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Amused to Death

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At the time of its release, The Siege was almost universally panned for being too polemic, too paranoid and even too racist in its so-called vilification of the Arab community. "It turns into a speechifying consideration of civil liberties and constitutional rights," sniffed Janet Maslin in The New York Times; she added that the "film's stark images of scheming Arab villains often speak louder than its diplomatic words." Wright has had little time to reflect or react to the week's events. He has been too consumed writing a story for the New Yorker about the harassment of Arab-Americans and Muslims, which has been especially rampant throughout Wright's home state. In effect, he is writing a factual follow-up to the fiction he authored but a few years ago.

Wright believes that had The Siege been presented as trashy fiction--as a Steven Seagal or Jean-Claude Van Damme thriller set aboard a battleship or in a hockey rink--it likely would have been given a "free pass." But, he insists, the movie was damned for being too challenging, too didactic...and far too authentic to be entertaining. The Siege not only could happen. It did happen.

But, Wright says, "We're still going to need entertainment. We may look at things differently somewhat, but beyond entertaining, movies are a form of art. They may at times be low art, they may at times be high art, but the function of art is to help us understand experience. As a reporter, what I'm trying to do is put things down in order, get them straight, get the facts right, sort things out. That's what I've been doing for the last several days. But as an artist, what I'm trying to do is incorporate those facts and experiences and digest them in a human way so they're understood, they're absorbed. One thing that movies and all other forms of art do is help us get a handle on our experiences, especially when those experiences seem too big for us."

No doubt, there will one day be movies about September 11, 2001. They will be set in World Trade Center stairwells, in airplane cockpits, in Pentagon offices. Hollywood will not be able to resist the temptation to document one of this country's most horrific moments, no more than it can stop making movies about the Civil War or Pearl Harbor. Time will pass, debris will be disposed of, bodies will be buried, and all that will linger is the memory of two airplanes disappearing into office buildings that no longer exist. In February 1993, terrorists bombed the World Trade Center for the first time, killing six and injuring thousands. Four years later, Marcia Gay Harden and Peter Gallagher starred in the made-for-HBO film Path to Paradise: The Untold Story of the World Trade Center Bombing, which bore the promotional tagline, "No one expected a terrorist attack on U.S. soil. But many could have prevented it."

"This story is too big for us," says Zabel, "but I could see writing a character who lost a loved one in this event. That would make it not too big for us, but just small enough to be real. I think there's a lot of different ways to come at a particular story, and not all of them have to be Die Hard. That's too big for us, maybe, but a character moment may not be. But good writing isn't about providing answers. It's about providing the questions."

Don't tell that to Matthew Crouch, the rare film producer whose life did not come to a standstill the morning of September 11. When he saw balls of fire shooting from the World Trade Center, he thought only of how to capitalize on the moment when, this week, he puts into 400 theaters nationwide Megiddo: The Omega Code 2, the sequel to the surprisingly successful religious thriller released in October 1999. Megiddo, which stars Michael York as the devil, is full of images that will look appallingly familiar, including scenes of landmark buildings being destroyed and reporters standing in front of fiery ruins.

Crouch says he never--"not for one second"--considered pulling the film, which, according to its Web site, is about "the rise of a Machiavellian leader bent on amassing the armies of the world for the battle of Armageddon while calamities of Biblical proportions pummel the earth." Crouch, son of Trinity Broadcasting Network president Paul Crouch, says Megiddo is nothing less than a "prophetic movie" based on various books of the Bible. He insists the movie, which hasn't screened for critics, does nothing less than "foretell future events," including, but not limited to, last week's massacre.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky

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