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TV Review: 102 Minutes That Changed America

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I remember that Tuesday morning in 2001 as if it happened seconds ago. In my case, I was scurrying around my apartment getting ready for work, The Today Show playing in the background. It was almost time for the local traffic and weather update. Today had broken for commercial, something about hygiene products or the best lending deals around — I don’t know. I never really paid attention to those commercials. But what did catch my eye was when the commercial was interrupted midway, and a voice-over said a plane, size unknown, had crashed into the World Trade Center.

My first reaction was that they’d gotten their tapes mixed, and that this was a glitch advertising some upcoming disaster movie. In the scant moments that followed, I realized how horribly wrong I was.

I didn’t go to work that day.

I think a lot of us didn’t.

When everything we had ever thought had been turned inside-out in a matter of minutes, nothing seemed to matter that much. We were numb in disbelief. I was in Dallas, you were wherever you live. But it didn’t matter. We were all as one, a singular voice screaming “Why?!” Imagine what it was like in New York City.

As the events of September 11, 2001 unfolded in New York City, some witnesses were frozen with shock, some helped others, and many ran as fast as they could from the growing disaster. Then there were those who grabbed their video cameras. Despite the chaos and danger, many people kept their cameras rolling throughout the catastrophe. The special 102 Minutes That Changed America premieres Thursday, September 11, 2008 at 9 p.m. ET/ PT on The History Channel without commercial interruption. With footage from more than 100 individual sources, carefully pieced together in chronological order, the special is a permanent historical archive for future generations to see.

102 Minutes That Changed America presents amateur and professional footage, woven together without narration or commentary, to provide the viewer with an immersive and emotional experience. This documentary faithfully records and captures that historical morning as it happened and the way it was experienced from people’s initial bewilderment that a plane could slam into these iconic skyscrapers on such a clear, sunny day to the sudden, awful recognition that America was under attack.

Over the 24 months it took to research 102 Minutes That Changed America, the production team screened more than 500 hours worth of professional and amateur videotape, as well as more than 30 hours of audio recordings from New York City Fire Department and New York City Police Department radio transmissions and 911 calls. Among the videographers are two New York University seniors filming from a high-rise dormitory just blocks from the World Trade Center. Immediately after the first plane’s impact, these young women pick up their camera and begin recording the smoking North Tower. Their confusion turns into panic when they observe objects plummeting from the tower windows. Then, in their viewfinder, the second plane impacts the South Tower. Terrified, the girls must decide whether to stay on the 32nd floor or flee with their friends to the ground floor.

Meanwhile, six blocks south, another camera follows firefighters trudging toward the flaming towers, as radio communications from the 72nd floor call for reinforcements to help put out the inferno above. Civilians on the street, many of whom are just emerging from their subway commute, wonder at first why the building is on fire. Bystanders who suspect terrorism wonder if another attack is imminent, and whether it will strike them next.

From other points around the city — in Times Square, on Staten Island and in New Jersey as well — onlookers stare in disbelief at the sight of the burning towers. They express concern for the well-being of the workers potentially trapped inside the Trade Center, and for friends who may live or work nearby. A woman filming out the open window of her lower Manhattan studio is blown off her feet by the force of the North Tower’s collapse, and then enveloped in the its suffocating cloud of debris.

This is powerful stuff, made all the more so by the fact that it was all recorded as it happened, by the people who witnessed it. There are no editorial comments, no commercials to give one pause. It’s a gripping piece of history, recorded by hundreds at the exact moment it happened from their particular points of view. In those individual viewpoints, we find a commonality, a singular voice that unites us all. 102 Minutes That Changed America is an unprecedented historical document not to be missed, particularly now, when politics overshadow that day seven years ago.

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About Ray Ellis

  • http://www.911missinglinks.com Heathen

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  • anon

    i just found it very strange that not one of them actually captured the second plane going into the south tower!

  • abstractreality

    Amazing footage, can’t believe I’ve never seen any of that footage before, I think you get a real sense of panick. Liked the way it was put together, with no commentary, very good.

  • George “Suckered Ya” Bush

    Sure left a lot of footage on the cutting room floor.

  • Mike

    Why didn’t they show the towers collapsing? What are they trying to hide???

  • anon

    Mike,
    They did show both of the towers collapsing.