It’s Oct. 1. Give it a week. Check the headlines, message boards, and online gossip.
If the film awards and festival circuit hasn’t run smack into a Covid cluster by then, we can all breathe easier. Hollywood will have blazed a trail past the pandemic.
Unintentionally—because, let’s face it, show business has never been peopled by Florence Nightingales and Mother Teresas—the intrepid souls who chase film awards around the globe have turned the last month into a public health laboratory.
Singapore is surging. Israel is fighting breakthrough. Heavily vaccinated Harvard Business School is going back to remote. HBO has We Own This City on a Covid-pause. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh tests positive. Debate rages over boosters, waning immunity, and the on-and-off on-air infection of those who host The View.
But the promotional side of Hollywood—as distinct from the production side, which has its own elaborate Covid protocols—dove headlong into the modified normalcy of a real-time, in-person, touchy-feely movie season. Plus masks.
It has been a bravura performance.
Telluride went ahead (minus the usual film Academy contingent, who sat out from ‘an excess of caution’). Venice, by all reports, was clunky but functional. Toronto reported only one known Covid case at its festival. The verdict is still out on late-month events—the New York festival, a series of Academy Museum parties a blow-out No Time To Die premiere at London’s Royal Albert Hall.
But another few days should tell whether nearly uniform precautions—vaccination, half-capacity in theaters, testing in advance—actually beat the virus. (And that would be in spite of elastic standards and lax enforcement at some events.)
If so, it will be a remarkable achievement. The awards business, after all, is unusually mobile, and maddeningly tactile. The stars, publicists, filmmakers, executives and media types who work the circuit spend an inordinate amount of time in closely packed planes and airport lounges. They stand in lines. They sit in darkened auditoriums for hours. This year, at least, they try not to hug. But cocktails, and dinners, and smiley group photos are still part of the ritual. To win an Oscar requires not just achievement, but a certain intimacy with all involved.
As we learned from last season’s little-watched awards programs, Zoom doesn’t cut it. Voters want to mingle. Viewers want the illusion of having been invited to the party.
So party they did, these Hollywood folk, all month long, with the Tonys and Emmys thrown in to boot.
It is a great experiment, a test of Pfizer, Moderna, and a Johnson & Johnson vaccine that seems to have let Chris Rock down. A couple of false positives on The View won’t mean much if we can clear the first week of October without a Hollywood surge.
I hope we do. If you can keep out the virus with shots, testing and a velvet rope, the end is truly in sight.
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