Although a clunky title to be sure, especially as I watched the 15th Anniversary Edition, which includes added interviews and other additional footage so that the program is no longer even 102 minutes in length (the time it took for the towers to collapse after first being hit), nor entirely an observational real-time account, as it was in its original TV presentation in 2008, "102 Minutes That Changed America" is nonetheless a unique perspective on the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The real-time account, with shots of the time changing are reminiscent of the "24" TV show, which is unfortunate because this documentary is much better than that. Being a collection of amateur video taken from various perspectives and people of that day and maintaining an observational documentary approach grounds it with humanity, making it all the more devastating than an expositional and more-distanced perspective would. It's also fundamentally cinematic, stripped to the art form's basic components of the space of the camera's view and the time of montage. Beside James Hanlon and the Naudet brothers' "9/11" (2002), this History Channel production from Nicole Rittenmeyer and Seth Skundrick's is the best documentary I know of covering the tragedy.
Perhaps, upon another anniversary of that day, I'll try to see the 2008 version of this, as I do appreciate the observational style. Sure, the non-amateur interviews and footage not in the real-time form of the rest of the proceedings do add a great deal. We meet up with college friends who raced away from their vantage point in their upper-storied apartment upon the second plane hitting the South Tower, realizing then the intentionality of the terrorism going on. Another interview relates how a family discovered from this program where a fireman was and what he was doing in trying to save lives before losing his own to the collapse of the South Tower. A final interview is between a father and his daughter, who he recorded when she was four years old reacting after the collapse of the towers. "It's not there anymore."
These interviews, however, do as well subtract us from being in the moment, whether in apartments a few blocks away as TVs are heard in the background reporting on what can be seen outside the windows, from across the harbor in New Jersey, looking at screens in Times Square, dismayed from a TV helicopter, listening to amateur interviews and recorded conversations or emergency communications, wandering stunned amid the papers and fallen materials littering the streets after the planes struck, or ultimately running for their lives from the enveloping clouds of smoke and debris, to finally at the site of a ferry as survivors escape from Lower Manhattan. No adjectives can quite capture such horrors.
Aside from the censoring of foul language in the version I saw (I mean, really, it's ridiculous that's what they're concerned about showing) and some questionable musical scoring at times, there's nothing to fault in the production here. It's a finely composed collection of invaluable primary-source footage. As for the title, again, it's also a significant understatement. Indeed, America was changed--and so was the world. I remember an article from "The Economist" that I read sometime later about "the end of the end of history," which refers to a silly Marxist notion that was promulgated in an essay and subsequent book by Francis Fukuyama, but the basic takeaway is that 9/11 was the most significant geopolitical thing to happen since the fall of the Soviet Union. It changed the world. It changed history.
Yet, wisely, the only such wider perspective or exposition provided here are of the people talking to each other about what was going on, or what one may overhear from TV reporters or the addresses by President Bush. The overriding focus is on the sheer, visceral trauma of it and the sympathy--and empathy via these on-the-scene video accounts--for those in danger and who died. The people falling from the towers being especially shocking. And people are continuing to die prematurely from the toxic air breathed in and from their injuries incurred from that day, for which the death toll seems will eventually exceed 3,000 people, as the official tally as of this writing is at 2,977, having climbed from 2,751 deaths initially resulting from the attacks.