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Hollywood should focus on good side of humanity

| Sunday, Sept. 23, 2001

We love movies, as we do theater, for making us laugh, lifting our spirits, moving us, exciting us and even frightening us.

We love them when they affirm our essential decency by encouraging us to respond humanely.

We love it when they reflect some aspect of ourselves.

We love being challenged and compelled to consider ideas foreign to us.

But sometimes - rarely for me, I confess - no movie seems quite suitable, and none is welcome to impinge. The distraction feels inappropriate.

We'll all always remember the moments when we learned of the four-pronged attack Sept. 11 on the United States - the Tuesday jump-start of a week that kept millions of us mesmerized by news developments full of horror, heartbreak and heroism.

I had entered the Manor Theatre in Squirrel Hill at about 9:45 that morning for a 10 a.m. critics' screening.

Carol Sloan Carpenter, a locally based Warner Bros. and Miramax field representative who was conducting the screening, walked toward me with such an apprehensive tone in her voice that when she asked whether I'd heard what had happened, I feared the president had been assassinated.

Call it conditioning. Thirty-eight Novembers ago, a college faculty adviser had said to me, 'Have you heard what happened• The president has been shot.'

The news that day soon was worse. As a country we never fully recovered, but for a few minutes in the most divisive of 20th century decades for Americans, we were one.

Reflections of the past thumped like a pulse as several of us gathered, one by one, in the Manor's manager's office, watching incredulously on a small TV the video replays and newly breaking announcements.

At 10:05 we had to get on with our own day's business, which seemed monumentally unimportant under the circumstances.

The movie we were screening was 'Apocalypse Now Redux,' which had been scheduled about two weeks earlier and which had the misfortune - and bad timing - to run three hours and 17 minutes.

Beautifully made and mostly familiar from its earlier, shorter incarnation, the film seemed this time to go on forever, demanding a level of attention that it couldn't reasonably hope to earn even if it were 'Citizen Kane' or 'Cinema Paradiso.'

When 'Redux' finally, mercifully ended close to 1:30 p.m., I couldn't get to my car, three blocks away, quickly enough to begin absorbing radio reports.

As it happens, I had to pause immediately outside the parking lot for a red light. I was behind a car bearing a driver of perhaps 17 who was listening to hip hop at a volume that all but shook his vehicle.

I know there are theories that at some point after any tragedy, it can be therapeutic to restore to our lives the things that relax and distract us.

What I couldn't fathom was that anyone who had reached the age of reason (you put the age on it) would have tuned out such a critical event so quickly.

What could possibly be more involving, more absorbing, more compelling than the incredible disaster story unfolding by the minute through discoveries and revelations•

What, in these cynical and often uncivil times, I wondered, constitutes a wakeup call to someone who isn't even paying attention on a day like that•

Were there a new blockbuster action thriller billed as 'the roller coaster ride of the summer' - something like 'Air Force One' or 'Passenger 57,' wouldn't he want to be there the first day and to see it, perhaps, more than once•

Vietnam was three to four decades ago. Korea was five. World War II was six. More recent conflicts in the Middle East notwithstanding, we now have two full generations who have experienced the widespread prosperity and privilege of American life without the sacrifices earlier generations took for granted, including two years or more of military service before entering the work force.

It seems to have become impossible, or at least difficult, to appreciate how much we take as a birthright. Movies delight in showing us cataclysmic events through special effects but almost never now pause to dramatize the consequences - the losses after all those photogenic explosions and crashes and twisters.

We've become steadily less patient with 'the people part' that is less and less a part of the story and its aftermath.

The downsides of the past 12 days are incalculable, but one conspicuous upside has been the swelling of national pride. Hollywood, which likes to regard itself as a barometer of public sentiments, and will tap any profitable vein, has fostered a collective national disdain for so much for so long that in our entertainment it has become increasingly difficult to find respect for the value of a single human life.

It's time for Hollywood to take a new cue from the American public - from the flags, the tears and smiles and from the fact that just about everyone seems to be feeling and acting a little more civil, a little warmer and a little more positive about being who we are.


The impact of Sept. 11's events and their aftermath in New York has had a major impact on Broadway.

Besides every Broadway show canceling two or, in most cases, three of the eight regularly scheduled performances during the fiscal week of Sept. 10 through 16 (Broadway runs from Monday through Sunday), several shows that were already struggling to meet weekly expenses are folding.

'Blast' had announced its closing today Sept. 23 about two weeks ago, but it's being joined on today's casualty list by 'If You Ever Leave Me, I'm Going With You' with Renee Taylor and Joseph Bologna, the revival of 'The Rocky Horror Show,' which Terrence Mann had just joined, 'A Thousand Clowns' with Tom Selleck, the long-running hit revival of 'Kiss Me, Kate' and 'Stones in His Pockets.'

The Broadway premiere of the Stephen Sondheim-John Weidman musical 'Assassins' has been postponed indefinitely by Roundabout Theatre Company, which was to produce it and open it Nov. 29.

The Roundabout's official explanation:

'' 'Assassins' asks audiences to think critically about various aspects of the American experience.

'In light of (the Sept. 11) assault on our nation and on the most fundamental things in which we all believe, we, the Roundabout, and director Joe Mantello believe this is not an appropriate time to present a show which makes such a demand.'


You have to love the quote by Samuel Z. Arkoff, who died Sept. 16 at age 83. Arkoff had made hundreds of fair to bad teen-interest movies on budgets we think of today as lunch money.

Honored at a Museum of Modern Art retrospective in New York in 1979 for films that were 'rich in information about our popular culture,' Arkoff reportedly said, 'I suppose time can dignify anything.'


Many fine films, on the other hand, were made by actress Dorothy McGuire, who died Sept. 13 at age 85.

Although she was Oscar-nominated only for the high-prestige item 'Gentlemen's Agreement,' I recall her most fondly as the mute servant cornered by a psychopath in 'The Spiral Staircase,' as Robert Preston's sexually estranged wife in 'The Dark at the Top of the Stairs' and especially as the persevering wife and mother in 'A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.'

Ed Blank is the Tribune-Review's movie and Broadway theater critic. He can be reached at (412) 854-5555 or .

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