The Corona Diaries: It’s the pictures that got small

Matt here, waving at you wearily from that little country in the centre-left of Europe. So, for what will soon have been two weeks – but what feels like at least twice that – Switzerland will have been on partial lockdown. We’re still allowed to leave the house, though if we congregate in groups of more than five people, the Corona police will descend on us and… cough on us, perhaps? I’m not quite sure, because I’m being a good little boy, which means I’m practicing social distance with the best of them. My wife and I still go out to catch some sun and fresh air every day, but we stay at least two metres away from others, eyeing them cautiously.

It helps that we’re not exactly the biggest extroverts in the world. Our idea of a fun evening out rarely involves other people, at least not actively. Sure, before the Coronavirus epidemic we’d often be found in groups of dozens, sometimes even hundreds – but that’s what you get when you go to the cinema several times a week.

All that has changed now, pretty much from one day to the next. At the beginning of the year, we bought a couples’ cinema pass for our favourite repertory cinema, and we started going to see films that otherwise we might have waited to see until they were on TV, at which point they would have joined the great big waiting room in the cloud. (We record a lot of films, but we also have a considerable backlog in physical form, looking at us reproachfully from the many shelves in our living room.) Since January, we’d often been to the cinema three times a week.

Now, though? It’s all the small screen – which, in our case, is still reasonably big, but it’s still not the same. There’s a difference between seeing something while sitting in a comfy seat in a darkened room designed for the purpose of showing films. There is something ritualistic about sitting in a cinema, the lights dim, trailers are being shown, and then the film starts. Sure, you can create your own rituals at home, and I greatly enjoy watching films in the comfort of my living room – but it’s not the same.

Added to which, I’ve come to realise that I don’t do pandemics particularly well. I’m sleeping better now than I did at the beginning of the semi-lockdown, but my concentration is, let’s say, compromised. My memory is worse than it already was. I have to admit that I’m more likely to want to watch something entertaining than anything challenging. I’m less likely to push myself to finally watch some obscure four-hour black and white film, because I suspect I’ll be less receptive than the film deserves. Right now, Disney+ holds more appeal than Mubi.

I’m sure that this will change again – either because the situation slowly goes back to normal (fingers crossed!) or because it becomes the new normal. And since we can’t just go to the cinema whenever we want, and since they’re throttling streaming services across Europe to make sure we have enough bandwidth to work from home (seriously, as if the economy was more important than watching The Mandalorian in glorious 4K UHD! ahem…), we will eventually go back to those piles and piles of Blu-rays and DVDs we haven’t yet watched. There are Tarkovskys we haven’t seen yet and there’s still about 2/3 of Bergman’s oeuvre to get through. After all, what better time to rewatch a film set during the Black Death than now?

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