The long shadow of 11 September 2001 and, in particular, the collapse of the World Trade Center Towers in the aftermath of terrorist attacks, continue to have global ramifications in political, military, and ethical terms. It is therefore no surprise that at the 74th Annual Academy Awards (“74th Annual Academy Awards,” 2002), Hollywood and the entertainment industry en masse took great pains to carefully and strategically position themselves in relation to an event in which the number of deaths paled in comparison to the symbolic power of an attack on the city at the very heart of the American Dream. There was no shortage of actors and filmmakers willing to speak on the importance of the power of film in such times; Tom Cruise did an evocative job delivering a well-scripted speech which included the lines:

My actor friends said to me, what are we doing? Is it important? What of a night like tonight? Should we celebrate the joy and magic movies bring? Well, dare I say it: more than ever.

Cruise continued to evoke the ‘magic’ of cinema as both an imaginative and potentially healing space. Whoopi Goldberg, the host for that ceremony, then introduced New York’s most notable filmmaker, Woody Allen, who in his own rambling fashion gave a far less scripted and more personal plea for the ongoing importance of New York as a location where films should be set and films should still be made. Allen also introduced a four-minute tribute film to New York seen through the eyes of films set there over the course of a century. The sequence was edited together by Nora Ephron, famous for such romantic comedies as Sleepless in Seattle (1993) which treats New York as the emotional heart of America. Ephron’s New York montage featured clips which lingered on iconic landmarks such as the Empire State and Chrysler buildings as well as the Brooklyn Bridge and Central Park. However, the core of the piece emphasised the individuals and the dreamers who constitute the city, with clips from musicals with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra singing New York’s praises in On the Town (Donen & Kelly, 1949), through to John Travolta’s frenetic breakout film Saturday Night Fever (Badham, 1977). Comedies including Tootsie (Pollack, 1982), Ghost Busters (Reitman, 1984), and Melanie Griffiths’ Working Girl (Nichols, 1988) all got a few seconds’ screen time, with even science fiction making an impact with both Men in Black (Sonnenfeld, 1997) and the original King Kong (Cooper & Schoedsack, 1933) with the giant ape atop the Empire State Building. The clip ended with a line from Mel Brooks’ feature debut The Producers (1968): ‘I want everything I’ve ever seen in the movies!’ While the short film did a fine job in evoking the power of New York as cinematic space, what was most notable was the powerful absence of the Twin Towers from any of these clips. Ephron and the Academy re-visioned a New York not so much mourning the Twin Towers, but rather one in which the World Trade Center had never fallen as it had simply never existed. Through one of the filmmaker’s oldest magic-making tools, the power of montage, the cinematic enactment of the American Dream was re-deployed, escaping the seemingly omnipresent mourning of what can easily be called the Western world’s ‘Long September’ by erasing and denying those traumatic signifiers in their entirety. Of equal if not greater importance, the Academy was far from alone in erasing the Twin Towers.