Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Social Distancing Journal: Week 2 (March 23-29, 2020)

Virginia Commonwealth Rams vs. Dayton Flyers - January 14, 2020 - Photo by Mark Pfeiffer
I’m a big sports fan, so it was a crushing blow for me when the NCAA Tournament for men’s basketball was canceled this year. The University of Dayton was enjoying the best season I’ve ever witnessed the Flyers have, and the previously unthinkable was possible as they had a legitimate chance to be a #1 seed and win the whole thing. Then just like that, it all evaporated. More than the postponement of the start of Major League Baseball--go figure, there’s reason to believe the Cincinnati Reds could contend for the title if this season happens--or another Columbus Blue Jackets playoff push, March Madness going bust this of all years was a major letdown.

Yet here we are, and I’m not missing sports. I reckon that will change as the weather improves and it seems like games should be there to watch or have on in the background at night. This feeling may stem from being pretty busy as it is and follow in the steps of having reduced some sports consumption because of school and work obligations the last two years. (It also probably didn’t help that the Reds were lousy and the Bengals were being their bungle-iest in recent years.) I haven’t lost interest, but for the time being, I’m not feeling the hole that is there.


With a week of social distancing under my belt, I decided it was important to establish a daily routine and, on off days in particular, maintain some kind of purpose. It’s not necessarily about being productive, although that does factor in with catching up on editing the podcast episodes that have been in the can for a month or more. The impulse is to foster some kind of normalcy during this abnormal time. If I don’t do what I think I might do to fill the day, that’s OK. Taking a nap instead or playing a game on my phone are perfectly valid activities.

Prior to social distancing I’d been listening to podcasts more than music, but that came to a screeching halt when a commute was no longer in the picture. About the last thing I need at the moment is paying too much attention to politics and the news. Limiting myself to how much I check the news or whatever people are fuming about on Twitter definitely falls into the self-care category, although I’ll admit to breaking this self-imposed rule at times, especially at the end of the day. Not a great idea!

If I’m going to listen to music, what do I choose? For instance, I like Radiohead a lot, but I don’t think that it is well-suited when the images conjured in much of their work feel all too omnipresent and gloomy. Upbeat greatest hits collections from artists with 1980s heydays seemed like a better option, so I turned to groups like Hall & Oates, Duran Duran, and The Outfield. Tread carefully, though, because something like Duran Duran’s early ‘90s comeback hit “Ordinary World” can hit like a hammer if hearing some of the lyrics through the filter of what’s going on. 

I also did some extensive listening to R.E.M. from an Apple Music channel Siri created in place of ignoring my request to play a particular album. For the better part of an evening doing some baking and another day while working, I listened to tracks from all over their catalog, including some good band and band-adjacent rarities the algorithm programmed. I was reminded how strong and consistent their body of work is. But beware, “Everybody Hurts” cues up and can reduce you to a puddle just like that.

March 27, 2020 - Photo by Mark Pfeiffer
I hadn’t left my place for four days, and a friend suggested it would do me some good to go for a walk. After a long day of working from home, I ventured into the neighborhood for a stroll in the dark accompanied by Beach House’s Bloom. Getting some air and physical activity was advisable. As twilight passed into nightfall, the soundtrack the music provided made the park and schools I circled seem somewhat magical and eerie. By this point almost everyone who had been out walking in the neighborhood had returned home. The gauzy dream pop in my ears accentuated the beauty and suburban desolation.


As for viewing, I’m still feeling like comedies are what I want to stick with. A friend recommended some Korean shows on Netflix, so I started watching The Sound of Your Heart (Maeumui sori), a 2016 sitcom about a webtoon artist and his family. (This is not to be confused with the 2018 series The Sound of Your Heart Reboot, which uses the same characters but features a different cast.) I’ve seen my fair share of films from South Korea, but as with a lot of global entertainment, the bulk of those have been genre movies or dramas that are probably easier to export to the U.S. and translate across cultures than comedies. While there are clearly some references in this lost on me, The Sound of Your Heart plays effectively as broad comedy about the Cho family’s hijinks and their subsequent embarrassment. I was particularly amused with the recurring gag of Cho Seok hiding from loved ones to spring a surprise on them and having the situation backfire on him. Kim Byeong-ok stands out as a prototypical sitcom dad always creating messes for himself to extricate himself from.

I did branch out slightly, although Jackie Chan’s Police Story (Ging chaat goo si) certainly has enough comedy for it to qualify as the light entertainment I’m seeking. I know Chan’s work mostly from the American edits of his films that played in U.S. multiplexes and the movies he’s made in Hollywood. Police Story provides a fantastic showcase for him to do what he does best. In his softer moments in this film, he comes across as so pure in his dedication as a boyfriend who makes mistakes but has the best intentions to set things right in the end and as an upstanding police officer who wants to see justice done. Comparisons to silent film stars are practically required when talking about Chan, and you can see why, whether it’s him blissfully unaware of his car rolling behind him while strolling with his girlfriend, played by Maggie Cheung, or the choreography as he tries to juggle multiple calls with phones spread around the office.

Not to sound like a crank, but viewers who’ve grown up on a diet of action movies edited to smithereens and enhanced with digital effects might have their minds blown by the practical effects in Police Story’s best scenes. Cars tearing down a hill through a shanty town, Chan taking a shortcut on foot down a steep incline to cut off a bus, and the mall fight scene, with a stunt shown three times from different angles as a glorious appreciation of the daring, look incredibly dangerous through judicious and exquisitely timed edits and because they had actual risks. (Part of Chan’s status as a legend comes from end credits bloopers in his films that show the brunt he and others actually take in trying to capture something amazing.)

It’s been a long time since I’ve dug into special features much, but the Criterion Collection set of the first two Police Story films includes worthwhile extras that enhanced my appreciation for Chan’s craft as a performer and a filmmaker. Right now, a little awe of what people are capable of doing is welcome.


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