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The Editor’s Desk: Coronavirus classic cinema

Some familiar films would look a lot different if they'd been made during a time of COVID-19

With the film and TV industries getting back to work again, it will be interesting to see how (or if) the coronavirus figures in plots and storylines. British soap opera Coronation Street has announced that when new episodes start airing on July 24, the action in Weatherfield will mirror the real world: people will be shown physically distancing, and any characters played by actors over the age of 70 will only appear in storylines via Skype, Zoom, and FaceTime for the time being. “I don’t want Ken Barlow getting sick on my watch,” said one TV executive, referring to the character played by 88-year-old actor William Roache, who has been with the show since its first episode in 1960.

That’s fine going forward, but what about existing movies and shows that reflect a very different world? This got me thinking about what a few classic movies might look like if they had been made during the pandemic; herewith are a few suggestions.

King Kong: Cut off from radio communication with the outside world, moviemaker Carl Denham and his crew successfully capture Kong on Skull Island, and bring the “Eighth Wonder of the World” back to civilization with plans to immediately exhibit him to packed crowds at a huge theatre. However, when the ship docks in New York, everyone on board is told they will have to remain in quarantine for two weeks, and a ban on public gatherings means his blockbuster will be a bust. A dejected Denham departs for Skull Island, to return Kong to his home. “Exciting adventure gives way to flabby finale,” was Variety‘s verdict.

Casablanca: Cynical Rick Blain, sitting out World War II in his Moroccan café, is set to have his entire world view altered when Ilsa, the love of his life, turns up at his doorstep seeking help. Unfortunately, Rick’s Café Américain has closed due to an order from the Public Health Officer, and Ilsa leaves Casablanca without ever seeing Rick. “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she doesn’t walk into mine.”

It’s a Wonderful Life: George Bailey decides his town would be better off if he died. Clarence, an angel, prevents George’s suicide, then shows him what life in Bedford Falls is like in an alternate world of COVID-19: schools are closed so his four children are home all day, Ernie the taxi driver is out of a job, Martini’s Bar has closed by order of the Health Officer, Bailey Building and Loan is on the verge of collapse due to people defaulting on their loans and mortgages, and Mr. Potter is gleefully evicting tenants despite massive unemployment. George decides that he prefers his old life, imperfect as it was, to the vision revealed by Clarence.

All About Eve: A scheming theatre understudy who is plotting to supplant the show’s star finds her plans come to nothing when Broadway is shut down due to the coronavirus. “Much ado about nothing,” wrote the Hollywood Reporter of the film.

The Graduate: “I want to say one word to you, Benjamin. Just one word. Are you listening? Plexiglass.”

Jaws: When a swimmer turns up dead on a beach, authorities attribute the death to a common illness. When another swimmer goes missing, a young medical officer teams with the chief of police to discover the real cause: “This was not a botulism accident!” Suspecting COVID-19, they try to convince the mayor to shut down the beaches on the 4th of July weekend, but he refuses, saying it would devastate the town’s economy. They eventually team up with a grizzled epidemiologist to prove they are right: “You’re gonna need a bigger testing facility.”

Back to the Future: Marty McFly finds himself several decades in the past, trying to make sense of a world where diners are crowded with patrons, high school dances are still a thing, and no one has heard of physical distancing. “Masks? Where we’re going we don’t need masks!”


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