Newsletter 330

Published March 23, 2020
Closures and cancellations: the new normal

Everything has escalated so quickly in these Days of the Virus I’m starting to wonder if anything will be left open within a week or so. My emails are nothing but a long procession of cancellations and postponements. The one that struck me most forcibly was the cancellation of the Sydney Film Festival – not only because this is one of the city’s major annual cultural events, but because the festival wasn’t due to start until June. That suggests at least three more months of inertia are on the way.

I should be more concerned about the closure of regular cinemas, which is now starting to happen. This will also curtail the flow of new releases and film festivals, requiring a more innovative approach to the movie column. I’m considering my options, thinking it might actually be fun to do something different.

As for the visual arts, it seems there will still be opportunities to see exhibitions even if they are ‘by appointment only’. The commercial galleries might argue that their attendances are so low nowadays they’re hardly likely to attract crowds in dangerous numbers even if they stayed open 24-7, but they all seem to be taking a cautious approach. Once again, to keep the words coming I’m going to have to deviate from my regular routine of museum shows and try something different. Just what that is remains to be seen.

I managed to catch the opening of the Biennale of Sydney before everything began to implode. This week’s art column looks at the thinking behind this first-ever indigenous-themed Biennale, and at some of the work on display at the Art Gallery of NSW. My first impressions were extremely favourable so it’s frustrating to find a Biennale I really liked only to have it hit by the coronavirus. At present the exhibition is staying open to the public, but many people who might have gone along will undoubtedly stay away, at least in the short term. This is a shame, but nobody could be blamed for taking precautions.

The film being reviewed is Armando Iannucci’s The Personal History of David Copperfield, although I can’t say for sure where you’ll be able to see a movie in the coming months. This multi-ethnic version of Dickens’s story is only the second feature-film adaptation since the sound era began – the other being George Cukor’s acclaimed but dated movie of 1935. If you forget about W.C.Fields in the role of Mr. Micawber, Iannucci’s David Copperfield is a big step up on its predecessor, even allowing for the disorienting number of ethnically-inappropriate actors in the leading roles.

As I settle down for the coming weeks or months of cultural inaction I can’t help thinking that we’re experiencing a kind of phoney war. Covid-19 may be nasty enough but it’s not a sure killer like the Bubonic plague or Ebola virus. If an affliction with flu-like symptoms can lay the entire world low, what it would be like if one of the more deadly types of pestilence were let loose? This is a shot across the bows, but are we going to learn from the experience? We didn’t learn much from the GFC, and it remains to be seen if we’ve learned anything from the bushfires. With leaders who think that projecting a positive image is more important than doing anything constructive, we’ve got to train ourselves to think in the long term insead of waiting impatiently for normal service to be resumed. If there’s a new normal on the way it needs to be smarter than the one we’re currently putting on ice.