CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: Who needs tacky trickery to tell the century’s most powerful tale?
Sometimes you have to wonder what film-makers think they’re doing. Given the most powerful material and a deeply sensitive subject, they risk wrecking their own programmes with crass embellishments.
Director Arthur Cary compiled a devastating collage of images and interviews with those who lived through the Twin Towers terrorist attack, in Surviving 9/11 (BBC2).
Nothing more was needed than the heartfelt testimonies of people who lived through the atrocity and others still traumatised by bereavement.
But flourishes were inserted anyway. Whoever thought it was a good idea to build an architect’s model of the towers and set light to it, we’ll probably never know — maybe it was some twerp in the production office, feeling the need to ‘add value’.
Director Arthur Cary compiled a devastating collage of images and interviews with those who lived through the 9/11 terror attack
As wisps of smoke trickled from the cardboard skyscrapers, a handful of ash was scattered over the plastic vehicles below. It was cheap, tasteless and served no purpose.
Even worse was the tacky camera trick that imposed film of falling bodies onto close-ups of eyes. Perhaps we were supposed to be looking at the memories of the interviewees seared onto their retinas.
This gauche, tawdry effect was doubly unnecessary because Cary had footage of firefighters at the foot of the building, the lens tracking their horrified faces as they saw the victims plunge 90 storeys. Their expressions conveyed the nightmare as nothing else could.
Nancy Suhr’s fireman husband Danny was killed by the impact of a falling body as he ran in to the blazing South Tower.
Twenty years later, his widow has achieved some sort of peace with her grief. Many of his crew mates were killed minutes later when the towers collapsed: ‘He was going to die one way or the other.’
She replays his last phone message, from moments before he and his friends selflessly rushed into danger. Captured on the answerphone, his crackling voice tells her simply that he loves her.
‘It feels disloyal not to be in excruciating pain every day,’ she says.
Sloppy sailing of the night:
Captain Newsome on Vigil (BBC1) nearly steered his nuclear sub into a tanker after his sonar operators failed to spot it. I don’t know about saving world peace but I wouldn’t bet on the crew passing a driving test.
A dozen accounts were intercut, switching from one to another, as they built a picture of the disaster unfolding. Young mother Lauren Manning suffered burns to more than 80 per cent of her body.
Melodie Homer was still angry at being told that her husband LeRoy, the pilot aboard Flight 93, was safe — until the airline called to say his plane was one of the four destroyed.
Perhaps the most extraordinary tale was that of Bill Spade, buried alive in a stairwell when the North Tower collapsed. He was the only firefighter out of 12 on his shift not to be killed that day.
The 90-minute film bears witness to a defining day in history. Before it is shown again, the makers should consider cutting out the ill-advised sequences that mar it so pointlessly.
Low-budget trickery is the stock-in-trade of presenter Anita Rani on Secret Spenders (C4), as she advises couples how to cut their outgoings.
This time, she advised Andy and Helen from Southampton to stop buying new clothes and rent designer outfits for special occasions instead.
Unless you’re an A-lister, preparing for a night at the Oscars in a hired gown and jewellery, that seems a ludicrous idea. What if the clothes don’t suit you when they turn up?
The couple were also told to rent out their camper van, to earn some extra cash.
Again, that sounds fraught with problems.
If you’re that hard up, better to give the children a camp-bed and rent out their rooms to lodgers. I’d love to know if Anita ever practised the cash-saving tips she recommends.