erik lundegaard

Eleven Years Ago

The World Trade Center in Julian Schnabel's "Before Night Falls" (2000)

“Before 9/11, the World Trade Center was never particularly beloved. 'A standing monument to architectural boredom,' said one critic in the early 1970s. 'Two huge buck teeth' blighting the Manhattan skyline, said Norman Mailer. Earlier skyscrapers tended to end like church spires, pointing towards the heavens—the Empire State Building is even called 'The Cathedral of the Skies'—but tapering means losing valuable real estate. Thus modern skyscrapers’ blocky shape. The World Trade towers pointed at nothing. They just stood there.

”The towers came to represent not architectural beauty like the Empire State Building, nor the liberty of the Statue, but blunt financial power. 'Greed is good,' Gordon Gekko famously says in Oliver Stone’s 'Wall Street,' and so the film begins with morning shots of the Manhattan skyline, with the World Trade Center front and center. 'I have a head for business and a bod for sin,' Tess McGill says in Mike Nichols’ 'Working Girl,' but this is a feel-good movie, and so in the single-shot opening, the focus is on another working girl, the Statue of Liberty, who gets her 360-degree close-up. The twin towers are once again relegated to the background.

“Now those very background shots take our breath away. God, the World Trade Center towered, didn’t it? It towered over even New York City, which towers over the world. Other cities have one tall building, but only New York, New York, the town so nice they named it twice, had the audacity to throw up two. Now that they’re gone, the skyline doesn’t look the same. Now that the buck teeth have been knocked out, we keep probing their absence with our tongue.”

--from “Remembering the World Trade Center: How the World Trade Center was portrayed in movies before 9/11; how it’s been portrayed since,” which I wrote for MSNBC in August 2006. The above shot is from Julian Schnabel's “Before Night Falls,” starring Javier Bardem, and released in 2000. Patricia and I watched it again in late August. The WTC snuck up on us in the background. It took our breath away.

For a more extensive list of movies featuring the World Trade Center ...

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Posted at 06:32 AM on Tue. Sep 11, 2012 in category Photo of the Day  


Reed wrote:

Great work, Erik. I seem to recall reading that column before.

I'm born and raised in Chicago and I have always greatly preferred our skyline for personal and esthetic reasons. The Towers were never beautiful, but they were always very New York, hardly a “beautiful” city by anyone's estimation.

When I think about their absence I often think of a another (sort of) movie moment. On a featurette included in the Requiem for a Dream DVD, Darren Aronofsky talks about growing up in Brooklyn, close to where they were filming and how he always revered the towers as a kid, looking upon them with a sense of belonging. That they were important to him. (I'm afraid I can't recall more details because I once lent the DVD to a friend who struggled with addiction. Never got it back.)

This was, of course, before the attacks, and it was the first time I ever appreciated them for being anything besides slightly shorter than the Sears Tower. I go back to that thought often as a remembrance that someone out there at least had a different Twin Towers experience before 9/11 happened. And I too notice them on film every time they show up (Home Alone 2 was on TV the other night, and it happened again). But then I think of Aronofsky's fondness for them while still extant, and I at least feel glad that those comments are preserved somewhere...

The preservation of a time and place and moment are just one thing I find so fascinating about film. I get the same feeling when watching an old classic or non-classic and thinking “all of these people are dead, but they made this and it lives on.” And it will keep living on as long as there are people with eyes.

Comment posted on Tue. Sep 11, 2012 at 09:57 AM

Erik wrote:

I think about that often when watching German movies from the early 1930s. What happened to all those actors? Which ones were Jewish? Did they get out?

Same with French movies of the '30s. You watch and you think, “Horrors are coming.”

Comment posted on Tue. Sep 11, 2012 at 11:14 AM
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