When cinemas reopen in Ontario and Quebec – and they will, eventually – I propose a cross-provincial screening of Sidney Lumet’s Network. Why? Because, in the words of that film’s tragic figure Howard Beale, I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this any more.
On Monday, less than four days after announcing that everything was hunky-dory in the province, Ontario declared one big “my bad” and rolled back into a modified Stage 2: no schools, no indoor dining, no gyms, no galleries, no museums, no movie theatres, no joy. Premier Doug Ford’s about-face followed last month’s shutdown by the Quebec government, which was gracious enough to give the arts and hospitality industries a full [checks watch] four hours’ notice before pulling the rug out from under them.
Each new-but-old restriction is infuriating on its own. As a parent, for starters, I’m absolutely livid. And as a human being who requires some – any! – simple cultural pleasures to make this life worth living, I’m depressed, confused, anxious, distressed, exhausted and Beale-level furious.
At this point in the Groundhog Day that is Canada’s pandemic, it is useless to apply logic to most any government action when it comes to the cultural sector. This new shutdown will mark the fourth time that Ontario has closed movie theatres since March, 2020, each instance absent public-facing data proving that cinemas are helping to spur the public-health crisis.
It would be swell if Ontarians were presented this time around with fixed public-health goals that will be achieved by closing theatres’ doors. I would even settle for a concise and transparent recovery strategy that allows for everyone’s cultural lives and livelihoods to be safely placed back on track as swiftly as possible.
Even in the age of Omicron, cinemas are one of the most controlled indoor public environments available for a quick escape outside one’s home, at least in Ontario: 50 per cent capacity, mandatory masking, little to no talking or movement, and, recently, a concessions ban to foil any mask mischief (a move that also makes the business essentially unsustainable). Yet for reasons unexplained, arbitrary or punitive, a sector seemingly regarded as politically expendable has been crushed by Queen’s Park once again.
For moviegoers who think that the good people in Hollywood might take pity on us theatre-less Canadians and release, say, the new Scream movie digitally, I have some bad news for you given what happened with last summer’s A Quiet Place Part II and F9. And there are more sad headlines to come for those who think that Ontario’s Stage 2: The Reckoning will last just a few weeks. Given recent history – again, we’ve gone through this situation three times already – this farcical ban on movie-going is going to be messy and painful, a kind of real-life equivalent of Jackass Forever (in theatres everywhere, except very likely here, Feb. 4!).
On Monday, Ontario’s various movie industry players issued carefully worded statements of regret. Cineplex, which has 67 locations in the province, assuaged customers by noting that all presales would be refunded automatically. Bill Walker, chief executive of Landmark Cinemas, which has 10 multiplexes in Ontario, lamented laying off hundreds of part-time employees. And the Toronto International Film Festival, whose five-screen Lightbox finally reopened this past September for daily screenings, said it was “disappointed that we won’t be able to bring some light and inspiration to our audience for a while, but we look forward to sharing the big-screen experience of community and film with you again soon.”
They were all being polite. So let me be Beale, and be angry: this shutdown is shameful.
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