The relation between cinema and reality changed on September 11. All distinction between screen fantasy and the crises of history seemed to disappear in a flash. Immediately, people registered the horror they were witnessing (on the streets of New York or on TV elsewhere) in terms of American action blockbusters or surrealist art. Immediately, there was acute sensitivity among consumers and producers alike about the content and intent of media representations – films pulled from release schedules, TV programming altered. Immediately, ‘entertainment’ (especially in genres like action and horror) was deemed suspect, tasteless, untimely. Immediately, commentators began speculating that the horrific events of September 11 spelt an ‘end to irony’, a cessation of the playful, postmodern dissociation between reality and its images, and even a halt to political and philosophical reflection on ‘cultural difference’ in the face of such ‘absolute evil’ visited upon the ‘free world’.
Will it soon be ‘business as usual’ in the relation between cinema and reality, and our ideas about this relation, or has indeed something irrevocably changed? How does the cinema condition us – or help us – to apprehend the phenomena of terror, terrorism, disaster, trauma, war? What can we learn from earlier moments and events in world history that also brought cinema and reality into mutual crisis? What is being raised and what is being silenced right now, in our discussion of global cultures and ideologies, as a result of September 11?
In late October, Senses of Cinema invited short reflections on these issues. We asked not for definitive statements, but meditations that kept in mind both the human tragedy and political complexity of these events and their possible future ramifications. The results are gathered together in this issue.
Fiona A. Villella & Adrian Martin