Tuesday, January 26, 2021

2020, The Year Without Movies

2020 - a year of masks, not movies.
The last movie I saw in a theater was Onward back in March of 2020. It was spring break for my college freshman, who had brought a friend home for the holiday, and that week we were also finally closing on the sale of our old house, six months after moving into our new one across town. It should have been a celebratory week, but instead the pandemic loomed over us. The small talk at the closing was all about the virus, but in vague terms; nobody had really grasped what was about to happen. We had been to our usual theater earlier that week to see Onward with the kids, but it was never crowded there, and I didn't really think about it. By March 12th, when we closed on the sale and went out to dinner to mark the occasion, I was suddenly terribly aware of how crowded the restaurant was and for the first time felt a sense of panic about other people that has now become all too familiar. By the end of the week we were making a headlong rush back to the college in Florida to clear out the kids' dorms because the school was shutting down.

I haven't been inside a movie theater or a restaurant since then, and I don't know when I'll be back. The restaurant is still there - we've enjoyed their curbside service several times - but the movie theater is gone. I haven't driven by the spot where they're now demolishing it, but I feel its absence. I wonder what the friendly ticket seller we always chatted with is doing now. I hope she found another job before they officially closed the place and sold it. There are other theaters in town, farther from our house and more expensive, but I have no idea when I'll consider going to one of them. Vaccination is probably still months away for me, and by then, who knows what will be happening with all these new variants of the virus?

One of the last movie days with the retirement community.

2020 was a long year for a lot of reasons, but among the things we've lost are the movies. I don't mean streaming, of course. The streaming services had a banner year, and right now they're betting on another one. What we lost was the communal experience of movies that happens in a theater when people who might have nothing else in common gather to laugh, cry, scream, and shout at flickering images on a big screen. Somehow that seems even more precious when I consider the broken, divided state of our nation. We had movies in the Great Depression and World War II to see us through the dark days. They lifted spirits, brought people together, and showed us how to be resilient and brave. In 2020, when we really needed that experience more than most of us could remember, we couldn't have it. All of my film programs with lifetime learners and retirement communities were suspended indefinitely as the virus locked us down. The movie theaters closed, some forever. We had to watch our movies by ourselves, at home, and it isn't the same. 

Some of the new releases have been delayed again and again, waiting for the expected return to normalcy. Others were dropped to streaming services instead, either to lure new subscribers or to get some return on the investment through premiere access fees. Many movies that were in development had to shut down, which means the impact of the pandemic will be felt for years to come. Right now, as we complete the first month of 2021, we really don't know when movies or moviegoers will return. We don't actually know IF they will return, either. It's possible that the future will always be different from the past we've left behind. Perhaps I'll look at this blog post a year from now and feel relief. Perhaps I'll read it and laugh ironically at my naivete. Only time will tell.

I've missed the movies this last year. I've missed the people I shared classic movies with at the library and the retirement community. I've missed being able to think about movies and write about them, but the pandemic and the upheaval in the country have fractured my attention into sharp bits of crisis all coming down like glass. I'll post my 2020 review of films watched soon, but my comforts this last year were more cinematic popcorn than brain food. We'll see if 2021 restores our collective sanity.


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