The Funniest 9/11 Movie Ever: An Interview With The Makers Of Unclear Holocaust
Last year, as the 10th anniversary of 9/11 was approaching and the rest of America seemed to be preparing for a memorialization in keeping with the previous decade of jingoism and revenge, three young filmmakers were hard at work on a different sort of commemoration.
Calling themselves the Anti-Banality Union, they cut together scenes from 50 different Hollywood disaster movies, using them to retell a version of of the events of 9/11 and lay bare with encyclopedic thoroughness the bloody fantasy of the destruction of New York that Hollywood has nursed since long before the planes hit the towers.
The result, which you can watch in its entirety above, was Unclear Holocaust, a feature-length orgy of annihilation that is both strangely askew and deeply familiar. It is disturbing, hilarious, and, depending on your sensibilities, quite possibly profoundly offensive.
It's also smart. More than just a supercut of CGI explosions, Unclear Holocaust uses deft Situationist slight-of-hand to interrogate the stories we tell ourselves about our place in the world.
We spoke with the members of the Anti-Banality Union recently about Unclear Holocaust and their next project, Police Mortality. Here's that conversation, condensed and edited for clarity:
You first screened Unclear Holocaust on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Did people freak out about that?
At the time it was a welcome counter-commemoration, particularly because everyone was dreading all of the press and flag-flying that they were seeing, the insistence on "unity" around New York.
What was your process for making the movie?
We compiled a list of New York-disaster films that was fairly informal, mostly gleaned from memory. Then we went out and stole as many of them as we could, and started identifying tropes, picking out particular analogies to 9/11 itself, and different structural regularities that coalesced into moments we felt were paradigmatic in the genre. We ended up using more than 50 different movies.
Did you watch the movies separately or together?
We were all living in the same room, on our separate computers with headphones on, having highly intense, violent, individual experiences. It was like being alone together for a month. We took it as a phenomenological experiment, seeing what prolonged exposure to this kind of cinema does to one's perception. It became very difficult to look at the Empire State Building or the Chrysler Building without thinking that they looked CG.
Editing also took on this eschatological tenor. There was a hurricane and an earthquake while we were editing the tidal wave scene. Our building started shaking, the ceiling caved in, and we wondered: are we having a 4-D experience of this film? When we finally emerged from the stupor of editing, we were amazed to find that everything remained intact. Nothing had happened at all. The skyline was still there, somehow.
So what were some of the common themes that emerged from all these movies?
After paranoid pedagogy, a lot of them introduce a 'First Indication of Disturbance'. Something appears on the radar, something out of the normal. The slightest deviation from normality is an immense threat that has to be countered by all means. But it first has to be accounted for, so there's incredible confusion over some minor anomaly by the scientific establishment. That's almost immediately communicated to the military apparatus that makes a real object out of this discrepancy, and then sets to work to most effectively address this imaginary problem that has now taken on real substance. There's a lot of terminology that's interchangeable between the different scenarios. Talk about swarms, invaders, pathogens and masses.
The agent of destruction is often either a natural disaster, aliens, a theological necessity like the rapture - or terrorists. The idea was to remove the objective threat, leaving the various discourses that surround threats in general building and creating the center itself.
Right, there's no center there. It's all the reaction, which becomes the destruction.
There's a scene from Godzilla where we cut Godzilla out, so the military is just flying through New York blowing up buildings, without any adversary. That's why it's an "unclear" holocaust. There's no evident threat.
I liked the "Go to DEFCON Three" sequence, where, once the scientists have warned the government, that call goes out to the populace at large, to regular people in their bedrooms. It foreshadows the back half of the movie, which is so much about the post-disaster retrenchment and the solidification of the police state.
Right. 'Citizens! Put on your riot gear, and start impounding Muslims at your local stadium!'