Plus: I May Destroy You, Love, Victor, and What’s Making Us Happy
by Linda Holmes
Welcome! It was the week when we learned that Kristen Stewart is going to play Princess Diana. It was the week when we saw some very haunting images from the upcoming Candyman. And it was the week when HBO decided to offer Watchmen for free for a while, since its relevance has never been greater. Let’s get to it.
Opening Argument: Does Everybody On TV Wear Masks Now?
It’s very far down on the list of concerns as cases of COVID-19 rise in so many places even as they wane in others. But at some point, I expect entertainment to be made again. At some point, I expect movies and television and books to start coming out that were conceived, or at least completed, after the pandemic began.
I’ve talked to a lot of people who have already had the experience of watching a movie or a show from what so many of us now call "the before times," and when you watch a bunch of people milling around in a crowd, it just feels gross, and when people shake hands, it feels dangerous, and when people kiss, it feels alarming. A lot of us are already weirded out by watching things that now trigger our fears. So what will the future look like?
The answer, obviously, is that we have no idea, as we’ve had no idea what’s going to happen in so many ways over the last few months. Anything is a guess, everything is a guess. What does everything look like in three months, in six months, in two years? Are crowd scenes a thing of the past? This isn’t only a question because of how weird they might look; they’ll also be dangerous to shoot. Ditto sex scenes. Ditto two people in each other’s faces yelling at each other.
Most stories have conflict, and most conflict has contact. Sure, there are exceptions — Dennis Hopper and Keanu Reeves spending most of Speed yelling at each other over the radio and such. But eventually, that face-to-face moment usually arrives. Die Hard is the same way. It’s hard to avoid people grappling, touching, wrestling.
And what about masks? What characters will be wearing them, for how long, in what circumstances? Particularly given that it’s hard to imagine shooting a scene with dialogue while people have ordinary masks on, what does a scene from, say, SVU look like in the fall, or in the spring? Is it character by character, scene by scene? Does it become a choice like having characters use birth control where there’s pressure to be responsible as well as creative? And what about actors, who will be safer with masks than without them? Does putting characters in masks emerge as something resolved primarily as a workplace safety issue? Please understand: I’m not suggesting any of these outcomes are wrong or absurd at all; they all seem quite reasonable. There are just so many questions.
Books don’t have the problems of filming and safety, but they have the same story problems. Can you write a book now where strangers meet and make out without worry? Do they have to at least acknowledge that they wonder whether they’ll get sick? How long will that be the case? And how do you handle the fact that to some people, wearing masks will seem like the only realistic depiction of two people taking a walk, and to others, it will seem silly or strange, depending on what’s happening in the reader’s own community?
I think one thing you’re going to see is a certain amount of punting on these questions. Maybe you write your book set in 2015, or 1995, or 1925. Maybe you put it on another planet, or in an alternate universe, or inside a biodome, or in a closed room with only people who live together. Maybe there’s more traditional animation; maybe there’s more sophisticated digital animation.
It’s going to change stories, I think. Probably a lot. And it’s going to change them in ways we don’t see yet. As much creativity as making good entertainment now requires, it may be about to take more.
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Gene Demby over at Code Switch looked into why so many white people have been more active with regard to racial justice in the past few weeks. The answers he got are intriguing.
Critic Maureen Ryan reported this week on pay cuts that parts of Hollywood imposed on assistants during the pandemic.