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Going Viral
In these unprecedented times, Slarek takes a moment to reflect on the impact the Covid-19 virus is having on society, cinema and the two isolated individuals who are currently keeping Cine Outsider ticking over.
22 March 2020

Well here’s a blog I never expected to write but probably should have. For many years I’ve been of the belief that if humankind is to come to an end it will be pandemic related, and while I don’t believe for a second that Covid-19 is the pandemic in question, the very fact that I have theoretically been expecting one for some time should have better prepared me for its arrival. The problem with speculating cataclysms outside of your own experience, however, is that it tends to be all well and fine as a theory but not something we actually expect to experience. But here it is, and it really has turned the world upside-down.

So how has it affected us at Cine Outsider? It’s a question I pose because some will have noticed the week-long gap when only a single news story was posted, and when I did post a review of the Eureka Blu-ray of Syncopation I hinted that the delay was partly virus-related. As I’ve not posted a blog for a while I figured I’d do so to expand on that throwaway comment.

Obviously just about every aspect of daily life has been impacted, and while the upkeep of the site has been affected in some ways, in others it should be business as usual. Should be. With cinemas closing their doors, film releases delayed until an unspecified date later in the year and film festivals cancelled, many of those who make their living writing about new releases have effectively become unemployed overnight. A great time to work on that next reference book perhaps, but it won’t pay the bills for the coming weeks and possibly months. Of course, film and television production itself has also been affected. My fellow reviewer Camus is a freelance film professional who had two major jobs set to begin in April, both of which now look likely to be seriously delayed due to the fact that they involved foreign travel. This could have the effect of reducing his income to zero for the rest of the year. My wages may have been frozen for a decade now, but I’m still being paid, at least for now.

The film society I co-run has had to cancel the rest of the planned screenings for this and whole of next season because the cinema in which we are based has had to close. Leading up to this decision, audience numbers were dwindling and understandably so, as people took the advice of experts in these matters to avoid close proximity with others. As a voluntary non-profit film society, the only thing we lose is the pleasure of screening films that might otherwise not have a cinema release in my local area. For the cinema, however, this represents a serious loss of income that could ultimately result in its closure, while the distributors from whom we hire the films are taking a similarly damaging financial hit. This knock-on effect was first brought home to me by my local butcher, who despite being rushed off his feet with customers, revealed that seventy per cent of his trade comes from supplying meat to restaurants, and that’s effectively been lost overnight.

Some films intended for cinema release have instead been made available on streaming services. On the plus side, this does provide a way for us to see films that might otherwise have been held up for several months and watch at a time and date of our choosing. The downside is that unless you have a projector or whacking big TV, you won’t get to see it on the big screen, and if you live in the provinces then the ticket price is likely to give you a serious jolt. Indeed, the cost of watching Kore-Eda’s The Truth on Curzon Home Cinema is twice what it would be at my local cinema, though if you can get a group of like-minded friends to sit down and watch it together then the cost per person seriously plummets.

It’s for some of the reasons above that you’re unlikely to see many new film reviews on Cine Outsider in the immediate future, but given that our main focus tends to be disc releases, theoretically we should be able to carry on largely as normal. So why the gap? Well, it’s largely down to me. I’m currently make my living producing artwork and video material for a string of further education establishments, and the past few weeks have been problematic for the education entire sector. The government has been dragging its feet on how to respond to the pandemic, prioritising economic interests over public safety and seemingly incapable of making the necessary hard decisions to protect the populace. They favour suggestion over affirmative action, with the result that when Boris Johnson advises people to avoid going to pubs, his own father promptly announces that he is going to ignore that advice. Is the whole Johnson family so destructively self-centred? For education, the advice was both bemusing and contradictory, with people advised not to travel and to keep their distance from each other, while schools and colleges were kept open, resulting in students  having to travel, often on public transport, then gather together in classrooms, canteens and sports facilities in considerable numbers. We knew this couldn’t last, especially when students increasingly stopped showing up for classes, doubtless on the insistence of concerned parents. I, meanwhile, was being bombarded with briefs to create posters and pamphlets to provide information and guidance on Covid-19 and the provisions being made for how courses could continue to be delivered should the colleges close, as well as a slew of social media graphics giving information on the current status of each establishment. This upped my workload considerably and seeped into my evenings, leaving me with little time to work on reviews, which was narrowed further by the time I have had to spend scouring shops for a few basic items for myself and my housebound sister. For fuck’s sake people, stop panic buying!

How things will play out from now on is anybody’s guess. The colleges have partly closed and I’ve been asked to work from home and am fortunate enough to be in a job where I can do just that, though to be honest I work in isolation anyway and rarely come in contact with another person during the average working day so could just have easily carried on as before. I’ve got enough food and supplies for the next week or so, and assuming my workload stabilises I should be able to refocus my attention on reviews in the evenings. And there’s a ton of stuff to do. I’m under way on Indicator’s latest Hammer box set, which again features four films, each with a slew of accompanying extras. There’s a 3-film Blu-ray box set of Buster Keaton features from Eureka awaiting my attention, plus Indicator’s 2D/3D Blu-ray of The Mad Magician, as well as a new 4K restoration of The Elephant Man from Studiocanal. Progress on this one has hit a small wall because the Blu-ray review discs have been held up due to technical issues and I’m working from the DVD versions instead, which makes it nigh-on impossible to judge whether this new transfer improves on the label’s previous Blu-ray release of the film.

So that’s the story at present. Expect more reviews as they are completed (and the Hammer one is a serious time-hogger). For now, take all the advised precautions and contend yourself with watching movies exclusively on disc and streaming services, at least for a while. Stop hoarding things that no-one needs in such preposterous quantities and give a thought to those in basic income jobs who are not able to work from home or even practice the advised level of ‘social distancing’ (who comes up with these terms?) but without whom we wouldn’t have what food and supplies we are able to get our hands on, and especially those who risk their lives taking care of the sick and who still don’t have full access to the masks, testing kits and other supplies that they need. Stay safe, everybody, and try to lend a hand to someone you know who might be at more risk than you and cannot shop for themselves or collect their prescriptions. One day that might be you.