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Real disasters make some films unwatchable, particularly the old 1970s Towering Inferno type. But other kinds can reach into the heart of human catastrophe

By Mark Cousins   February 2005

Television schedulers know more than any of us about cinematic tone. Imagine that you worked in programme acquisition at BBC2 and were planning to screen The Towering Inferno on a dull Wednesday night in September 2001. Then 9/11 happens. You cancel the screening in a heartbeat. Its Hollywood pathos, its movie-star versions of real lives, its artifice, are suddenly plain to see.

The same applies to the 1968 movie Krakatoa, East of Java, a juicy depiction of the 1883 volcanic eruption that caused a massive tsunami and killed thousands. I saw it as a boy and was thrilled by it,…

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