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Underground Zero


Underground Zero

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Speaking from his office on the 44th floor of the World Trade Center in July 1998, Rick Rescoria, head of security for Morgan Stanley, predicts with eerie accuracy that hunting terrorists will be the future of warfare, and that American intervention overseas will one day "come home to roost." A survivor of numerous armed conflicts, including the Battle Of Ia Drang (recently dramatized in We Were Soldiers), Rescoria died at his post on Sept. 11, as if he'd somehow glimpsed his fate in a crystal ball. Consisting of little more than spliced snippets from a video interview, Robert Edwards' "The Voice Of A Prophet" contains more wisdom and political perspective than any of the other selections in Underground Zero, an uneven anthology of 13 short films inspired by Sept. 11 and its aftermath. A week after the attacks, notable underground stalwarts Jay Rosenblatt and Caveh Zahedi issued a call to arms to more than 150 experimental and documentary filmmakers, asking them to participate in a collective response to the events. As artistically diverse as it is ideologically uniform, the 76-minute program overlays Chomsky leftism on a multifaceted examination of grief, war, racism, spirituality, terrorism, and other issues. Like "Prophet," the best shorts are simple and direct. The opener, Frazer Bradshaw's "The End Of Summer," juxtaposes neatly composed shots of a suburban neighborhood with a little girl's amusing observations about the terrorists. ("Was New York mad at them because they didn't pay their bills?") A master of stock-footage assembly, Rosenblatt contrasts austere and peaceful Christian and Muslim rituals in the hypnotic "Prayer." Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's "Isaiah's Rap" and David Driver's "A Strange Mourning" offer radically different takes on grief: the former about a young Tribeca resident's poignant verse for the deceased, the latter a disturbing record of a loud, jingoistic vigil held on an L.A. street corner three days after the attacks. But these minor triumphs are outflanked by the air of solipsism and self-righteousness that characterize the worst entries. The longest and most misguided of the whole baker's dozen, Zahedi's "The World Is A Classroom," posits a petty and ridiculous tiff in his art-school class as a microcosm of global division in the wake of Sept. 11. No more relevant in its navel-gazing, Eva Ilona Brzeski's "China Diary (911)" jumbles arty travelogue footage from China before and after the attacks with a half-hearted tribute to her grandfather, who helped install the electrical system at the World Trade Center. And no fewer than three strident shorts exemplify the collection's lack of political sophistication: Valerie Soe's "Carefully Taught" preaches Chomsky-isms over mostly arbitrary clips from Hollywood musicals, Norman Cowie's "Scene From An Endless War" mocks a Fox News terror intro by putting it on a loop, and Paul Harrill's "Brief Encounter With Tibetan Monks" looks East for answers to the apparently unanswerable. Closing with Ira Sach's "Untitled," a silent elegy of "missing" posters in New York City, Underground Zero is an opening salvo in many post-Sept. 11 tributes to come, but it leaves plenty of room for more depth and sophistication.