The shocking, terrifying drama of Sept. 11. HBO's ''In Memoriam'' depicts the horrific reality of 9/11 in an attempt to provide an hour of healing
In Memoriam
Credit: In Memorium: Matt McDermott/Corbis Sygma

In Memoriam

Does HBO’s ”In Memoriam” estheticize history?

Yes, but history is not what the documentary that debuts on the pay cable channel on May 26 (9 p.m.) is about. Ostensibly, the one-hour show is about ”healing,” that fuzzy word so beloved by grief counselors. So, eight months after September 11, are we ready for ”healing” that involves multiple shots of bodies plummeting to the ground? To that, former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani replies, early on in ”In Memoriam,” ”We’re going to have to remember September 11 in its reality” if we don’t want to ”rob people of the ability to relive it.”

Point well taken. But how real IS this already controversial show? How real SHOULD it be? One thing’s clear — it’s a hell of a watch in all senses of the phrase. Where CBS’ ”9/11” documentary used only the footage shot by two French filmmaker brothers who happened to be on the scene, ”In Memoriam” pulls its material from everywhere: news cams, police helicopters, AP photos, and the endless ranks of amateur videocams, underscoring the day’s claim to be the most documented event in human history.

It’s the amateur footage that’s by far the most affecting, because it offers a peek into specific, individual lives. We get a shot of the burning towers through an apartment window as we hear a woman leave a frightened message for her parents telling them she’s safe. We hear casual, profane conversation in the background of a Brooklyn streetcorner. We watch a body falling and hear someone yell at the cameraman: ”Don’t take pictures of that, what’s the matter with you?” (And, still, HBO chose to include it, and, still, we watch).

In Memoriam
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