I am talk radio poison, it seems. I show up: guests disappear. Happened when I sat in for Hugh, and the first guest - the New Republic editor – was in the wind. Happened today when I co-hosted with the fine crew of the Northern Alliance: no Steyn. To be fair, he was at the same event Mr. Hewitt was attending. Drat the luck anyway. I wanted to ask him to discuss the war and movies, and why we haven’t seen any big pictures about 9/11, or the first World Trade Center bombing, or even some silly gung-ho action picture. There’s been enough time - “Wake Island” came out in 1942. “Bataan” came out in 1943. “Casablanca” came out in 1942, for heaven’s sake.

The first Gulf War yielded “The Three Kings,” a flashy flick about corrupt soldiers; there was also “Courage Under Fire,” a movie about whether Meg Ryan deserved the Medal of Honor. In both cases the war was the background, the setting for gleamy-toothed actors to strut and emote. That’s it. No straight-forward war movies for us, anymore.

This will sound crass, but bear with me.

9/11 would make a hell of a movie.

It’s the most dramatic day of modern times. The story lines are clear; it writes itself. You don’t have to make up heroic characters; every minute has a dozen. No Hollywood falsities need intrude – no star-crossed lovers, no cheerful archetypes, no swelling music (take a cue from “A Night to Remember,” which didn’t introduce an orchestral score until halfway through, to great effect.) Just tell the story as it happened that day, and people would cram the theaters by the millions. Just like they went to see “The Passion.” And with the same emotions, I’d bet: from the opening moments the audience would have the same sick clot in their stomachs, the same old throb of dread we all felt during “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan.” This wasn’t pleasant, but it was important to see it, and know.

It doesn’t demean the day to make a movie of it, anymore than it would be an insult to write a novel about the events. Movies are how we tell stories; they’re the means by which the culture coalesces around certain ideas, or learns which ideas they should coalesce around.

And that’s the problem. I wonder whether Hollywood execs shy from a 9/11 movie because they think it might send the wrong message.

It would anger people anew, and we’re supposed to be past that. It would remind us what was done to us instead of rubbing out noses in what we do to others – I mean, unless you have a character in the second tower watching the plane approaching and saying “My God, this is payback for supporting Israel!” it’s going to come across as simplistic nonsense that denies the reality in the West Bank, okay? It would have to tread lightly when it came to the President, because even though we all knew that he wet his pants and ran to hide, we’d have to pretend and do scenes in Air Force One where he’s taking charge instead of crying help mommy to Dick Cheney, right? I mean the idiots in flyover people believe that stuff, and you’d have to give it to them or they write letters with envelopes that have these little pre-printed return address stickers with flags up in the corner. Seriously. Little flag stickers. Anyway, we would have to show Arab males as the bad guys, and that’s not worth the grief; you want to answer the phone when CAIR sees the dailies of the guys slitting the stewardess’ throats? And here’s the big one: if we make a patriotic movie during Bush’s term, well, it doesn’t help the cause, you know. People liked Bush after 9/11. Why remind them of that? Plus, you can just kiss off the European markets, period.

Richard Clarke’s book is available? Here’s a blank check. Option that sucker.

It’s like it's 1943, and Hollywood turns down a Pearl Harbor movie in favor of the gripping account of a Washington bureaucrat who warned FDR that the oil embargo would needlessly anger Japan. The attack on Hawaii would take up five minutes – and even then it would be a shot of the hero listening to the radio with an expression of stoic anguish. If only they'd listened.

I think people would like these stories to be told, but we can’t have war movies anymore unless it’s an old war, or one that happened in some place with an oversupply of consonants. It’s not that Hollywood is unpatriotic or wishes America to lose; they’d bristle at the charge. But they want Bush to lose first and foremost, and after that we’ll see what happens. To make a movie about The War admits that there is a war, and sometimes I think a third of the country rejects this notion out of hand. We’re only at war because Bush made us go to war! or we’re only at war because we don’t let Interpol handle it! or some such delusion. I swear: there are people who see the conflict in such narrow terms that if Bush on 9/1 had announced he was forcing Israel back to pre-67 borders, and the hijackers had heard the news in the cockpit, they would have hit the autopilot and let the planes resume their original course.

These are usually the people who think we are at war with a specific group with a hyphenated name, not an idea. These are often the people who realize that these hyphenated foes reside in a particular part of the world in which Iraq is literally the epicenter, and they cannot see the advantage to going there and staying there. Maybe we’re engaged in something larger than the vagaries of the election cycle, something that deserves to be worked through in the most popular storytelling idiom of our time.

But Mark Steyn wasn’t there, so we didn’t get into it.

The show was a joy to do – usually multi-guest shows like this are horrid freeway pileups, but unlike cable TV where everyone talks over everyone else, the Northern Alliance is a well-mannered bunch. Credit goes to Mitch Berg, who has radio chops going back to the Cretaceous Period, and acts as the conductor – you have no idea how many hand signals were being passed per minute. You next? No? Yes? Okay. Then you. It all goes quite quickly, because commercial radio is a mean stern thing that’s always snapping a lash. You eat the time or the time eats you. If everyone in the room grasps this, you have good radio; if the show is moving, people stick around to see where it goes next.

Afterwards I walked out into the first pure perfect spring evening we’ve had this year, jumped in the car and slid a CD in the slot. Windows down, music loud, 75 MPH, heading home, thinking the same old thoughts you always get after a radio show.

Now a burger. And a beer.

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