Bedtime crooning
Nora's review of my talk at Interesting09

Watching home video of 9/11

I made myself watch "102 minutes that changed America" the other night, although watching it with the ridiculous number of advert breaks that it had made me feel queasy and slightly ashamed of Channel 4.

But then they stumped up for it, I suppose.

The film was a heftily edited selection, in timestamped form, of the whole of the 9/11 terrible saga, from a few seconds after the first plane hit. We were in France on that day, and only got hold of the news via me reading my email over a standard 56k modem, and saying "Er, there's a rumour that a plane has hit the World Trade Centre". We switched on the satellite news and I think we emerged, blinking in to the Catalan afternoon sun some 5 hours later.

Watching it, it surprised me just how long there were between the first and the second hits. There must have been a good ten, fifteen minutes and good god, the utter horror of the second hit - the sheer terror in the voices of the people who were videoing. Not to forget, obviously, that every so often, a person could be clearly seen jumping out and hoping for a swift death, rather than burning. The phone calls to desperate people in smoking and burning offices were there too. Sit tight, smash the windows if you have to, we're coming.

The handheld nature of the thing gave the film a screwed up, post-Cloverfield sheen, because of course it was New York. And to make matters even more emotionally confused, the viewer already knew the ending - they'd seen the spoilers and the inevitavle fall to earth hung like a spectre over the unfolding events. Waiting for the second plane to hit was unbearable. That shred of time felt real, and miserably unchangeable.

It is as important to bear witness to the events that take place in affluent countries as it is to listen, and watch, straight backed, to the horrors meted upon people by other people, or indeed natural events, in the developing world. There is no cynical response to the unbearable shock, grief and misery of that day. What came next could not be laid at the door of these New Yorkers, shaking with fear, trying to shield their children from what was going on, or burning alive, or being crushed to death. So many firefighters on video, I was left thinking  - How many of those guys are still alive now? Our friend Emma, who lived in Brooklyn at the time, had good mates in guitar bands who fought fires by day. She didn't see them again.

Watching it from that personal perspective through the shaky camera's untrained eye - how the hell can anyone who was there, and saw it happen, get over that day? Even people blocks away were covered with the volcanic dust cloud as the towers spread in to a dust storm across the city. They must still think of it, every day.