Peter Bart: A Chorus Of “I’m Done” Rings Through Hollywood As Year 3 Of Pandemic Opens

“I’m done.”

So said Charlton Heston, the stoic but exhausted hero of the 1973 futurist thriller Soylent Green. The movie’s message: Society will self-destruct in the year 2022 even as rigid rules and secret efficiencies are imposed to cope with disease and food shortages.

As we launch into Year 3 of the pandemic, there are fears that 2022 might eerily turn out to be the doomsday year forecast by that movie, with Omicron and its subsequent variants stirring anger and confusion.

I’ve reached out to a mix of denizens of the entertainment community this week and found that the words “I’m done” comprise a frequent theme. Even Bill Maher, ever irascible at 66, has now joined the dissidents who reject what he calls the “mask paranoia.” He endorses the view of guest Bari Weiss that the U.S. has created “a pandemic of bureaucracy,” while Europe, by contrast, has learned to live with Covid-19.

The public, meanwhile, seems baffled by the mixed signals. Government agencies are distributing at-home tests, even as others, like, Cal/OSHA, rule that tests must be witnessed by a medical professional and processed by a lab. Los Angeles schools require masks, but they must be “medical grade,” not mere cloth, and new rulings may require Covid shots for school admission.

Overall, the spread of Omicron is tapering off even as Covid deaths in L.A. County continue to climb and new variants sneak into view.

The upshot, again, is confusion, which manifests itself in unexpected ways. Demand for tickets continues to grow for screenings at the American Cinematheque, but half the filmgoers fail to appear even though they’ve already paid, reports Ken Scherer, the executive director. At regular theaters, the younger audiences, though expanding, clutch popcorn bags as camouflage because they decline masks.

One note of optimism comes from the Motion Picture Academy, which sees 2021 as a year of “incredible achievements” amidst the chaos.

Challenged by continued Covid issues, the Academy is trying to boost enthusiasm for the awards season. Voting for Oscar nominations opens today and closes Feb. l – a very quick process.

Over the course of its 93 years, the Academy has diligently reminded members to vote but has always discouraged electioneering, parties, giveaways or even exaggerated promotional language in advertising. Today, however, the organization sent out urgent reminders to voters to weigh in on what it describes as the “great films” and “amazing performances” and “incredible achievements” of the year’s films.

Its upbeat message: Despite the challenges of the moment, this was a very good year for movies – and the Academy urgently wants its membership to pay homage.

In the celebrity subculture, dinner parties are again becoming popular but testing often is required upon entry to the host’s home. “If a guest tests positive, they are sent home with a generous dinner, carefully wrapped,” remarks one prominent executive.

Among office workers, ambiguities are also in evidence as companies encourage a return to work, confounding those who prefer to remain at home in their sweats. Comments a CAA agent: “I winced when I read that we’re planning a new building when I can’t stir myself to go to our present office.” There are also reports of wide discord at WMA, with agents complaining that CEO Ari Emanuel has been too aggressive in his back-to-the-office mandates.

To one studio executive, the restaurant scene also is riddled with hypocrisy. “Diners fail to show any vaccine proof, then rip off their token masks when seated so the masked waiters can serve them,” he observes. “The class system reigns supreme.”

On a business level, filmmakers and distributors find their recovery inhibited by restrictive policies of film festivals and markets. The Berlinale will screen films this year but its market will again be online, as will the market of the follow-up Hong Kong Festival, observes a frustrated Strath Hamilton, who runs TriCoastal Worldwide, a producer and distributor of indie product.

Hamilton and other buyers say they will faithfully attend the Cannes Film Festival again this year, but attendance will likely be reduced as per last year. “We go there and will eat well without expecting to do much business,” he explains ruefully.

While many in the entertainment community are adapting to Year 3 with calm resignation, there is also an undertone of anger. “We’re in denial about the reality that we’ve lost the communal experience,” observes one top executive who wishes not to be identified. “We are social animals and we used to experience the important films and TV shows together and then interact.” That interaction has now been lost, she observes.

How to adapt?

“I’m fed up,” concedes Michael Childers, a producer and celebrity photographer. “I’m booking my next trip to France. You only live once.”

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