A Film Lover’s Perspective on Finding Hope, Solace, and Answers during the COVID-19 Times
Some Thoughts on the Power of Film in Normal and Troubled Times and What Can Be Done to Help the Movie Industry in the Future
It’s no secret that life hasn’t been normal for quite some time. In general, this comes from the presence of the coronavirus and its frightening impact on businesses, social life, and the regular routine of how people used to interact with each other, in general. This virus has radically affected everyone in one way or another. As for everyone else, it’s been pretty difficult for me in several ways.
Without being able to work right now, I’ve resorted to different ways of trying to cope or distract myself from the strange, sometimes incredibly saddening circumstances, including connecting with some friends and loved ones via messaging or Zoom, or finally reading a number of books that aren’t quite complete. While this can be helpful to varying degrees, I can still sometimes feel uneasy. My sleep schedule has seriously been derailed for weeks with me remaining restless in the late night and often not falling to sleep until 3 or 4 AM. Part of the explanation from this might come from me not being able to see my friends and loved ones, some of whom I consider family outside of my biological family, face-to-face. I, of course, haven’t even mentioned the saddening mood brought on by the media in the previous weeks about one report after another describing the rising statistics of those either infected or dead from this virus. The mood from all of this feels like a never-ending sensation of sadness and gloom at times.
While all of this has been quite difficult, I also have to face what this virus has meant for the other part of me and what it means for what I do for passion and gives me something to do, namely the part of me that is a movie lover and a film blogger. Since others have done great jobs of expressing their personal point of view for how the virus scare has affected them, I thought that I might take time today to express what I have noticed and felt about the movie theater/film business in recent times, what movies have meant to me in troubled periods, such as now, and, lastly, a few suggestions on how to possibly help this industry when things start to feel more safe and clear.
Similar to other businesses that took a serious hit from the impact of this virus, the entire theater business had to shut down. Cinemark, AMC, Alamo, and every other theater chain had to inform everyone about shutting off their familiar, bright lights for some time. It’s weird to know how one of the main areas for enjoyment, entertainment, and even temporary escapes from life and stress has closed. I realize that, in recent years, mainstream films have been struggling to find more originality, and many people have been finding more of the stories and entertainment that they desire and speaks to them from television and streaming shows than the local cinema. In all fairness, I completely understand where they’re coming from. A number of the most impactful stories from the past recent years for me have come from shows on TV or streaming sites.
Yet, for me as a film lover, there was always something pretty special about stepping into that colorful, open theater and sitting in front of that gigantic screen, waiting for the previews to roll and the main picture itself to unfold. Regardless of whether the movie turned out to be great or a total disaster, I always appreciated the experience of witnessing that feature with other people around me and hearing the laughs, gasps, or occasional sniffles from what was displayed on screen. Whenever I went to Alamo Drafthouse (my personal favorite theater) or another theater close to me, I loved having that glass of beer in my hand and enjoying the newest animated flick or drama movie or whatever I wanted to see out of interest or for my writing. The local cinema, even one from the best chain, will always have its disadvantages, but getting the opportunity to see it on the big screen, at least for me and other film critics and lovers, will always come across as a huger event by experiencing it with others in that wide, carpeted room as opposed to watching it at home in your familiar space.
In fact, I argue that certain movies are meant to be seen and truly experienced in a theater instead of a smaller screen. For instance, “Dunkirk” is a terrific war movie on its own. With that said, when I saw it in the IMAX theater and found myself literally hearing my heart pressing against my chest as the bullets were drilling on the beach with the soldiers in that movie, early on, I practically felt as though I was one of those soldiers in danger for a moment. Thanks to the incredible way in which the movie was shot and the gigantic screen that made effective use of its extreme close-ups and the size of the action involved, I felt less as though I was simply watching another film about men at war and more as though I was part of an experience that was doing everything in its power to make me feel (to some degree) involved in the peril and danger that these brave soldiers were putting themselves in.
“Avengers: Endgame” is a pretty good movie and a great finale to over a decade of films within its universe. What will always make this film special in my eyes, though, is remembering the act of watching it on opening weekend and the thunder of applause and open enthusiasm that just erupted when that incredible climax and third act began. The incredible emotions and excitement flooding through everyone else in that theater who had followed these beloved characters for years and now got to see this epic conclusion begin made it feel as though I was attending a genuine event .
It’s hard to think anyone who won’t tell you that “Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse” is an awesome movie on any screen, big or small, and deserves every bit of praise that it gets. Yet, when I saw it for the first time on the big screen a couple of years ago, my love and appreciation for it felt particularly special because I was seeing amongst a packed crowd with an audience who were laughing at so many of the hilarious parts and stunned with appreciative silence and respect at the serious and heartfelt moments and impressed at the unbelievable speed and beauty of the animation on display. It’s a good movie anywhere, but it just felt so much larger and more impactful to me to see it in the cinema.
One of my greatest joys as a movie lover is being able to share with others that I got to see films for the first time that they were released and received the same unique experience that other audience members and critics got by being there, as well, and starting the discussion for what made it stand out so much in their minds and hearts. Think about all the special experiences and stories that people have shared when they first saw “Star Wars: A New Hope” back in 1977 and how long they waited in line before they got a chance to see this incredibly imaginative, game-changing film. Or, reflect on the experiences that people have shared about the shock and suspense that they felt when first seeing “Jaws” on the big screen or how blown away they were when seeing “2001: A Space Odyssey” when it first came out.
Yes, there will occasionally be films that feel like wasted money when you see them on a bigger screen as well as films that come across as mere attempts to make more money when they should obviously go straight to DVD or a streaming service as a cheaper-quality film. Yet, the power of seeing a movie in a theater can’t be denied. Even if the film isn’t a masterpiece, something neat comes from communing with others in that big room with the large screen to see something that can potentially make you laugh, cry, or feel something that you typically might not elsewhere in your daily life. Seeing films in a theater is essentially a way of society coming together for something, and the wonder that can come from seeing good or, in a few cases, amazing on the big screen is something to treasure in my eyes and shouldn’t be scoffed at.
For others, such as myself, it can be a big escape from the worries and troubles of one’s life, even if it’s for a few hours. In recent years, I’ve been willing to go to a movie theater by myself because I admire the experience so much. So, it makes me sadder when not being able to escape to the theater is something else that has to be put in the backburner for right now as we’re awaiting a solution to this nightmare and a chance to return to something resembling normalcy.
Making it harder is that theaters haven’t been thriving as much in recent years, due to the greater popularity of streaming shows and TV, right now. And, the thought of what might be in store for theaters and their business, following the end of this virus nightmare, remains a bit of a mystery. There is also the reality of countless theater workers and managers not being able to have jobs or work as a result of this scenario, and I deeply sympathize for their hurt. Some smaller and older theaters, such as the arthouse cinemas, have struggled particularly hard, and it remains to be seen what will happen to them in the future. There was an article that I read recently, at the time of writing this, that AMC Theaters might be filing for bankruptcy. It’s a harder time to find a way to experience movies or enjoy them on the level that they normally might by going to see a film in theaters. And, it’s also hard for film periodicals, such as “The Hollywood Reporter” who, at the time of this essay, have had to lay off or furlough employees and hard-working writers, due to the wounded state of journalism and the film industry, right now. I hear stories about editors and writers who have worked for years and produced some incredible work for these periodicals, and I shake my head with hurt to know how they have been sadly let go in this awful time.
In addition to the other parts of the world that are suffering or hurting right now, the film world is suffering hard, too, and it hurts the movie-lover in me in so many painful ways.
However, in a way of keeping the film spirit alive, I still try to see new or old movies at home or through streaming sites. The truth is that, in difficult times, such as these, I will always keep my love for movies alive because they themselves keep me upbeat and keep me going. Similar to many people, I can sometimes seek film as an escape. When one reflects further upon it, many movies are, in their unique ways, gateways to different worlds, whether it’s literally a fantastical universe, a galaxy far, far away, or even a time distant from our own. Many good movies have that ability of briefly taking you away from your worries or place at the present time or, at the very least, effectively distract you from what’s going on in your life. Through my own dilemmas and my own concerns, I find film to be my main diversion from all else. The local cinema practically feels like another home to me because it’s so familiar, and I’ve made so many memories there.
With all of this said, there’s another significant reason for me loving film as much as I do. It’s the reason that I seek them out in troubled times, such as now. Movies, to me, provide ways of finding solace through their strong emotions and ideas to connect to. We can see something along the lines of “The Shawshank Redemption,” for instance, and discover the incredible potential of the human spirit to thrive through hope and a strong enough sense of inner peace. We can watch “Parasite” and see for ourselves the extents to which the economic system leaves both sides of itself, rich and poor, broken and at a loss for knowing how to function with or without each other. Heck, one of my favorite films is “The World’s End,” is, in essence, a goofy (albeit brilliantly executed) British comedy about a group of middle-aged men trying to survive an apocalypse, but, when getting closer to the climax, it actually reveals itself more as a movie about older people struggling to come to grips with how harder life has become in adulthood and the toll that harsher issues, such as alcoholism or mental illness, can take on those who go through it.
Similar to any piece of art, part of the beauty of film comes not just from what the artist might be trying to say but what the audience can feel or reflect on from it. And, in tougher times, I’ve either re-visited movies to give myself higher spirits to find a truth or emotion for a particular time or tried out a new movie said to provide certain emotions and themes a shot to see how well it connects with me. It isn’t always easy, and it can take more time, but there are several times when exploring films in this manner can help me feel better. It’s sometimes downright therapeutic. The late-great critic Roger Ebert once regarded movies as machines that generate empathy, and, whenever I watch certain films to experience some of the strong emotions that are produced from them, I see more and moer of the truth from his words. Movies with fierce, upbeat spirits, such as the 2019 version of “Little Women” or films with hopeful messages of doing what’s right and staying strong against impossible odds, such as “The Secret of NIMH” and “Wonder Woman” have stood out as genuine light for me in harsher times with their powerful stories and dedicated characters. I sometimes cry watching scenes from these films because they affect me so strongly and bring me hope or tell me in their own way that things can be alright as long as you keep fighting and do what is necessary.
Even to this day, movies, such as these and more, provide a warmth and light with the strong emotions and ideas that come from them. And, this proves especially true, now. At a time when public places to socialize or find entertainment are closed, larger social gatherings on a face-to-face basis are pretty much canceled, and millions of people are either fearful, anxious, and unemployed, it can be overwhelming to find where the light may be through all of this. While many methods to distract or find light from this are naturally great and beneficial in their own ways, I still often find myself turning to film the most to not only escape but bring me a beautiful joy through its feelings and what it says to me.
Before I give my suggestions to what one can do to help those that center their businesses around movies, I’ll give examples of two scenes from movies that I’ve seen through this time at home that are terrific examples of how film can help me through tough times, such as this virus, and emotionally help me.
One example is the coffee shop scene between Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino in “Heat.” On the surface, it’s just an ordinary scene of two men from opposite sides of the law talking to one another and warning each other about what might happen if they cross paths again. Pacino, who plays a hardcore L.A. detective, starts out essentially forbidding DeNiro, a master burglar, from doing his next robbery, or he’s going to have to lethally take him down. Yet, as the conversation continues, it shows these two men being brutally honest with one another and sharing information about their lives that they probably don’t share with anybody else. They discuss their conflicted personal lives and how they both have trouble maintaining relationships with people that they love but don’t do a great job of keeping promises with them or keeping them as involved as they could be. As it turns out, both DeNiro and Pacino also share the same pain of enduring dreadful nightmares that haunt them, based heavily on what they do for a living. An openness and honesty surrounds this quiet, fascinating discussion between two professionals who are vastly different from one another yet probably have more in common with each other than anybody else in their lives.
Yet, what might stick out the most with me about this scene is when Pacino says that DeNiro will risk losing a girlfriend of his and possibly his own life if he continues robbing banks. DeNiro says. “It is what it is. It’s either that, or we both better go doing something else, pal.” Pacino says as plainly as possible. “I don’t know how to do anything else.” DeNiro responds. “Neither do I.” Then, Pacino says. “I don’t much want to, either.” DeNiro says. “Neither do I.”
In a short number of lines, these men make it clear how much they love doing what they do and making the most of their skills and devoted professions, regardless of what consequences they might face in the future. The sheer simplicity to which they voice their dedication to their own paths illustrates a subtle but deep passion to which I have the highest respect for. Beyond that, though, I think I admire this simple exchange as much as I do because there’s a quiet acceptance and willingness to face whatever is in store for their future, whether it’s hopeful or fatal to their own existence. The quiet music and atmosphere in the background appears to echo the sad yet accepting mood surrounding the conversation between these two men.
Often, the vibe and calm acceptance of these characters in this exchange brings me a bit of contentment when I’m uncertain about how something will play out in the future or worried about what will await me from an uneasy event or time. In this time of this virus, for instance, the simple exchange of Pacino and DeNiro expressing their casual way of embracing whatever their time ahead has in store for them, even if it ends up isolating them or puts them near death’s presence, helps me feel a bit at ease or hopeful when I’m anxious about how events will play out after this quarantine is lifted. Pacino and DeNiro express that, sometimes, you can’t rush what happens ahead in the future or try to manipulate how it turns out as some people probably wish that they somehow could. At times, you can prepare your best but, in the end, you simply have to go through the motions, adapt to the best of your ability to what faces you, and accept that what happens will happen and that things will turn out in the way that they’re meant to. Scenes, such as this, instill me with a bunch of peace, and I’m always thankful for that and movies, such as “Heat.”
Another important movie moment that gives me a bit of joy and contentment comes from a film that is slowly becoming one of my absolute favorites, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” In the scene, Sharon Tate, played by the lovely Margot Robbie, is stopping by a theater in town to see a movie that she performed in. It was one of the last movies that Tate, in real life, starred in called “The Wrecking Crew.” It’s neat to casually watch her walk up to the person from the ticket counter and ask him to take a picture of her standing right next to the poster with her presence within it. There’s a steady pride and love for what she does that is evident in each frame, and it’s still wonderful to see. The joy that she holds and her admiration for how others appreciate her work is even more apparent when she goes inside and sits in the middle of the theater to watch her film on the big screen. The sheer joy on her face as she listens to the eager applause surrounding her makes me grin widely every time that I re-visit it.
On one level, I love the scene so much because the film, on its own, stands as a genuine love letter to movies and the people who work so hard to get them made through, among other elements, a bunch of dedication, hardship, and raw passion. This scene might be the best representation of that in this movie through how Tate savors the joy of listening to others appreciate the work that she and other people put into making this movie.
However, when I re-watch this moment, it speaks to me on a sadder level, too. For those who may be unaware, the real Sharon Tate had her life ended horribly at the age of 26 when members of the Manson family murdered her and four others. And, without giving much away, this film offers an alternate history of sorts with this period of time and events in Tate’s life, yet it does so with a solid amount of respect and bittersweet demeanor to it. Naturally, knowing this information and watching this scene play out makes me feel even more sorry for her tragic death and wonder what the remainder of her career and her life would’ve been like if her life hadn’t been taken away that evening.
Yet, maybe, one of the elements that’s most important about the theater scene is that it reminds me how much shorter life can be and the joy that comes from embracing what’s happening in the positive moments of the present. The glee and playful spirit of Robbie’s performance, added by the quiet respect displayed by all of the other details in the scene, causes me to sometimes reflect on the simple joy of experiencing life’s ups and downs and treasuring what is in front of me.
Similar to others, I’ve lost people and pets that I’ve held deep to my heart for many years. I could get rather sad and angry, and I even experienced legitimate depression from such losses. The pain from losing these loved ones is something that, with the help of some guidance and counseling and even time itself, got better. Yet, I would be lying if I said that I didn’t still occasionally think about them. With all of this said, the truth is, that, for all of the hardness and hurt that came from those events, they did help me re-evaluate death as well as life and how important it is to appreciate what is happening with one’s life, even if the present happens to deal with unpleasant events for that moment.
Life can be complicated and downright cruel at times. It can feel even worse with tragic events, such as this coronavirus, with so many ill people, lost lives, and hurt souls struggling to maintain their mental and emotional spirits. I certainly struggle with what’s been happening. And, that’s why I love moments, such as Tate’s visit to the theater. I love this moment that tries to encourage me to enjoy the present and what I have because there’s no telling what might be in store for the next months or the next year and so on. The positive events, the support and love from people in my life who genuinely care about me, the goodness of what can happen in small or big doses, are what remain important, and it’s good to treasure what is happening now.
I won’t claim that I’m perfect, and I won’t lie and pretend that I don’t forget this at times. I still occasionally struggle hard with my emotions and reflections on the past and the like, and I know that I still have much to improve upon and continue working on those parts, hard as these tasks may be. Depression still haunts me and hits me hard when it strikes, just as it does for millions of other people, and we should never feel guilty about what we feel from this and our own struggles, especially now. The present, as it is at the time of writing this, is a little uneasy for all of us.
Yet, here’s my take on enjoying the time being, especially in regards for what may happen in the future. In last year of 2019, many seriously great events happened in my life. I met a church group that slowly started changing the way that I reflect on Christ and my faith and showed me genuine friendship and selflessness after one of my lowest times. I had started my movie-reviewing blog after tons of friends and people encouraged me to make one and told me what their reviews meant to them. People were reaching out to me more, and I was making the types of friends that I wish I had known since high school. After making some personal changes and visits with specific professionals in my own life, my health slowly started to get better than it had in about a decade in certain areas. As a writer, I was being inspired by such powerful works, including the “Watchmen” mini-series, a work that reminded me why superhero stories are so important and even made me think of the art and thought that goes into making them when they’re at their best. It reminded me of the great art that can result from comic books themselves. And, of course, I had stumbled more upon the 2017 revitalization of the “DuckTales” series, and, odd as it may sound to some people, that show genuinely changed my life for the better. Its stories and presence vastly helped revive my creative spirit and further inspired me to pursue my passions for film and Disney itself. I wanted to tell stories again and write about film even more because of works like these.
So many good events happened to me last year, and, as weird as it is to see that year transition into the misfortune of this one, those past events are a reminder that good events can happen again in the future, even if you don’t always know when or how they will happen. Why do I feel this? Because, at one point in time, all of the events that I just described happened in 2019 were in the present. They’re obviously in the past now, but, if great events can unexpectedly happen at one point from a previous year, that has to mean that good events can happen later on, too, That’s why I remember to occasionally tell myself that it’s good to remember a bit of Tate’s mindset from this scene and appreciate the beauty of what’s happening, right now. Through dark times, such as now, I look at this moment in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and remember to try to appreciate the good from what happens now. Moments, such as these, remind me why I love movies as I do because they can voice a spirit and powerful passion when it’s harder to find it in other places. Movies can sometimes help us make sense of the harsher moments in our existence and voice ideas that aren’t articulated as well in reality. They can give hope and even help us remember certain truths or empower us through our darkest times. And, the little hope and optimism that this scene delivers, regardless of whether it was the filmmaker’s intent to give it or not, is another reminder for me to keep the spirit strong when events feel as sad as they do, right now.
At this point in the essay, some may ask: What can those who love movies do to help an industry that’s not doing too hot from this situation, right now, and the future for when the social distancing restrictions end and normalcy slowly starts to come back?
Well, there are a couple of options.
One option is to donate online to a charity requested by an arthouse theater, theater chain, or part of the movie/theater business that is requesting funds. These can be admittedly tricky to find, especially since some charities have ended the deadlines to their donations, but you can Google “movie theater COVID-19 relief fund” or “movie theater coronavirus charities” and click on the links in some of the articles listed below that should point you in the right direction of which businesses from the theater industry are in need. Some funds that are in need of donations, right now, include the Will Rogers Pioneers Assistance Fund COVID-19 Emergency Grants, the Chicago Cinema Workers Fund, and Art-House America. Also, you can try looking up the theater chain of your choice (ie: Cinemark, Regal Theaters) and see if they have any charities or ways to donate. If you have Twitter and follow a film periodical or film journalist/writer (ie: a writer from the Roger Ebert site), their Twitter page will sometimes contain links to charities or relief funds that you can donate to.
Another option is this: After theaters slowly start to re-open and it is regarded as safe enough to visit them, buy a gift card from the theater of your choice. You save more money for yourself by seeing movies for a while, and you offer some payment to a theater that will greatly need it. And, you’re, of course, showing open support for a part of a business that, similar to others, has been hit pretty hard in the gut by what’s happened.
The third choice is to simply share information or recommendations about movies that you love from streaming sites. Is there an underappreciated gem that you feel that more people should know about, now that there’s more time? Now’s the moment to let them know. Does Netflix or Amazon have a free film or cheap rental that is worth the price to check out that you want to encourage more people to see, now that more time is available for many people? Feel free to inform your friends or relatives of it. The theatrical scene may be placed on “Pause” at this time, but you can still do your part by recommending the movies that you have seen and mean so much to you for others to check out. You can do your part to help keep the spirit of what you love alive, whether it’s film or another form of art that speaks to you, by simply passing on the word about what pieces of art or entertainment ring most powerfully for you.
For those who find that a different form of art speaks to them, whether it’s music or such, continue following that passion and doing what you can to help it as well. Be sure to donate to a relief fund that is related to it in some way (after making sure that it’s a legitimate fund, of course), and spread the word of what pieces of art have spoken to you or others should check out and show their appreciation for from their time at home. Things seem to be improving health-wise in certain areas, including New York, and that’s wonderful to hear. I hope and pray that such positive news slowly enhances and that we all do our parts to ensure that this virus madness slowly starts to come to its end.
My last words are this: We’re all trying to do what we can to make it through this arduous and trying time in history. I’m not sure how the theater scene may fare after all of this is over or starting to end, but I’m willing to do what I can to support the art form that I respect, love, and admire for the help that it has given me through this time and afterwards. Whatever yours may be, embrace it with wisdom and righteous passion. Never stop supporting it or showing your love for it. And, never forget what makes it so important or its power to heal you or even save you.
On top of that, similar to the way that you treasure your passions, never lose sight of the people who love you through this time and afterwards, and do everything in your power to try to stay connected and in touch, even if it’s from afar. In the end, all we have is each other as well as what and who we love to help us get through whatever’s ahead.
So, continue to keep that love and your hope alive, fighting, and never-ending. Please stay safe, healthy, and well. I hope to see all of you again in the cinemas (and elsewhere) at sometime in the future.