How the entertainment industry both reacted to and adapted after 9/11
Rise of superheroes and huge comedies
There has been a palpable shift in the entertainment industry post-9/11, and it can be summed up in one word: escapism.
“In the past 10 years, it’s become easier to get a good comedy or good action-adventure, Marvel comic-type picture green-lit,” says producer Jane Rosenthal, who is behind the “Fockers” franchise.
Producer Peter Tolan has seen a bump in escapist entertainment; but more directly, he has witnessed a “lightening up”?of network television. “Even the darkness in my show, ‘Rescue Me,’ is a little sunnier than it may have been in the past,”?he says.
Still, both producers are quick to add this is not a reaction solely attributed to the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Technology, Rosenthal says, has made significant changes to the business.
“Ten years ago, there was no iPad. [Now we] make movies that you want to go to to get another kind of experience, one you can’t get on whatever device you’re using at home.”
Rebuilding downtown, one movie at a time
Jane Rosenthal witnessed the 9/11 attacks and wanted to help. As a film producer, her skill set wasn’t exactly suited for rescue efforts. But her work in the last 10 years has been instrumental to the revitalization of lower Manhattan.
“‘What could we do?’” Rosenthal recalls asking herself and partner Robert DeNiro, who co-founded the film and TV company Tribeca Productions in the neighborhood in 1989. “‘OK, we could put on a show and give our community something to smile about and give everyone a reason to go downtown again,’” she says, was their answer.
The resulting Tribeca Film Festival premiered in Nov. 2002 with only 120 days of planning. “We didn’t have a sponsor, we didn’t have a budget, we didn’t have any films,” Rosenthal says with a laugh. “So we called the governor, called some of our friends — Ed Burns, Marty Scorsese, Meryl Streep. We weren’t going to wait for someone to just come and help us — it was, ‘We’re going to take care of our community ourselves.’”
That rehabilitation included emotional healing as much as physical rebuilding.
“Outside of Sarajevo, we’re the only film festival that was started because of an act of war,”?Rosenthal says. “Film can go places and say things and activate people in ways that are far more profound than a politician, and that’s what we set out to do.”
Honoring firefighters by telling their stories
Few pop culture contributions have captured the psyche of New York City post-9/11 quite like “Rescue Me.”
Created by Peter Tolan and Denis Leary, who also plays firefighter Tommy Gavin, “Rescue Me” centers on the self-destructive antics of Tommy, who is haunted by his cousin, a FDNY member who died on 9/11.
“[The first responders] don’t really deal with [the effects of 9/11] directly because they are still jumping on the rig,”?says Leary. “Tommy and these guys have been avoiding a lot of it or trying to drink it away or f— it away. That’s sort of a common thing for guys who are still at war, you know, on the job.”
Though 9/11 was a touchstone for the series, Tolan stresses they were very careful not to lean on the event too heavily. “We never wanted to be accused of diminishing the tragedy into a story point,” he says.?A sense of humor Leary calls “very organic to living in a firehouse” helped “Rescue Me”?achieve that through seven seasons. Humor, Tolan says, “is how people move forward. They laugh and they bust each other’s balls, and life goes on.”
The series, however, has reached its end, pegged to the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Leary says this last season, which has made the anniversary a prominent storyline, is “a natural summing up” for the characters as they are forced to re-examine the events of that day.
But “Rescue Me” has always refused to let their heroics, despite the repercussions, be forgotten.
The power of music
Paul McCartney sat on the tarmac at JFK Airport when the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center took place. Later, watching the events unfold on TV, he quickly realized his part in helping out — organizing an all-star benefit concert.
“More than words, more than speeches, more than comedy — which are all important — music has some property that can really be very healing,” the former Beatle says.
The days following 9/11 are documented in “The Love We Make,” a cinema verite film by Albert Maysles chronicling McCartney’s experiences around Manhattan, including his preparation for The Concert for New York City. The film premieres Saturday at 9 p.m. on Showtime.