Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Social Distancing Journal: Week 5 (April 13-April 19, 2020)

Roger Ebert's Film Festival - Virginia Theatre - Champaign, Illinois
April 13, 2019 - Photo by Mark Pfeiffer
If these were typical times, I would have spent April 15-18, or some portion of it at least, in Champaign, Illinois for Roger Ebert’s Film Festival. I’ve been attending since 2001 and had been hoping to make it back for the full festival after having to miss part of the event three out of the last four years because I was taking graduate school classes. Work might have interfered this year, but I had a plan in mind to get me there for as much of the fest as possible.

Of course, requesting time off became a non-factor when the 2020 Ebertfest was canceled because all large gatherings were called off and we’re supposed to be staying home. As with a lot of things that would ordinarily be happening, initial news of the cancellation was felt more than the absence. For me this reaction is likely the product of being unusually busy. I clocked sixty hours of work from home this week. What time is there to dwell on what I’m missing if I barely have time to think about much of anything? Is that healthy? It probably is in that I have more purpose every day and probably isn’t in that I recognize I am working too much, even if plugging away for up to thirteen hours a day can be necessary to get the job done and is lucrative.

Bonneville Salt Flats - Tooele County, Utah - June 26, 2019
Photo by Mark Pfeiffer
A yearning to travel hasn’t emerged yet, but if staying at home, aside from essential trips to the grocery, becomes the smart choice for months, I imagine I’ll feel the allure of going somewhere else. Right now I’m especially glad that I made a 5,000-mile round trip drive from mid-June to early July last year that took me as far west as Boise, Idaho. I went on the journey because time was one thing I had in abundance, and I didn’t know when the opportunity to do something like it might be possible in the future. That’s also why I made a short trip to Annapolis, Maryland and northern Virginia about a month later and stopped for a night at Niagara Falls in Ontario before attending the Toronto International Film Festival. I didn’t know what employment I might have and how my time off might be limited, so I tried to take advantage of what was available. I think I needed to travel then and certainly don’t regret doing it, especially when I have no idea when this can be indulged next.

I have a hotel reservation for this fall’s TIFF, but if I’m being honest with myself, I have a hard time believing the film festival will be held. Even if it is, I doubt that attending would be a responsible decision regardless of how much I’d like to be there. I’m guessing that for most people one of the hard parts of social distancing is the growing imbalance between what makes sense and what we want. If we’re being rational, our internal scales are tilted toward knowing it is wise to reduce the risks for ourselves and others no matter how long it takes, yet as this goes on without a clear resolution, the desire for things to return to normal threatens to tip the scales. I’ve stayed focused on each day rather than thinking down the line, and I feel like doing this has kept me level. Will that be true if this situation endures through the summer and into the fall? I can’t say, but it works here and now.   


Last night I realized that I’ve gone five weeks almost entirely free of in-person face-to-face interactions except for checking out at the grocery store. What a weird way to live. We recorded new episodes of the podcast this week via Webex. Previously we recorded Filmbound in a studio. I wasn’t sure how this would work remotely or if the technical qualities would be where I would like for them to be. Using the Webex recording for editing demonstrated that the tech is good enough but far from perfect as we probably sound at varying times like a vocoder effect has been applied to our voices. While editing I could tell that changing the medium of our discussion also altered how the discussion unfolded. Our dialogue overlapped less, something I was a thankful editor for, especially when I switched up to cutting this week’s episode from our separate phone recordings. (Episode 111 sounds much better than Episode 110.) Still, I think it does illustrate that while remote interactions are worthwhile, they are far from perfect replacements.


Checkerboard Dishcloth - Photo by Mark Pfeiffer
Work on the podcast soaked up a good bit of my free time this week, but I managed to fit in some other activities. It’s been a long time since I knitted anything, but I was bound and determined to make something this week. A dishcloth was the ideal project, as it was something I could complete relatively quickly while relearning skills that have eroded from non-use. Years ago I took up knitting as a stress reducer. Making this useful item was a nice reminder of the relaxation that comes from engaging in the craft. I can say the same for spending time in the kitchen. Baking was also limited, but I whipped up some blueberry muffins so I would have something quick to pair with a smoothie for work day breakfasts. 


Music-wise, I listened to a lot of the same stuff I’ve been spinning, so there isn’t really anything to say about that this week. Actually, there wasn’t much that I watched either, which strikes me as fairly strange when considering my viewing habits pre-social distancing. Going to a movie theater isn’t an option right now, but usually I went two to three times a week, with some of those trips including two or three movies. Since I’ve been staying at home, I’m watching a lot fewer films than I have in a long, long time. It’s mainly a time thing--I don’t have enough--but it still seems weird that in these circumstances that my viewing has reduced so dramatically.

In terms of films, the only one I saw this week was Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which I watched for the podcast. (The episode is now available here and here, among other places.) My co-host had never seen it, much to my surprise, and I felt like the adventures of Harrison Ford’s archaeologist were sufficiently escapist to part ways with my intention to stick primarily to comedies. That’s not to say this movie lacks humor. In many regards it’s a looser, funnier film than a lot of today’s event movies. I don’t recall when I last saw this film, but I was stunned at how much of it came flooding back to me. It’s my least favorite of the Indiana Jones films of the 1980s, so I assume the over-the-top violence and gross-out humor in the form of disgusting delicacies and creepy crawlies made an impression when I saw this as a kid. Temple of Doom holds up better than I expected and than I think its reputation is, so it made for fun viewing in spite of the scenes of human sacrifice that helped spur the PG-13 rating’s creation.

In television, I watched the finale of Schitt’s Creek. Like a lot of people who found the sitcom, I caught up with early seasons on Netflix and watched the last two seasons as they aired after locating Pop in my cable channel guide. I’m still not sure that the show’s name was the best choice, as it suggests a cruder and broader show than this warm and generous comedy is, but ultimately it didn’t prove to be an impediment to success. It doesn’t hurt that Schitt’s Creek is highly meme-able and GIF-able, qualities that I feel have become critical for TV shows to catch on. I don’t really have anything of consequence to say about the series other than to give it a chance if you haven’t heard of it or if the name puts you off.

I’ve mentioned watching Survivor, and I just want to chime in about a part of this episode that producers must think is crucial and which I find very uninteresting. This week featured visits from the cast members’ loved ones, a segment that took up way more of the episode’s time than was necessary and had no visible influence on players’ strategies. I understand that taking part in this reality show/game show must take an emotional toll on people as trust is something inherently in flux, if not outright absent, while living with the other players. And yes, I suspect that reactions are amplified for the sake of cameras as much as the charged circumstances. Maybe it’s because right now so many of us are separated from people we would like to see--and for a longer time than this season’s Winners at War returning players have been away from their friends and families--that the segment hit such a wrong note. The situations are not comparable, obviously, but for a segment that has increasingly become a disposable one on the show, this one really was a clunker. 

Previous Social Distancing Journal Entries:
Pre-Social Distancing

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