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On the Tube: Memories of 9-11 ~ As if we could forget so soon...

Friday, May 24, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

The one-hour HBO documentary "In Memoriam: New York City, 9/11/01" (9 p.m. Sunday) announces its intention to be a historical document from the start. At that, it succeeds. But by its nature, it will have more meaning 25 years from now.

Today, "In Memoriam" comes on the heels of CBS's "9-11" documentary that aired in March and HBO's own "Telling Nicholas" of just a few weeks ago. Through that framework, "In Memoriam" brings little new to bear on last year's terrorist attacks, an event we're both haunted by and drawn to and sick of hearing about.

Ubiquitous former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani is the primary narrator for "In Memoriam." The program's first 10 minutes serve as an executive summary of what's to come: The first plane, the second plane, the first collapse, the second collapse, the aftermath.

The program includes video footage by myriad amateur photographers, some of which seems new. It includes shots of people plummeting from the top floors of the World Trade Center followed by one indecipherable photo from a distance of what may or may not be a body or body parts on the ground.

Orchestral music plays throughout, pulling at viewers' emotions, but nothing is more moving than interviews with Beth Petrone, executive assistant to Giuliani, whose fire captain husband died when one of the towers collapsed.

"I thought Terry had just incinerated," she said. "I was grabbing dust from the ground thinking he was in the dust."

A montage of funerals at the end of the program shows the enormity of the toll taken, and, as omnipresent as he's become, Giuliani has become an expert spokesperson for the people of the city most affected.

"I think we're going to have to remember September 11th in its reality," he says. "Because somehow I think it pushes the human consciousness toward finding ways to avoid this in the future. But if you censor it too much, if you try to find too many euphemisms for what happened, then you rob people of the ability to actually relive it and therefore motivate them to prevent it from happening in the future."

Memorial Day weekend is certainly a worthy time for remembrance, although with eight months of remembrances under our belts already, the need for "In Memoriam" upon its premiere is minimal. But it will grow with time.

'Military Diaries'
(10 p.m. Monday, VH1)

Anyone who gets his nose out of joint over military review of prime-time entertainment programs should rest assured after watching VH1's military-approved docu-drama "Military Diaries." This isn't the kind of propaganda the military wants out there.

A petty officer on the U.S.S. John Stennis whines that she only gets to take a shower for five minutes instead of 15. She also shares with viewers her favorite tunes -- this is VH1, remember -- and even lip-syncs to one of them.

Three other soldiers dance to a Vanilla Ice tune and an F-18 pilot complains he hasn't had sex for six months.

Clearly, this wouldn't be part of the recruiting video for any military branch. Monday's premiere plays more like a "Saturday Night Live" parody than anything else.

The second episode at 10:30 p.m. is less embarrassing, but no more pro-military. One servicewoman, after humorously deconstructing James Taylor's "You've Got a Friend," explains how difficult it is for her to serve in Afghanistan.

"Just because I'm in this country that needs so very much, my job is not to help them," she says of the children she sees on the streets of Kabul. "That's the hardest thing because I want my job to be to help them. I want desperately to know every day that we've made this place better and I don't really know that we are and I wish that I could."

This production from R.J. Cutler (PBS's "American High") is a mixed bag, mostly because quality control is so tough. Unlike "American High," which had the benefit of documentary filmmakers behind the cameras, "Military Diaries" is literally what its name suggests: Footage captured by military personnel, who don't have the same knack for storytelling as documentary professionals.

Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments about TV to www.post-gazette.com/tv under PG Online Talk.

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