View Full Version : Ric Burns NY documentary part 8

August 26th, 2003, 07:35 PM
Visit the site...

And watch a video of WTC construction...

(Edited by NYguy at 3:36 pm on Aug. 27, 2003)

August 26th, 2003, 09:50 PM
Thank-you for a great link. *:)

The Interview Outtakes are priceless.

September 8th, 2003, 11:45 AM
A reminder: this is on tonight.

September 8th, 2003, 10:06 PM
September 8, 2003


Ric Burns


The creator of the "New York" documentaries, the last of which airs on PBS tonight, answered readers' questions about the rise and fall of the World Trade Center.

Q. 1. Iíve lived in N.Y.C. all my life and can truthfully say that the World Trade Center buildings never struck me as interesting or important. When it was constructed, what were the reviews of the building in terms of its architecture?

A. The World Trade Center was, arguably, at once the most familiar and the least well-known building in the world. It was so hated as it went up in the 1960's, and in the years right after it opened in the early 1970's, that no one was really interested in the story behind it. It was almost universally derided as a standing monument to architectural boredom, and worse. People hated its military severity, and the fact that it had stolen the thunder of Art Deco masterpieces like the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building. It was pretty much seen as an architectural disaster, but some critics were impressed by its sculptural power and minimalist purity of line. In fact, over the years, quite a few critics, including some early detractors, softened their position -- if only, in some cases, as the Paul Goldberger [the architectural critic at The New Yorker] has said, because you canít hate something forever.

Q. 2. Would you characterize the collapse of the World Trade Center towers as a failure of the design and engineering which led to the deaths of several thousand? Or was it a triumph of innovation and design that enabled tens of thousands to escape because the buildings where able to remain standing for nearly an hour each after such a catastrophic impact that likely would have caused almost any other conventionally built structure to collapse almost immediately?

A. The twin towers stood as long as they did after the impacts, and then fell catastrophically, for pretty much the same reason: their groundbreaking tube structure design. It is quite conceivable that the rigidity of a conventional skyscraper like the Empire State Building, which is massively overbuilt and fortified throughout by its interior steel skeleton, would have led to the building being decapitated, or tipped over on impact.

The World Trade Center towers, by contrast, operated like giant catcherís mitts, gathering in those immense aircraft and bringing them to a stop from 500 miles an hour (and more) in less than two hundred feet. They swayed tremendously, but they didnít come near to falling over, and that undoubtedly saved thousands of lives. In the end, however, the same structural qualities that allowed the buildings to stand as long as they did caused them to fall, because they fell when the office fire ignited by the jet fuel weakened the light steel in the floors.

Q. 3. Was there ever a time after Sept. 11, 2001, that you considered scrapping the "New York" series altogether? If so, how did you come around to deciding to add the final episode?

A. What we thought were the final two episodes (Episodes 6 and 7) of our 14-and-a-half-hour series on the history of New York were about to be broadcast when 9/11 occurred. My first thought that morning was that we should postpone or cancel the broadcast, scheduled for Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, as it seemed obscenely inappropriate. By nightfall, I felt that almost the exact opposite was true, as having a way for people to think about the history of New York suddenly seemed relevant in ways we never could have anticipated.

Over the course of the next few weeks, we also understood that the work we had thought was over, wasnít. We saw that there was a chapter, the history of the World Trade Center, that had been hiding in plain sight for nearly 30 years. Condemned and scorned when it was completed, the World Trade Center came to be the most iconic structure on the Manhattan skyline, and its history one of the most resonant and revealing parables about the power reshaping New York and the world in the second half of the 20th century. That seemed to us to be a crucial story to tell.

Q. 4. How do you think that Sept. 11 has changed New York City? In your research and interviews, what was the biggest change in the perception of the city from your previous work?

A. Paul Goldberger has pointed out that the often broken relationship between New York and the rest of the country was healed by the events of 9/11: New York moved closer to the rest of the country and the rest of the country moved closer to New York. The perception, already fading fast by the end of the 20th century, that New York wasnít quite American, basically fell to the ground with the towers. People around the country suddenly understood that New Yorkers were simply Americans like any others, ordinary people going to work in the morning and trying to get by. If we came to understand our connection to the rest of the country more fully, and vice versa, we also came to understand our connection to the world more clearly. The world suddenly seemed a whole lot closer after 9/11, as if we had managed up until then to convince ourselves that, despite globalization, we were still protected on our own island Manhattan, island America.

Q. 5. What was the most emotionally difficult part of putting together Part 8? What was the most rewarding?

A. The whole project has been, in many obvious ways, the most powerful, challenging and meaningful project Iíve ever had the privilege to work on. The most rewarding moments, in terms of being the most exhilarating and joyful, were the scenes concerning Philippe Petit, the extraordinary high-wire artist who walked between the towers in August 1974. That was the highest moment in the life of the World Trade Center in so many ways, and Petit himself is an inspired and inspiring person.

The most difficult part, inevitably, was 9/11 itself, both for obvious emotional reasons, and also because itís not really history yet. Itís part of our ongoing present reality in so many ways. Everyone has an indelible version of 9/11 in his or her head, and that makes it a far more complex and challenging topic to approach, quite apart from the harrowing events of the day.

Q. 6. The F.D.N.Y. and N.Y.P.D. were put on a pedestal after the World Trade Center collapse, even though it can be argued that their jobs are to risk their lives. Was it hard to capture a realistic portrait of the unquestioning way their deaths have been made to seem more important than the ordinary people who died that day?

A. I think itís impossible to diminish the heroism and the scale of the sacrifice embodied by all the emergency workers, police and firefighters on 9/11. In a matter of minutes, the New York Fire Department lost half as many firefighters as it had lost in its entire 150-year history, including much of its top leadership. The Police Department and Port Authority suffered unspeakably, too. None of that should obscure, nor has it obscured, in my view, the even greater civilian losses, and the tremendous pain and sorrow that has inflicted.

Q. 7. Iíve been fascinated by watching the decision about rebuilding, but itís a complicated, ongoing story. What did you think of the various designs for the new buildings, and do you think the best design won?

A. I wish I could wave a magic wand and slow things down. The rush to rebuild, to decide what and how to rebuild, is scary, because it may lead us to commit to decisions and designs that 10, 20, 50 years from now donít stand the test of time. With that cautionary note, I do feel optimistic about what will happen downtown, in part because of the unusual degree to which the publicís feelings have been taken into account along the way, as it was last year at the [Jacob K. Javits Convention] Center rebellion, when the public rose and said "no" to the six mediocre designs. Civic authority listened to that resounding "no" because the trade center site is, in important respects, a kind of collective psychic property. We all have a claim on those 16 acres, and I feel sure that the decisions that are taken will continue to be informed by that larger sense of what is appropriate to a very wide constituency. Ada Louise Huxtable, the great architectural critic, has said she hopes that whatever is built down there is more creative, more original, more beautiful and more connected to the city than anything she, or you or I can imagine. I agree.

Q. 8. What result of Sept. 11 will we still be talking about in 10 years? The health cover-up causing New Yorkers to get sick? Corruption in the distribution of government grants? The revitalization of downtown as a result of the new building?

A. Weíll be talking about the latter more than anything else. Downtown is going to re-emerge stronger than ever before, stronger than it was in the heyday of the World Trade Center. Streets will have been reopened, street life and pedestrian vitality will be exponentially increased, there will be a mix of cultural, commercial, monumental and residential amenities that will have made it a far more vital place than ever before. A new transportation infrastructure will finally have solved the real urban problems that have been plaguing Lower Manhattan for a century.

My personal prediction is that the 2012 Olympics will be held in New York, and when they come here, on opening night, everyone will agree: New York has come back from calamity.

But weíll still be talking about 9/11. Generations from now, people will be talking about it. Itís become, Iím sure, a permanent date in the calendar not only of New York, but the world.

Q. 9. How come in this day and age of video and digital video, you still shoot your documentaries on film? What kind of film do you shoot on, 35-millimeter or 16-millimeter? How much do your films cost on average?

A. Film looks better than video. Itís more luminous, richer and more beautiful in its colors, deeper in its blacks. Itís more luscious-looking, and more pleasing to work with. Still.

We shoot on 16-millimeter color film stock, Kodak, mainly 7248 (for indoor work) and 7245, or its recent replacement (I canít remember the number) for daylight work. For the last two films, including our final film on the World Trade Center, weíve been shooting in whatís called super 16 B 16-millimeter film with sprockets on only one side so that the proportion or aspect of the frame is identical to 35-millimeter. Itís wider, in other words, and more sweeping. Making the films the way we do costs at least $500,000 per hour.

Q. 10. What are your favorite books, fiction and non-fiction, about New York City?

A. My favorite book, bar none, on New York is E. B. Whiteís classic 1949 essay, "Here Is New York." The best recent book that Iíve read having anything to do with New York is Philippe Petitís book, "To Reach the Clouds." It recounts his high-wire walk between the two towers of the World Trade Center in the summer of 1974. Robert Caroís biography of master builder Robert Moses, "The Power Broker," is probably the single most influential work of urban history ever written, and had a tremendous impact on me. Rem Koolhaas, the Dutch architect, created an extraordinary volume called "Delirious New York" in 1978, one of the most exhilarating and provocative accounts of what he calls "Manhattanism" ever written.

Filmography: Ric Burns (http://movies2.nytimes.com/gst/movies/filmography.html?p_id=83615)

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

September 9th, 2003, 09:59 AM
Man, these shows are really tremendous. Burns does a great job.

September 9th, 2003, 11:33 AM
It really was an amazing and powerful program, and what amazed me is how little I knew about the history of the building of the towers, how much the Rockefellers were involved (are there statues to those guys somewhere in the city? they seem to have impacted us so much) and how much the opening of the towers in the early '70s were ignored thanks to the fiscal and social crises of the time. What an incredible story that moved me deeply even before we got to 9/11.
Of course, that part of the film was devestating to watch, and I think the best recap of the events I've seen so far. I could have done without that much footage of people falling from the towers though. :(

September 9th, 2003, 02:33 PM
Yes, the last hour once again brought that terrible day back - it's always hard to watch. Though the people falling out of the building was heart wrenching, well, that's what it was like - a horrible, horrible day. Notice however that they didn't focus on the grief of any one person or any group (save Ed Koch's story). We've seen enough of those shows.

They mentioned that Yamasaki was never really comfortable with the height of the towers, which was interesting. I'm glad they discussed the implications of the destruction of the street grid and neighborhood, the creation of the superblock, and the need for street life in this city. Also, the things that put the towers more on a human scale: Philippe Petit, Windows on the World, and the Observation Deck. Taking in the whole history from rise to fall really reinforced in me why it is so important that they get the new Trade Center right.

TLOZ Link5
September 9th, 2003, 03:49 PM
I loved the segment on Philippe Petit's "dance in the sky." It was so poignant; it was the first major move in trying to make the public love the towers. I would have loved to be alive to see it.

I was never moved so much by footage of the attacks than last night, not even on that day, or six months later, or a year later. I'm not ashamed to say it, but it made me cry.

Jack Ryan
September 9th, 2003, 07:02 PM
Me too.

September 10th, 2003, 01:43 PM
I was never moved so much by footage of the attacks than last night, not even on that day, or six months later, or a year later. I'm not ashamed to say it, but it made me cry.

I don't know you could NOT cry while watching that show. I know I completely lost it three times.

TLOZ Link5
September 10th, 2003, 02:53 PM
I just don't tear up easily. I don't know why, nor am I saying that I think it's always a good thing. 9/11 can be a case in point.

September 12th, 2003, 10:33 AM
Even sadder than watching the people fall from the building (if possible) was watching Giuliani's teaful reaction to it. I had never seen that footage before and it was truly heartwrenching.

An amazing finale to an amazing series.

September 12th, 2003, 10:55 AM
I loved the segment on Philippe Petit's "dance in the sky." It was so poignant; it was the first major move in trying to make the public love the towers. I would have loved to be alive to see it.

I was really skeptical of this character being such an integral part of the documentary. But his story really transcended its corniness and made it work in a way I can't explain. Really touching.

Watching the people jump was gut-wrenching but a very necessary thing to see. I think it needs to be seen by people to understand the tragedy better.

Overall, a great film. Koch, Cuomo, and the original builder's commentaries were the most moving for me. Cuomo really struck me with his theme of living life and moving on.