get it: "The Cheney-runs-the-show myth is always going to be with some of them.") Rudy Giuliani, who eclipsed Bush in the days following the attack, is conspicuously absent—or, rather, glimpsed only as a figure on television.
Rumsfeld (impersonated with frightening veracity by Broadway vet John Cunningham) emerges as the Soviet-style positive hero, embodying the logic of history. In the very first scene, he is seen hosting a congressional breakfast, invoking the 1993 attack on the WTC, and warning the dim-witted legislators that that was only the beginning. Rumsfeld is the first to utter the name "Saddam Hussein" and, over the pooh-poohs of Colin Powell (David Fonteno) goes on to detail Iraq's awesome stockpile of WMDs. But there can be only one maximum leader. Increasingly tough and folksy, prone to strategically consulting his Bible, it is Bush who directs Rummy and Ashcroft to think in "unconventional ways." This new Bush is continually educating his staff, instructing Rice in the significance of "modernity, pluralism, and freedom." (As played by Penny Johnson Jerald, the president's ex-wife on the Fox series 24, Condi is a sort of super-intelligent poodle—dogging her master's steps, gazing into his eyes with rapt adoration.)
Several incidents in the Iraq war—the semi-fictional Saving Private Lynch saga, the made-for-TV toppling of Hussein's statue, the outrageous Top Gun photo op with which Bush announced victory—are ready to be excerpted in Republican Party 2004 campaign propaganda. DC 9/11 is that propaganda: The "Battle Hymn of the Republic" swells as Bush flies into ground zero, where he astonishes even Rove (Allan Royal) by spontaneously vaulting a police barricade to hop on the rubble and grab the microphone. A nearby fireman, compelled to tell the president that he didn't vote for him, swears allegiance, mandating Bush to "find the son of a bitch who did this." Once Bush realizes that "today, the president has to be the country," Rove considers the image problem solved. Bush, he explains, has become commander in chief and taken back "control of his destiny." The climax is Bush's televised, prime-time September 20 speech—a montage of highly charged 9-11 footage that ends with the real-life, now fully authenticated Bush accepting the adulation of Congress as he fingers the talismanic shield worn by a fallen New York police officer.
Jesus, this is bad fiction. How fake is this? Compare the Longest Day to Saving Private Ryan's first 20 minutes. In one, a bunch of Marines run on the beach (it was shot partly in Southern France with the 6th Fleet's cooperation), in the other, people explode in front of your face. A real movie about the two weeks from 9/11 would make heroes of firemen and cops and ordinary people. Sure, the cops wouldn't be able to communicate with firemen and Mayor Giuliani would hijack all credit and then be humiliated by Gail Collins in the Times, but it wouldn't reek of fiction. Bush desperately needs to be seen as a hero, even when he is a coward in his heart. He wants heroics without risk. One thing about his father is that he neither wanted nor accepted heroism as a birth right. And he was heroic, not just as a pilot, but as a scholar as well. And when no one wanted jobs like CIA chief, he stepped in. He is not my favorite person by any means, but he had character. Too bad his son inherited his mother's virtues of pettiness and badger-like meanness.
Bush is no Augustus. He's closer to Nero, fiddling while America burns.
posted by Steve @ 2:58:00 PM