Removing the reality from art

by Steven Snyder

“It seemed like a movie.”

Last Tuesday, thousands of people across America made this very remark as they gathered around televisions broadcasting the sights of New York City and Washington, DC.

However, the horrific events of September 11 were not a movie. They were not sights that became easier to watch, but those that had the power to concoct nightmares. In Hollywood, as the realization of these atrocities registered, release dates, productions and advertising were being massively altered to work within a nation entering a time of loss. Three of these films affected by the shuffling were scheduled to open today.

Big Trouble, a comedy starring Tim Allen and Rene Russo, has been rescheduled for a release in the spring of 2002. A scene in that movie included a bomb on a plane, and although the movie’s characters avert disaster, Disney’s Touchstone Pictures chose to avoid any potential controversy.

Training Day, the inner-city drama starring Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke, is rescheduled for an October 5 release. In the case of Training Day, however, it was not questionable content that shifted the release, but wall-to-wall news coverage of Tuesday’s events that made promotion of the film nearly impossible.

Also postponed was the romance Sidewalks of New York, starring Heather Graham, slated to open today in limited release. In this instance, both the film’s location and similar promotional concerns prompted the delay.

Other films have fallen victim to these same issues of subject matter, timing, marketing and location.

Perhaps least fortunate is Warner Brothers. In addition to rescheduling Training Day, the new Arnold Schwarzenegger film Collateral Damage has been delayed, without a rescheduled release. In the film, Schwarzenegger hunts down terrorists that killed his family with a bomb in an L.A. skyscraper. All promotional materials have been recalled, the website has been shut down and the film finds itself with an unsure future.

Sony Pictures Entertainment immediately pulled all trailers for next May’s Spider-man, which portrays a helicopter becoming stuck in a spider web spun between the two World Trade Center towers. Additionally, posters featuring the towers reflected in Spiderman’s eye have been taken down.

The upcoming Dreamworks film, The Last Castle, has recalled all promotional materials, including posters and billboards that featured the American flag flying upside down and backwards as a symbol of distress. Following outraged reactions from New York citizens that saw the materials as late as Thursday of last week on buses in the midst of Manhattan, marketing has been shifted to the film’s stars, including Robert Redford and James Gandolfini.

Nosebleed, a movie still in pre-production, is being rewritten since it took place almost entirely around the twin towers. The ending of Men In Black 2, a film already in post-production, is being reworked to edit material located in the same parts of New York. Filming of War of the Worlds, based upon the 1898 H.G. Wells novel, has been rescheduled.

Television executives are also attempting to avoid controversial material. Programs with terrorist themes are being delayed, music videos with themes of violence are not being shown, and broadcasts of movies such as Platoon and Independence Day are being replaced by the likes of Mrs. Doubtfire.

Some may claim that these scheduling changes reflect Hollywood’s priority in appeasing the public – giving the masses what they want when they want – and any work that would truly challenge or offend someone is abandoned due to budgetary concerns.

Others, however, realize that these recent events put the entertainment business in uncharted waters, attempting to sooth a nation in an unparalleled time of horror. The entertainment industry, as well as every other industry in America, is merely trying to find its place in this dark new world.