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Whether winter or summer, the Olympic Games are meant to be a place
where the world comes together for the ultimate competition in
athletics. It is the ideal that dates back to ancient times when the
Greeks themselves invented the Olympics.
But on September 5, 1972, in an ordeal that lasted into the early morning hours of the following day, the Olympic ideal was brutally attacked when members of a shadow Palestinian terrorist group known as Black September hopped over the fence at the Olympic Village in Munich and killed two Israeli athletes, holding nine others hostage and threatening to kill them unless their demands for freeing two hundred political prisoners were met. With Israel point-blank refusing to negotiate, and having to take responsibility for this, a rag-tag German hit squad unleashed their firepower on the terrorists at the Furstenfeldbruck airfield just outside of Munich; and although three of the eight terrorists were eventually captured and the other five died in the mêlée, so too did the remaining nine Israeli athletes. It was the first act of terrorism ever televised to an international audience; and in 1999, it was the focus of the Oscar-winning documentary ONE DAY IN September.
Narrated by Michael Douglas, ONE DAY IN September examines, in a span of only ninety-one minutes, the way the 1972 Summer Olympics were laid out, and how it led to what took place. Munich was, just four decades before, the epicenter of the Nazi movement; and when it was awarded the '72 Games, memories of Hitler's 1936 Berlin Games, as well as the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust, were still fresh in the population's memories. The organizers of Munich '72 were determined to make it as different from "Hitler's Games" as was humanly possible; and while theirs were noble and good intentions, it turned out to be their undoing. The perimeter of the Olympic Village was a mere rusty fence, as opposed to sturdier materials like barbed wire (so as not to look like a concentration camp like Dachau, which was only seven miles away), and the security guards not only had no visible firearms on them, they didn't even look like security guards to begin with. This was how the eight Black September militants scaled the fence, with the unintentional help of drunk American athletes, and broke into the Israeli apartment at Connollystrasse 31. A great deal of negotiating between West Germany and Black September ensued, and the world was transfixed to their televisions, as they watched what had been up to that moment a peaceful Olympic celebration suddenly turned into the most overt act of terrorism the world had seen to that point.
Attempts by the West German government to end the standoff by force were totally unsuccessful (the country had no counter-terrorism force of its own, and relied on municipal cops); and when the terrorists and the hostages were transported by helicopters to Furstenfeldbruck, the situation took the ultimate horrifying turn. A whole horde of untrained German snipers unloaded on the airfield; and over the next forty-five minutes, all hell broke loose. Once the mêlée was over, officials of the West German government and the Munich Olympic Committee had stated that the terrorists had been killed, but the Israelis had been saved. Later on, of course, it was revealed that something totally different had transpired. It was up to ABC sportscaster Jim McKay to deliver the terrible news to the world: "They're all gone." People who remember those terrible two days in September 1972 will certainly be reminded of them again when watching ONE DAY IN September; and those who only know of 9/11 will be reminded of how terrorism can turn good things bad in a hurry. The whole ordeal, down to the last horrifying battle at Furstenfeldbruck, was an act of well-meant but painfully inept West German planning; and while the decision to go on with the Olympic Games after the deaths may have been a way of both paying tribute to the murdered Israelis and thumbing its noses at terrorists, it was also extremely controversial. Scenes of athletic competition, including those of U.S. swimmer Mark Spitz and Russian gymnast Olga Korbut, are interspersed with the horrific events at Connollystrasse 31 to emphasize the tragic turn Munch '72 took in the span of only eighteen hours. The mood is emphasized further by Heffes' modern score, with contributions by Glass, and a performance of the Funeral March of Beethoven's Eroica Symphony, as performed by Rudolf Kempe and the Munich Philharmonic at the memorial for the athletes. In the end, ONE DAY IN September was richly deserving of the Oscar it got, and it should remind us all of how political terrorism not only poisoned the ultimate sporting event, but also led to far worse things to come.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a top class documentary, telling the story of the events
surrounding the murder of Israeli athletes and coaches in Munich in
1972. There is an interview with the last surviving Palestinian who
took part in the attack. He describes being picked for the mission and
the specific training undertaken. He is not remorseful in any way for
the deaths that took place. There are also touching interviews with
family members of the Israelis. Most damningly from the German point of
view local police and politicians describe honestly how confused they
were in trying to settle the crisis.
The film sets the scene of the Munich Olympics, describing how anxious the organisers were for the games to be as carefree as possible leading to minimal security in the athletes village. Using remarkable news footage the film gradually builds up the tension as the Israelis are taken hostage. Negotiations with local politicians and police take place. A planned rescue by police is cancelled at the last minute.
Eventually the Palestinians are offered a plane and a rescue mission is planned at the airport. This is a disaster for all kinds of reasons and all the hostages are killed. The surviving Palestinians are arrested.
Even more chilling is the tacit admission by the Germans that the captured Palestinians were released deliberately by way of a "mock" hijack some months after the massacre.
An amazing piece of living history.
This documentary is simply one of the best I've ever seen. The build-up
is brilliant, the interviews with relatives are gripping and often
The laughing German general (Ulrich Wegener), who oversaw the worst terrorist rescue attempt in history, is just unreal. As was the entire operation. I knew something about the botched attempt but had no idea how bad it really was. If it happened like it did in a movie, you'd say it was rather far-fetched.
The music, especially Moby and the Chronos Quartett is quite haunting and just stays in your head. The soundtrack was actually the reason I bought it on DVD, after first seeing it on the BBC.
This piece of film is about One Day In September. Nothing more, nothing less. Yet obviously some people still don't get it. Blabbering on about the "social context of the Palestinian plight" or-what-have-you. Please go and watch Michael Moore's Waste o'Celluloid.
This piece of September terrorism refers to the kidnappings of Israeli
athletes from the Munich Olympic village. 27yrs after the end of WWII,
Munich in 1972 was the new face of German democracy trying hard to live
down the country's shame over Hitler's propagandist 1936 Olympics. The
documentary's prologue is a classic showcase of Olympic highlights,
soundtracked by the Top Ten hit 'Joy' (by Apollo100 aka Tom Parker who
'remixed' Bach's 'Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring' into a really cool
instrumental), which tugs at our heartstrings by really capturing the
infectious optimism of the time.
Much of the story revolves around Israeli fencing athlete Anki Spitzer, whose widow voices her memories of him. Be warned, no punches are pulled, and the whole story is revealed in its infuriating, stupid, disgusting, rather corrupt reality, although it strikes ME as a very balanced view. Both 'sides' cop criticism. It's a terrific lesson in what NOT to do, because what happened was awful. Spitzer's widow, though, is amazingly even-handed; she takes solace in her warm, private memories of her dead husband.
As soon as the news of the 1972 terrorism broke on television, there was public world-wide outrage that the spirit of optimism of the Games should be so disgustingly undermined. There was also outrage at the unfeeling continuation of the Games during it. Remember the Macabia Games a few years ago in Israel? The same thing happened there, albeit with accidentally drowning athletes. WHAT IS IT with Games organisers having no heart? Apparently the main objective in 1972 was always to restart the Games; any rescue of the hostages was considered almost secondary! They are criticised in the doco for being so 'arrogant' to suppose they 'had nothing to do with' it.
The terrorists, handing a communique to police, wanted, in their obstinate rhetoric 'the release of >200 revolutionary prisoners' from jails all over the world!! The unrealistic nature of their demands is frustrating. (Demands couched in rhetoric are DESIGNED to be unfulfillable, because it's posturing, to give the terrorists the excuse to commit the violence they WENT THERE FOR. It's essentially a brainwashing & bullying technique. Look, the same scummy technique is used in prisons etc; and 'revolutionary acts' often get corrupted into nothing but male egotistical domination. Surprised? Well, we should all KNOW BETTER: ANYONE spouting rhetoric (ie highly calculated and DIRECTED party line), should immediately be anathema to everybody.
THAT'S the lesson.
The German negotiators obviously felt completely befuddled, shocked, and frustrated: they knew NOTHING about these obstinate, violent terrorists, who eventually turned out to be the very-extreme-left-wing Black September. The visage of the hooded terrorist stalking the balcony of the Olympic village, displayed on this video cover, haunts us still.
The group of Palestinian terrorists + Israeli hostages were supposed to be evacuated to Munich airport by helicopter from the Olympic village. The German police were planning an ambush at the airport for the supposed 4-5 terrorists, but as the group cautiously began to enter the 2 helicopters, it became clear that in fact there were 8 terrorists, with only 5 patently undertrained and undersupplied German policemen to counter them. The Germans had no communications equipment, no bulletproof vests, or even helmets! They did not coordinate their targets, and no-one advised them that there were MORE terrorists coming than expected. One of the police marksmen was ridiculously exposed, right in the line of fire between his colleagues and the terrorists, and he had no helmet! I think he never ever let off a single shot. Curious onlookers clogged the roads to the airport, so police reinforcements didn't arrive until an hour after the shooting began, by which time most of the firefight was over. When they did arrive, they mistook two of the police snipers for terrorists and opened fire on them! What a joke!
After almost 2 hrs of fighting, the terrorists decided to destroy the helicopters, full of hostages. Nine hostages were killed then and there. The doco powerfully reveals how offensive this massacre was (it's irrelevant to the ugliness what their nationality was). The music that accompanies the staccato montage of the police photos of the burnt-out bodies is very affecting. Later, the bodies of 5 dead terrorists were handed back to Libya. I suspect this is where Lybia's rep as a 'terrorist state' and the phrase 'Palestinian terrorist' comes from. The terrorists mainly seemed to want fame: '...they made their voice heard by the universe who had not been hearing before' (urgh, this is called 'posturing', so maybe Black September pi**ed off some of their own people). However, the 3 surviving terrorists were never to stand trial, because the Germans handed them back 7 weeks later. 'Acting with indecent haste and without consulting the Israeli government', Willy Brandt, the charismatic German head of government, colluded with the terrorists in order to 1) dispose of the embarrassing evidence of German tactical failures, and 2) to discourage further terrorist attacks on his country.
By 1999 secret Israeli assassination squads killed 2/3 surviving Palestinian terrorists, plus some 12 others suspected of having planned the terrorist act (presumably including Carlos 'The Jackal', who supposedly was one of them, but apparently(?) left his mates in Munich as soon as the 'kaka' started hitting the fan). The only still surviving Black September-ite, Jamal Al-Gashey, speaks of his 1972 actions here for the first time. He has survived many attempts on his life and lives in hiding with a wife and two daughters- compromising them still.
The documentary is necessarily sad and depressing with such realism, but at least everyone cops some criticism. Black September seem to have been more interested in their own self-aggrandisement, so I'm guessing that some of those assassinations should NOT BE SO QUICKLY attributed to Mossad. Mr Al-Gashey looked none-too-comfortable to me...
Sadly, people's tolerance for violence goes in cycles: what is 'acceptable' depends on whom you live near. ETHICAL RELATIVISM IS A TERRIBLE THING.
I stumbled upon this film while at work. (I work at a video store.) In a
single five-day period, I watched it TWICE, then bought the companion book
of the same title. As the 30th anniversary approaches, this compelling film
should be re-released to theaters as a reminder to those who have forgotten,
and a lesson to those born afterward as the OTHER dark day in human history
that happened on a day in September.
Now, a warning: This film is rated R for a reason. They say no amount of words can convey what happened to someone or something without seeing it for yourself. This is demonstrated here, in a big way. If you are squeamish, or if seeing explicit photos may disturb you, DO NOT SEE THIS FILM.
Otherwise, find this puppy and rent it, and be prepared to be engrossed, frightened, and angered. No matter what the woefully ignorant may tell you.
This documentary was released in 1999. You have to wonder,
how would it have been handled if it were made after 9-11-01?
No doubt the title would have been something else as the events of one day in September, 2001, have massively overshadowed those of one day in September, 1972.
I must say that as a young filmmaker just starting out, as I assume many of you may be as well, I truly hesitate to publicly critique the efforts of others. Many times I think we misunderstand the intentions of those we judge and rush to make our misinformed voices be heard. So I try to avoid dogmatism. TRY.
I bought ONE DAY by chance, just strolling through a video store. I never heard of the events (which I find sad) dropped $20 or so, took it home, and took it in.
For the majority, well done. Coherent, effective film rhetoric. Invigorating montage of athletes doing what they do best, set to uplifting score -"everything's peachy in Munich." - stark contrast of things to come. Airline hostage aftermath held interest as well.
I have to agree with what many are saying about the choices made when revealing the outcome, though - questionable tone of music here. Perhaps in the context of a drama based on a true story, this sequence might sit better. But as documentary...I dunno. I'm thinking DOG DAY AFTERNOON - very similar TRUE story, effectively dramatized. Except DOG DAY had no score. When it comes to documentaries, especially those dealing with sensitive crisis, loss of life, etc, if the filmmaker would take time out to imagine themself a relative to those affected, or perhaps a survivor themself, sitting in the audience, watching the film, how would they respond to the given cinematic depiction?
I watched this movie, in Sydney, the day before the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympic Games. How quickly we forget events from our recent past. If the authorities response to the terrorist situation wasn't so tragic, it would be laughable. I thought the shooting of JFK was a monumental government debacle and cover up - well there is another to rate on a par with that. What a scoop for the makers of the documentary to snare the one surviving terrorist - it certainly added to the chilling effect of the documentary. I give it a rating of ten, and on par with the only other documentary I have given, a ten, When We Were Kings.
I can only agree on what most of the user comments here have pointed out: Notwithstanding the thrilling and gripping style - great editing for instance - in which the events are presented, the film as a whole is fairly questionable because of its undeniable intention to bash the Germans and their police force for what happened while at the same time refusing to investigate into other directions. Furthermore, it gives us little more than a glimpse of the terrorists' motivations, feeding the impression that we're watching a piece of propaganda that is - without a doubt - well executed. The probably most unbelievable faux-pas is that at no time during all the interviews the name of the witnesses are shown. Very amateurish! 8/10 for film-making, 2/10 for subject treatment. See it, but be aware of its slanted view!
"One Day in September" is an interesting documentary exercise; favouring a thriller structure it seems dismissive of any pretense to objectivity (a quality that is incorrectly expected of the documentary form). I think the problem lies in just how unbalanced the representation is, and I think the film would have benefited from a more rounded view. The film is heavily weighted to a representation which condemns the German authorities and sanctifies the terrorists' victims. The hatchet job done on the Germans is pretty rough given they were in a fairly untenable position, it's terribly unfair to condemn them in hindsight. This aspect of the film displays remarkable petulance. I have fewer reservations about how the Israelis and the Palestinians are each represented, I guess I don't expect it to be any other way. It's the kind of documentary that demands a responding documentary, but alas, I don't see one forthcoming. With all that said the dynamic structure of "One Day in September" is its most impressive aspect. With all the political implications surrounding the film the best moments are those sequences when the sportsmen and women are set to music. They're invigorating moments and perhaps overshadow the significance of the terrorist incident by contrasting man's evil doings to the eternal beauty of mankind in the pursuit of the limits of his physical capabilities.
It's quite striking in watching documentaries with newsreel footage
from, say the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s that the people who look the most
outdated (ridiculously so!) are American network television newsmen.
With other people in old footage, fashions and haircuts may change over
the decades but no individuals appear clownish in outdated somewhat
clothes or grooming.
In any given period, though, network television newsmen are always exaggerated comic caricatures of that period's look.
Another documentary I saw recently in which this was apparent was "How to Survive a Plague."
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