102 Minutes That Changed America removes all the politics, all the side scandal and presents you with the raw materials of what happened on the ground from the moment the first plane hit to the moment the last tower fell. It’s one of the finest examples of documentarian thinking using amateur footage and it is one of the most powerful pieces of film I’ve ever witnessed.
The Disasters Faced
102 Minutes That Changed America focuses exclusively on the World Trade Centre area during 9/11.
Presented in a timeline format, the documentary takes place in almost real-time. Occasionally a clock appears to keep you informed of how much time has elapsed during the disaster and piece cuts between all the video footage, voice mails, 911 phone calls, radio chatter and off-air TV broadcast cameras and crew. You’ll be taken from beginning to end, rarely leaving the immediate area itself and thus experience the event in a reactionary way.
Why Is It Worth Watching?
Firstly from a historical point of view, much of the footage is amateur footage from various viewpoints and so you get to see things in different lights and distances. It’s horrific and entrancing to watch because 102 Minutes That Changes America rips out any barrier or time between you and the event. You are in it and the camera person usually is narrating what they are seeing or reacting to it so it’s almost conversational too. Much like the people on the day itself filming, there’s a certain moth to a flame quality that seemed to hold people and compel them to film and I feel compelled to watch it unfold in a semi visceral state of shock.
There’s also the human behaviourist in me that found the real-time treatment of the film fascinating. It also shows exactly what people were thinking at that exact time. Blind panic, fear, dread and immense sadness. It also shows the confusion as people talk about all different things they’ve heard along the way. It shows how misinformation spreads in a crisis, how bystanders cannot be trusted to look after themselves and how shock and awe can attract a deadly crowd in and affect rescue speed. I could see how this film could be used to help inform future evacuations for future incidents.
The way how the directors use sound is sublime too. A lot of the documentary is watching people run away, look dazed and confused or preparing to go into the towers and so whilst that’s interesting from a factual perspective, it’s a lot of hold time. What turns this around is the phone calls, voices mails, tv news snippets and fireman radio chatter that is overlayed. I’m assuming since the film goes to great pains to line up everything to the 102 minutes that the audio timeline is also accurate too. It informs you of rescue attempts, structural damage, the plight and desperation of people trapped above and so on. The musical score itself is very minimal and that is for the best. It occasionally fades in an ambient hum that meanders and fades in at specific times. It’s such an empty metallic sound, it’s used to great effect but thankfully sparsely.
“Today is Tuesday the 11th of September and you will not forget this day…” ~ News Reporter
Three Memorable Moments
- The second plane hitting for its live impact
- The shots of the dust clouds of the first collapse as its terrifying
- Hearing the radio chatter of the fireteam arriving at the fire floor just minutes before the collapses begin
It’s very difficult to review a film like this because of the subject matter but the editing is absolutely superb and the concept of presenting everything in a single timeline is great as it keeps everything in perspective. I would welcome this kind of documentary approach for things like the Asian and Japanese Tsunami’s for example or the 7/7 Bombings here in the UK. I say that because it removes the political spin and just presents the real-life account footage at the time. There’s no space to interpret – you experience it before you can. As harrowing as it is to watch, it’s important to never forget these important events that can shape a world.
Rating 5/5 – (Personally Recommended)
If you liked 102 Minutes That Changed America then you may like…
- 911 (A documentary about a firefighter unit called to the World Trade Centres)
- United 93 (Dramatisation of the 4th plane hijacked)
- Flight 93 (Another dramatisation of the 4th plane hijacked)
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