What Did You Do In The Great Lockdown?

Observatory

 

To the outside eye, America is a country now at war with itself.

The trouble with the Lockdown is that unlike war it’s a passive experience. The writers who made capital of their wartime experiences are stumped this time. They’re already complaining that it will be impossible to write about because it’s fundamentally boring. If you’re used to spending a lot of time outside, this process of internalising life must be very hard to handle. Writers spend their days alone inside themselves, so a hermit existence comes naturally.

There are aspects of it I’ve been enjoying. During the lacuna I’m re-evaluating my stuff and rediscovering some gems among the ephemeral dross I own. There’s stacks of physical entertainment stored in inaccessible cupboards; treasurable novels, CDs and Blu-Rays, theatre programmes, scripts, photos. I’m covering some of the books I’ve found in other blog posts, but there are some ‘classic’ films I’ve been holding onto for years that need reassessing. I don’t own a car or a fancy watch, but boy do I have a lot of films.

Last night I made the mistake of returning to ‘Cinema Paradiso’. This was an endless (close to three hours) director’s cut of the much-loved and awarded Italian film. The longer version has a cheesy sub-plot that is contrived, sentimental and slightly creepy. Slathered with Ennio Morricone’s most treacly score, it’s the cinematic equivalent of a ceramic kitten with big eyes, and even the wonderful montage of the censored film kisses at the end barely redeems it. How many other cinema classics have I kept out of misplaced nostalgia? Thankfully ‘Jean de Florette’ and ‘Manon des Sources’ remain superb.

I’ve watched some pre-Hays code monochrome melodramas, like ‘Freaks’ and the less-remembered but entirely deranged ‘Kongo’ (1932). In this a revenge-bent cripple (their words) puts his own daughter in a bordello to ruin her. Everyone sweats constantly, the drums never let up and the women have a tendency to scream and drop to the floor. The ‘exotic’ black cast, the ooga-booga fake language and a main black character called Fuzzy with a bone through his nose makes it as hard to stomach as the plot. Is this really what white Americans thought of black Americans in the thirties? There’s a novel to be written about a black actor coming off this set every night and going home to his family.

On the other hand I found films I’ve filed and never watched. ‘I Give It A Year’ is a poisonously British funny rom-com that subverts the Richard Curtis template and includes Stephen Merchant as the best friend who can’t open his mouth without insulting everyone and Olivia Williams as the world’s worst marriage guidance counsellor. ‘Skeletons’ is a sweet delight of a film about two men who go around the countryside sorting out psychic phenomena. The joke is that they’re like a team from the gas board, and treat their working life with all the mundanity of council employees. Small British films have proven a revelation; ‘God’s Own Country’, ‘Wake Wood’, ‘Black Pond’, ‘Black Death’, ‘Eden Lake’ and others are worth digging out. And for action as big as Hollywood, just better, check out Ben Wheatley’s virtually unseen ‘Free Fire’.

 

I watched remastered Buster Keaton films on YouTube (revelatory) and ‘Hidden Figures’ and ‘The Shape of Water’ because I’d watch Octavia Spencer read a telephone directory. I watched arthouse fare like ‘The Square’ again (still overrated) and ‘The Brand New Testament’ (still brilliantly bizarre)  and ended up chucking out none of them because each book, film, album or play I’ve kept has a crumb of something worth keeping, no matter how small.

I’ve cherished items to the point of forgetting what I’ve done with them. Where is the cast album of Peter Nichols’ brilliantly savage musical ‘Poppy’? It doesn’t appear to exist anywhere in the world now, but I owned the album and saw the damned thing on stage, learning a valuable lesson in the process (don’t go on a first date to an audience-participation political fringe play). Having failed to throw anything out, I’m going from prissy Marie Kondo to some kind of maximalist opposite. I’m sparking joy by inviting new things in.

I listened to the ‘Slow Burn’ podcasts from Slate. Series 1 is about the forgotten stories of Watergate, from forcibly sedating Martha Mitchell to the Washington Post’s initial failure to get traction with the break-in story. Series 2 concerns Monica Lewinsky, series 3 looks at the mystery still surrounding the deaths of Biggie and Tupac.

I watched ‘Dirty Money’ on Netflix, in-depth examinations of national and international corruption from sleazy slumlord Jared Kushner to scumbag chemicals company Formosa, cheerily poisoning a Texas town and by implication the rest of the planet.

I enjoyed ‘The Hunt’, a B-movie gorefest that twists into a satire on American liberalism and populism, ruffling feathers even before its release. Based on the trailer, right-wing US critics attacked the film for its politics. Trump railed against what he called ‘Liberal Hollywood’ in an incendiary tweet that mistakenly claimed the movie was made to inflame and cause chaos. Naturally he misunderstood the point of ‘The Hunt’, which is to express frustration at the increasingly bitter divisiveness of US politics. When a film can shift from a ridiculously shootout to making you argue about the manipulation of refugees, it’s onto something, even if it isn’t as subversive as I hoped it would be.

In the coming economic crisis I wonder if there’ll be a return to this kind of hard-nosed satirical takedown, last seen in books and films during the dark economic times of the mid-seventies. To the outside eye, America is a country now at war with itself. If theatrical entertainment ignores changing attitudes it will remain trapped in a Harry Potterish neverland. I’ve re-examined the great seventies political thrillers like ‘The Parallax View’ and ‘Three Days of the Condor’ and they really do stand up.

I’m also box-setting Shakespeare’s history plays in the brilliant series ‘The Hollow Crown’ and re-viewing Stephen Soderberg’s eerily prescient ‘Contagion’, which got all the salient details of the pandemic correct with the exception of the loo rolls. They thought everyone would be panic-buying batteries.

I’ve yet to start sorting out several shoeboxes full of photographs. These are flat coloured depictions of scenes on your phone, for any Youngs out there. (In today’s related news a council is trying to save a red phonebox, which was described as ‘a glass box containing a landline’ for those who arrived late.) I’ve written a couple of new short stories for fun, done some research, working on Bryant & May. What I haven’t done is wanted to go out. The weather is glorious, my terrace is in full flower, why leave? I may become agoraphobic and end up loving it. 

What are you discovering/rediscovering during the Lockdown?

 

 

30 comments on “What Did You Do In The Great Lockdown?”

  1. Brian Evans says:

    In the late 1970s-Early 1980’s I suffered with* agoraphobia and I didn’t go out much for three years. I did force myself to do the shopping as I was determined to fight it. I lived alone in those days. I also smoked then and purposely only bought one packet a time so I had to go out each day, albeit briefly. You see-there is one benefit of smoking! The point is, I found that staying in wasn’t a problem.

    I have a theory: I am an only child, and so is my partner. Also my father and step-mother. I think that only children have more resources in not relying on other people for entertainment and well-being because as children we were not surrounded by siblings so are used to making our own entertainment. Therefore, so far, my partner and I are enjoying staying in together, Naturally having each other for company helps. As does having a small garden with conservatory. We haven’t yet had a row, which in itself is odd as we are separated half the time as we both have different interests.

    For entertainment I am watching the many British “B” pictures and “Quota Quickies” which are now available on DVD and discovering how good and very watchable most of them are. Especially the Edgar Wallace hourish long adaptations of the early 1960s.The quality of the lighting and photography is a revelation.

    I largely don’t watch commercial TV as I can’t a bear adverts, so I have the full boxed set of “Doc Martin” and am very much enjoying watching them, despite of, rather than because of, most of the characters being even more irritating than the central character.

    For reading I am re-visiting the sagas of R.F. Delderfield.

    * Does one suffer “from” or “with” something?

  2. John Williams says:

    I agree with your comments regarding becoming an agoraphobic. Now that my body has adjusted to a new routine, I’m enjoying the experience. I rarely go shopping. What made me go every other day? I now have more time to myself. I’m not being bothered to collect for Christian Aid, do work for local elections, attending committee meetings…….

    Like you, I now have the time to watch a few films. Yesterday, I watched Hunt for the Wilderpeople which I found entertaining and amusing. I plan to watch the Italian film, One Hundred Steps soon.

    I’ve also spent time learning more aspects of Microsoft Office, film editing, crosswords, jig-saws, music theory, watercolours, prioritising my best recipes, listening to the World Service (which I haven’t done recently), started using conferencing software and so forth. I’m enjoying it.

  3. Richard says:

    Inspired by our own Admin, I decided to try watching a horror movie for the first time in 20 odd years. Lockdown ought to be a good time to break out of my usual genres, right? As a result I’ve now seen Sommerland.

    My wife hasn’t, she bailed at the birthday party for settlement seniors (avoiding spoilers here). I’m not sure I enjoyed it much, apart from the ‘oh it’s Chidi,’ moment at the start, and the sunny look of the claustrophobic Swedish valley. I felt a bit traumatised to be honest.

    So, my lockdown discovery is one of self-awareness. I’m much more fluffy than I thought.

  4. admin says:

    Richard, I was going to recommend ‘Hereditary’ but maybe you’ll have to build up to that one. Try a classic ghost story like ‘The Innocents’, ‘The Others’ and ‘The Orphanage’.

  5. Richard says:

    Thanks Admin, yes, I should probably have done a bit of research first and tried something less visceral. I have a habit of doing that with film, my wife had to endure Blair Witch at the cinema on our first date.
    ‘Hereditary’ sounds very close to home, and I think we saw ‘The Others’, but I like the sound of ‘The Innocents.’

  6. davem says:

    The Hollow Crown is excellent.

    Also try The White Queen and The Tudors.

  7. Roger says:

    There’s a silent version of Kongo by Tod Browning called West of Zanzibar, with Lou Chaney. It’s probably even more deranged and offensive than the later one.

  8. Andrew Holme says:

    I’m rediscovering stuff from both ends of the spectrum. Tidying up I came across Kevin Brownlow’s book about Abel Gance’s ‘ Napoleon’. That lead me to the garage to dig out the BFI box of the film. Wonderful. To compliment, last night I settled down with the teenage daughter and watched ‘Clueless’ again. Apart from a 15 minute dip in the middle, before the Ring-a-Ding kid comes to save the day, very funny. Very quotable. More so than ‘Withnail’?

  9. Very much in accord with Brian. We’ve enjoyed a few DVDs, especially Harold Lloyd’s masterpiece ‘Safety Last’ and re-watched ‘Sherlock’. Caught up with Bryant and May in London, Brunetti in Venice and Bruno in the Perigord. Written some Fortran for some problems that I’m working on, wired up my workshop. Of course, I miss going out, driving my cars, meeting people, antique centres … . But, I cope well with the staying in.

  10. Annemarie Pondo says:

    My sister and I take turns picking a movie on Saturday nights. “Blinded by the Light was great. Films based on true stories are our favori

  11. Tim says:

    How are you managing to fit so much into your day Chris? I’ve found it surprising how even with all the free time in the world I still feel like I’m barely getting anything done all day.
    Though I have been catching up on movies (the David Fincher version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was better than I expected it would be. Bergman’s The Rite was unbearable) and I’ve been ploughing through episodes of Sex and the City. I’ve grown out a moustache, I’ve spent a lot of time drawing and painting (I’m running out of canvas and paper), and I’ve discovered the unexpected joys of birdwatching with an old set of binoculars. Not too bad come to think of it…

  12. Brooke says:

    Fortran…wow Peter T. Didn’t know the language was still in use; turns out it is!

  13. Brooke, I hear that a lot. But… I was about to give a long list of Fortran’s advantages. Instead I’ll ask, if Arthur Bryant wrote computer code, what language would he use?

  14. Ian Todd says:

    Loved Poppy when I saw it but like you say seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth. I couldn’t bring myself to throw away the cassette tape of the soundtrack, so it’s still on a shelf somewhere. But I did get a technical “bod” to make a copy I could down load onto my I Pod.
    Have you tried to get the soundtrack to Oh What a Lovely War? That seems unobtainable too.

  15. snowy says:

    I don’t think anybody has written a compiler that runs on a cribbage board.

  16. Brooke says:

    @snowy–LOL.
    The concept of Arthur and computer language makes my brain explode.

  17. Ian Luck says:

    ‘The Man Who Laughs’. I watched that again, and it blew me away. Conrad Veidt – you cannot take your eyes off of him – the same is true of his starring role in ‘The Hands Of Orlac’. Whilst ‘The Man Who Laughs’ is not a horror film, it is dark enough, and creepy enough to be one. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth watching. Other than that, I have been working through a nice big pile of books.

  18. admin says:

    Ian, if you got ‘Poppy’ onto your iPod you can send me the digital tracks via email. YouTube has a full playlist of the ‘Oh What A Lovely War!’ soundtrack. The easiest way to lift them is a YouTubeToMP3 app, or I can do it and mail them.
    I’m at chrisfowler@europe.com

  19. snowy says:

    Er… not quite sure of the most diplomatic way to phrase this… don’t shout at me… posting an e-mail address like that is likely to attract lots of spam.

    Oh! I’m just going to blurt the rest out, and then you can all throw rocks at me!

    [Lots of e-mail services get a right hissy on if you try to shift large audio files that way. The easier and marginally faster way is to push the files around is via a third party host. I will explain the process if asked.]

    Poppy never make it to CD, LPs available from £2, [shame really it sounded rather fum, the RSC have an entire performance in their archive… know anybody over there you could blackmail?]

    The film soundtrack of OWALW ditto and ditto

    Pulling the audio from YT will get a copy, but of middling quality, an alternative would be to pull the audio from the DVD/BR and then edit it down to leave the tracks, [probably have to leave a little dialogue on the front end of each in case the MD has slid the swell under the tail of the dialogue].

    There is a digital copy of the original cast recording from the 1963 Littlewood stage production kicking about, should anybody want it, drop me a note.

    *Runs to cover*

  20. Ian Luck says:

    I don’t have an i-pod, Chris. Oh. Wrong Ian. I was wondering why you wanted the soundtrack for a silent movie. Sorry.

  21. admin says:

    Snowy, I lift tracks using YouTubeToMP3, which is as good sound-wise as the upload. ‘Poppy’ was deeply subversive theatre (all the more so for being at the Piccadilly, usually a coach party theatre). It required a very uncomfortable singalong and turned racist music hall jokes over to brilliant effect. I had the Monty Norman score on vinyl. The show had been due to return before all this happened…
    Don’t worry about the email address – I get no spam thanks to strong filters.

  22. snowy says:

    Not quite YT does things to the upload [transcode down] to make content more web-friendly and then the MP3 converter will do similar to the download [transcode down again] to reduce filesize, [even my wooden ears can tell the difference].

    ‘Poppy’ sounds an intriguing piece, a bit er… ticklish… to revive the original production perhaps, [there are ‘issues’], I think the only way out is to stage it as ‘a play within a play’. [Must dig a bit deeper, my curiosity is aroused.]

    [In a pleasing piece of synchronicity it has a ditty called ‘John Companee.]

    [Filters or no I still wouldn’t, [but it’s your choice obv.], I’m not going to lecture you about PERSEC, spearfishing and credential stuffing.

    But if your box is full of Nigerian gentlemen, Russian brides, [boy, are they going to be disappointed], and pill peddlers you’ll know why].

  23. snowy says:

    It had a panto framing device, that might solve a few problems, [original reference skipped over that small but important detail].

    [And I’d completely forgotten your ‘wasted youth’ in ‘smoky dives’ that did for your Britneys.]

  24. admin says:

    It wasn’t a framing device, the panto elements ran all the way through. When I saw it the extraordinary Antonia Ellis was the Principal Boy.

  25. snowy says:

    You are right, I couldn’t match the phrase I wanted, to the thought I had, [‘sugaring the pill’ isn’t quite it.]

    She did a lot of musicals, made a change from protecting the Earth from alien invasion in a purple wig, [Adelphi with Alfred Marks.]

  26. Ian Luck says:

    Someone round my way has probably been inside for far too long – small paper flags, neatly printed, have been inserted into every bit of dogshit within two miles. No matter where I go for a daily walk, little white flags can be seen in the grass verges.

    Totally unconnected, but Antonia Ellis was one of the purple-wigged Moonbase operatives in Gerry Anderson’s 1970 TV show, ‘UFO’.

  27. Jan says:

    Tell you what I have rediscovered with me being hopelessly behind the curve of technology my old audio tapes. Can you believe it? I have really enjoyed W8 for it Fields of Gold “The Very Best of Sting 1984-1994″I mean how sad is that? I’ve really liked listening to it though. ‘Fields of Gold’ has always been one of my favourite songs but I’ve rediscovered songs like “If the Russians love their children too”, “Englishman in New York” “How fragile we are” (And that’s pretty much true when you think of how things have turned out. Our amazingly complex, interconnected, and proud world has partially unravelled in front of us. Was all a lot more fragile than we realised wasn’t it?) No I’ve proper liked that tape.

    Even some old freebie CD I got with a Sunday Newspaper with Boy George songs on it.

    There were lots of additional tracks tagged on @ the end of the CD – and a few of those tracks are better than the Boy George stuff. I always liked his voice and funnily enough he actually sounds better now the voice isn’t sweet and light anymore he’s obviously smoked a few thousand ciggies since the 80s and he just sounds like a deeper gruffer version of his self but with more soul.

  28. Helen Martin says:

    I lettered a banner which was used. Didn’t like it so did it again. Liked it even less.
    Had to toss for who had to go downstairs for their meeting. He volunteered for a committee which is now meeting by Zoom. BookCrossing doesn’t work too well that way but we wanted to talk.
    Am knitting a sleeveless sweater and trying to do some crossstitch.
    Reading The Anarchy and anything else that comes along.
    Have a half dozen pots of lilies and peonies which I’m trying to get into the ground. No gardening done last year so the ground is …well. you can imagine. My knees hurt a lot after twenty minutes work so this is going to take some time.
    Had two extended conversations with neighbours today, partly to inform them as to why there were police and house alarms last week. A neighbour had not been spotted nor his car moved so we asked the police to check on him. They banged on all doors and finally broke in, setting off the alarm. That he heard. Police told him to move his car occasionally and turn on some upstairs lights because neighbours were concerned.
    Found some interesting material in a bag so I guess I can check on face mask sewing instructions now that we’re being told to use them (to protect others, not ourselves.)
    Found my lung powered fog horn to salute the caring people every evening.
    Boring? why should anyone be bored?

  29. Wayne Mook says:

    watched some old TV series, a Gunsmoke with a very young Nick Nolte, Perry Mason if you thought the Christie TV episodes were predictable check these out. porridge – A Quiet Night is was very apt and is splendid. Saw Brassed Off, a splendid cast, really did enjoy it. Listening to lots of music, new and old. Some really bad 80’s stuffbut also some fun catchy tunes like Men Without Hats – Safety Dance, The Weather Girls – It’s Raining Men.

    Reading, drawing and on a the walk outside, only once a day and then not everyday, playing ticky it with my 8 yr old, good for the lungs and heart, I’m sure.

    I miss going out, but to be honest I’m quite happy staying in and can be amazingly lazy at the slightest excuse, and I still have some chocolate Easter egg left. So not too bad here.

    Wayne.

  30. Ian Luck says:

    I have had some holiday time, in which I had intended to do some interesting stuff, but this tickly cough business got in the way of that. I’ve been sitting in the garden reading, most days, and enjoying a website called ‘Atlas Obscura’. As Depeche Mode once said, it’s the ‘World In My Eyes’, and Jamiroquai said ‘Travelling Without Moving’, it’s great if you can’t go anywhere, and it’s one of those sites you look at for three minutes whilst your tea brews, and turn off four and a half hours later, thirsty, and faced with a cup of cold wood stain. It’s that good.

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