The struggle to appreciate art in tough times

by Megan Bianco

A month ago, in the early days of our stay-at-home and flatten-the-curve efforts, I wrote a piece titled “What to watch when you want to feel good in a time of crisis,” in which I stated we should try revisiting our favorite movies as a pick-me-up. Apparently, that advice was easier said and written than done for me. Fortunately, I haven’t watched any virus related films yet, but the melancholy tones and themes have been seeping into my watchlist to fit my fighting mood during this isolation. I have viewed a few of my personal favorites in the past month, like Victor Fleming’s “Gone with the Wind” (1939), Bob Fosse’s “Cabaret” (1972), Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet” (1996), and Andy Tenant’s “Ever After” (1998). The only film I’ve viewed that would really qualify as uplifting was “Ever After,” because it’s just one of the better adult-reimagined interpretations of a classic fairytale.

“Cabaret” is one of my all-time favorite musicals, but plot-wise, it’s pretty dark. Outside of the club scenes — and even those are a bit sardonic — the story is still set during the early days of WWII. “Gone with the Wind” has some of the most inspirational moments in cinema history, including when Scarlett finally returns home after escaping a burning Atlanta, yet, ultimately, it’s still a stark Civil War film. “Romeo + Juliet” pretty much speaks for itself. Other viewing sessions included: Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogen’s “This is the End” (2013); Alex Garland’s “Ex Machina” (2015); Josh & Benny Safdie’s “Good Time” (2017); and Pawel Pawlikowski’s “Cold War” (2018). All four films deal with themes that are rather menacing or ominous — “Ex Machina” is a cautionary tale on the creation of artificial intelligence; “Good Time” is a fast-paced, schizophrenically toned crime thriller about two bank-robbing brothers on the run; and “Cold War” is a WWII romance drama set in Europe. Even “This is the End,” a very funny comedy, has an apocalyptic theme. I guess what I’m trying to say is that sometimes it’s naturally easier to gravitate toward art that’s fitting your current mood or the tone of present events than to try to force yourself to be happier. Even my music choices while using my phone or laptop have been pretty melancholy, along the lines of Jeff Buckley and Elliott Smith, though I’ve managed to move toward the more upbeat sound of The Strokes.

So with this April being one of the more depressing months in recent history, let’s hope there’s something optimistic in May to influence us in more ways than one.

Megan Bianco

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