Some memorable midcentury movies touted an opening-credits logo that read: "Filmed in Panavision." It signified cinema that was big — literally in its visual experience (using Super Panavision 70 cameras), but also figuratively in its themes, with films like "Lawrence of Arabia" and "2001: A Space Odyssey" among the classics carrying the label.
A "Filmed in Pandemicvision" logo will never be similarly displayed. For one thing, cinemas are shuttered and production has plummeted as COVID constricts close-together viewing and close-up scenes alike. And also because the coronavirus crisis has had such a significant impact on the cultural and commercial aspects of film.
These dual dynamics were apparent in this week's nominations for the Screen Actors Guild Awards and Golden Globe Awards, whose alchemy extends to television as well as the movies, unlike the more august, authoritative Academy Awards, which only honors film.
Among the most notable trends of the Globes nominations were who was behind them: Netflix led, by a lot, with 42 nods. Close behind weren't hallowed Hollywood studios, but more upstart streaming services like Hulu and Amazon Studios with 10 each. The SAG Awards reflected Netflix's ascendance, too, as it led with 30 nominations.
While the nominees don't evoke epics of the "Filmed in Panavision" era, their themes aren't small. The casts of the five films nominated for Screen Actors Guild Awards, which could be read as SAG's Best Picture slate, include movies exploring war ("Da Five Bloods"), antiwar ("The Trial of the Chicago 7"), race ("Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" and "One Night in Miami") and immigration ("Minari").
"The Trial of the Chicago 7" will also be judged by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the opaque organization that awards the Globes. Joining that film on Best Motion Picture Drama list (the Globes have separate nominees for "Musical or Comedy") are "The Father," "Promising Young Woman," "Nomadland" and "Mank."
"I'm seeing a trend toward nominating films that are oriented toward addressing the social challenges of the current moment, especially those involving differences of race and class, but also gender and sexuality," Carol Donelan, professor of cinema and media studies at Carleton College, said in an e-mail exchange. "In short," Donelan added after the Globes nominations, "I think filmmakers are being rewarded for 'going there,' rather than retreating or escaping from the current moment."
Viewers, homebound but not necessarily hidebound, may be going there, too. And soon, in order to meet Academy Award deadlines, they'll get to go further, with a late-February release of Oscar-contending "serious" cinema.
Among the two more anticipated entries are "Nomadland" and "Land," stories about women out in the American West, seeking open skies after troubles close down upon them. No doubt some struggling at home with a nearly yearlong lockdown will relate to hitting the road and even going off the grid — even while wired in order to screen these films.
Movie viewers are likely to remain wired to the streaming revolution that Netflix and others have driven to commercial and creative acclaim. But the rate at which they will return to movie houses post-pandemic is a question vexing filmmakers, the theater industry and Wall Street (including the Reddit revolutionaries who made movie-theater chain AMC Entertainment one of the "meme stocks" to temporarily spike).
"Viewers just want what we want, when we want it," said Donelan. "I don't think it's a question of choosing this versus that, going to the movies versus staying at home and watching our screens. I think we want options, choices."
And those choices may fall along genre lines, added Donelan, who said that action, animation, sci-fi fantasy — "the big blockbuster films," including some like the latest James Bond flick that have been held back because of the pandemic — may still thrive at the theater.
And genre preference may also be impacted by the pandemic itself.
Or subgenres, like the Brazilian sci-fi/thriller "Pink Cloud," about life under lockdown that Maggie Hennefeld, an associate professor in the University of Minnesota's Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature, said was "uncannily" produced pre-pandemic. There was a lot of buzz at the recent Sundance Film Festival about "Pink Cloud," but not among the white snowdrifts of Park City, Utah, its usual venue, but online for the virtual version of the vaunted event.
That's just one way the pandemic has "democratized access to film," Hennefeld said in an e-mail interview. And that might mean films like "Minari," a drama about a Korean-American family, will move from art houses to our houses (and maybe to South Korea's consecutive Best Picture Oscar, following last year's inequality parable "Parasite").
Donelan said she's noticing "an uptick in content focused on politics, democracy, the history of the American experiment. Right now, more than ever, we are feeling the need to renegotiate our sense of selves, our collective identity as a nation."
Collective identity is enhanced by collective experiences. Like the kind found at movie theaters, which is why many may miss the theatrical experience more than they anticipated — even if they still stream at home.
"I think viewers will flock to the theaters once it's safe," said Donelan. "But I also think we'll see a shift in how films are released, in keeping with what we're seeing now. … I don't think it's a matter of eliminating options for studios and viewers to get what they want, but multiplying and maximizing options."
The pandemic, Hennefeld said, "is only increasing our desire to watch collectively — among friends and strangers — in a darkened theater on the big screen. … We're tired of watching at home in isolation. For example, comedies are so much less funny without other bodies to laugh with!"
Hennefeld adds this about another aspect of pandemicvision: "We're tired of seeing ourselves on screen all day and are ready to be exposed to something new!"
Indeed, less Zoom and more zoom-ins seen on the latest version of Panavision, or whatever big-screen big idea Hollywood has next, would be a welcome post-COVID change.
John Rash is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist. The Rash Report can be heard at 8:10 a.m. Fridays on WCCO Radio, 830-AM. On Twitter: @rashreport.