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Streaming Movies During a Pandemic

            I can’t wrap my mind around 100,000 American deaths (and over 350,000 worldwide), numbers we’ll see in the rearview mirror by the time I post this to the blog. I try to picture some of the victims: the teachers who died early on, because we didn’t want to close schools too soon; the doctors and nurses and EMTs and health aides and janitors and nursing home workers; the transit workers and police officers and grocery store workers; the thousands and thousands of nursing home residents; workers at meat packing plants; the people living in situations where there’s no space for social distancing; the multiple members of the same families that died within weeks of each other; the residents of Native American reservations, and on and on.

            I can’t keep up with the numbers and the names; even the small percentage of the names that end up on TV or Facebook are overwhelming. I can’t make sense of so much death. It’s incomprehensible, and it keeps going on. I can’t even comment on the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota. I watched ten seconds of the video and had to stop, because I couldn’t breathe.

            And here I am, safe at home, and grateful to be home, but feeling guilty that my life isn’t harder, or at least more productive. If I don’t have to work in a grocery store or a hospital, then I should at least become fluent in five languages, or drown in middle class angst by way of multiple depressing documentaries about racism and poverty. Right?

“Are you asking me?”

Despite the guilt, though, I persist in being me. And I still can’t seem to work on my writing. I’m obsessed with revising my synagogue school lesson plans for next fall, and checking Facebook for clues to all of the things I’m supposed to be doing but can’t quite put my finger on.

I can’t tell if my tendency towards this kind of guilt is getting worse during the shutdown, or if it is just more obvious because there’s nothing to keep my mind off of it. I don’t know who I’m supposed to be, in life in general, let alone during a pandemic. I can only do what I can do, and since the two free streaming services I get through my library (Hoopla and Kanopy) upped their views-per-month to ten each for the shutdown, I am even more determined to watch all of the movies that are supposed to be good for me: like documentaries, and foreign films, and anything about the Holocaust or the Israeli-Palestinian situation. Fun!

“Not fun, Mommy.”

            So, of course, I immediately gave up on the good-for-me plan and chose a documentary about roller skaters in Venice, California, in the seventies and eighties. I loved going roller skating as a kid, and I love anything like dance, but the documentary ended up being a screed on one of my favorite silly movies from my teens: Roller Boogie, starring Linda Blair. It turns out that the Venice Beach skating scene that was, sort of, portrayed in Roller Boogie, as largely made up of white people, was, in real life, made up of people of color who faced a lot of discrimination and sought out roller skating as an escape. The documentary forced me to look at the fact that Roller Boogie probably couldn’t have been made at that time (1979) if it had starred people of color. So, what I thought of as a light, romantic, happy, summer movie was actually built on real lives that were much more difficult and complicated than I could have imagined.

            I kept ignoring my directive to watch the good-for-me movies, but the movies I escaped to for fun kept opening up pits of despair. I watched a documentary about the Kutcher’s resort in the Catskills, one of the last Kosher hotels of the borscht belt, and the inspiration for Dirty Dancing, but it turned out to be an elegy about the slow death of a Jewish way of life; and then there was the English movie that was supposed to be a romantic comedy, about a man whose job was to seek out family members and friends of the dead who die alone. It was supposed to be a feel-good movie about how he discovers a whole new world when he meets the daughter of his latest “client,” except that it really, really, didn’t end well.

“Oy.”

Clearly, my attempts to escape my educational project were not working, so I redoubled my resolve and went back to the list of foreign language, stretch-your-horizons movies. There were a bunch of Israeli movies that I had to give up on halfway through because of unspeakably insensitive male characters that challenged even my dogged determination to practice Hebrew; but then, Thank God, there was a really lovely Israeli romantic comedy called The Wedding Plan, about a woman who breaks up with her fiancé and decides to keep her wedding day anyway, in the hopes that a husband will magically show up in time; and then there was a documentary about Israeli Cuisine and all of the different cultures represented by the food people eat in Israel. The film crew traveled to different regions of the country to sample Palestinian and Lebanese and Moroccan and Eastern European dishes, showing the scenery along the way, which almost made me feel like I was there.

“Did you say something about food?”

I took a short break from the educational project to watch an English romantic comedy about a woman who inherits her grandmother’s pug, after which, he, of course, changes her life for the better; and then there was a movie about a Latina who becomes a sushi chef; and then a sweet little romantic fantasy about a garden in London. And then I felt brave enough to risk watching a very dark Swedish movie called Astrid, about the woman who wrote Pippi Longstocking; and then a documentary about refugees from Darfur who were persecuted in Egypt and escaped across the border to Israel with mixed results; and a docudrama about four Jewish teenagers who hid in Berlin during the Holocaust. There was also a documentary about the early Jewish stars of Bollywood, and a series of movies in German, about a female Jewish police detective from Berlin who moves to Tel Aviv, but I’m not sure if those were on the educational list or the fun list, because I couldn’t really tell the difference anymore.

Cricket was done.

I’m pretty sure I watched more movies that I’ve blocked out, and I feel guilty, of course, for being only a few episodes into a Great Courses series called The Holy Land, about the archeology and history of the place we call Israel today. It all sounds exhausting when I put it in a list, but I still feel guilty for all of the good-for-me movies and books and podcasts left unseen, unread and unheard. I feel like I’m still hopelessly behind, and under-educated, and under-enlightened, and nothing I do is the right thing or ever enough. I’m just not sure why I keep feeling this way, or how to change it.

I may have to go look for a movie about that.

“Really?”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

101 responses »

  1. What a slacker I am, Rachel. I’m just watching Matthew McConaughey movies.

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  2. The ‘good for me movies’… stick with them.

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  3. I love the line that you don’t know who you’re supposed to be in normal times, let alone in a pandemic! I’m sure a lot of us feel like that! My sister is a doctor – general practitioner, not front line in hospital – but a doctor all her working life. She feels guilty for not working for Medicine Sans Frontier in a war zone! I tell her just being a doctor absolves her from any guilt. Wonderful analysis of films. How lucky are those people who go through life not thinking about anything.

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  4. I am with you on the staggering number of deaths. And I actually cried watching 10 seconds of George Floyd’s murder and had to switch it off.The Friday PBS news features some of the people who have died. It is a lovely tribute to those faceless numbers. There are all ages and occupations featured. And now they are all gone. As for what have I done. I already knew I would not even attempt another language or anything like that. I did finish up an online course on Adobe Lightroom photo editing. I’ve had it for over a year and felt I needed to get on with it and finish it. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Sounds like your movies and TV are fine.

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  5. I’m binging Schittz Creek. I refuse to feel guilty for things that are out of my control. I refuse to feel guilty for anything unless I personally have done it, and I’ll be damned if I’ll be told I have to be. I have enough crap in my past to keep my demons busy, I’m not taking on cultural demons – and I won’t be made to feel as if I should. You, my friend, are a wonderful, caring, generous person. You do not need to feel guilty! I am not one of those people “who go through life not thinking about anything.” I think very deeply on many things, and thus, refuse to take on guilt that is not mine.

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  6. Excellent post, as usual, Rachel. And, beyond the clear and concise writing, the hounds’ speech bubbles always bring a chuckle – so, job done! Thanks! I watched Unorthodox recently. A four episode drama about… hmm, about a Brooklyn girl who escapes her loveless marriage and goes to Berlin to find herself. It was ace; great acting, great sets, great styling, great story.

    Stay well. x

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  7. I fear that truth will always be complicated. A mix of good and horrid.

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  8. I am watching old movies and re-runs I never knew existed – At least I’m learning a little cinematic history.

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  9. Your blog is just how I feel about so many issues going on. I can’t watch the news; it is too heartbreaking. I am holding my head above water and trying to keep my eye on things to be grateful for. I started reading again after two months of not being able to focus. I was beating myself up for not being “productive” in this time at home. Now I am just trying to find some joy amongst sadness. I’ve been advised to only do one “should” a day. Then be joyful that the “should” is done. I am finding that more things are becoming wants instead of “shoulds”. It’s an uncharted time right now. Thank you for speaking so clearly.

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  10. Also, I think you need a Kalimba. I got one, I play badly, but I play and laugh as my husband asks me exactly what that song was meant to be? Sometimes I actually make up a title and he just nods sagely. 🙂

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  11. A Kalimba is a ‘thumb piano’.
    I have hardly watched anything lately. The TV here wasn’t prepared for the pandemic, and is churning out repeats, some of which were only shown last autumn. There are so many recommendations about what to watch on Netflix, but I cannot muster the enthusiasm.

    Then yesterday I heard that one of my oldest and best friends had died of Covid-19 that afternoon.

    That put my televisual moans into context.

    Best wishes, Pete.

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  12. Rachel, I have felt so alone and so unable to describe how I feel the same guilt of facing and feeling the difficulties within my own warped self and then reading and hearing about so many people so much worse off than I am. I attended a Mental Health Awareness event online this past week, and after the fourth speaker presented, that guilt for thinking I have it so bad was so strong that I had to leave. The event was supposed to be empowering to all of us suffering with mental health issues, but my mind processed it as, “Suck it up, girlfriend, that ain’t nothing compared to what I live with!” I’ve turned to Amazon Prime for TV and movies as I have only basic cable channels, and that pulls me out of the funk for as long as the show lasts. The rest of the time, I feel depressed and sad and then I feel guilty for being depressed and sad…

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  13. I’ll try to seek out some of the movies you’ve mentioned.

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  14. I try and mix things up with some online classes at edx.org, movies and tv from amazon and Youtube, lectures and panel discussions from a variety of universities and think tanks, learning Spanish from Youtube and apps, making (or mimicking) music and art, and laughing and/or crying when I need/want to.
    Where can I find Sara Stein – From Berlin to Tel Aviv?

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  15. I love skating as a kid too! I read somewhere that we are all in survival mode, but I can’t help learning new things everyday.

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  16. I put all the film’s I’ve watched this year on a Pinterest board….and I have already watched 98. A bit scary! I’m also getting through Buffy the vampire slayer from the beginning. You just have to do what makes you feel good. xx

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  17. Don’t feel guilty, Rachel. I’m sure you’re making a great contribution to the lives of many. Stay safe!

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  18. We’ve watched a couple of our own DVDs, though Hubby’s tuned in to the old B&Ws or Youtube to keep him occupied/things to sleep to. I envy him being able to drop off on the sofa at the drop of a hat. The only time I’ve managed to do that was when I came out of hospital after a heart scare in 2018 and my surgery last year.
    Our routine didn’t change that much, other than not going out in the car so often, no more tea and cake in the cafe and reduced shopping trips. It’s going to be worse now as more people are about and few if any wearing masks other than us in the shops. The numbers will begin to climb again in a short while.
    Keep safe Rachel.

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  19. Dear Ellie, I ask the question “Did you say something about food?” all the time. I especially love when my people decide to have popcorn with their movie. I’m known for leaving puddles of drool on the floor as I wait for somebody to drop a piece. Take good care of Rachel. Your Labrador cousin, Adi

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    • Dear Adi, taking care of humans is hard work, and I need a lot of naps, but I feel like an essential worker and I love the snacks! Here’s wishing you lots of yummy popcorn! Ellie.

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  20. I am having trouble with my writing as well. Sigh. But this is a strange time we live in so I’m trying to be kind with myself.

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  21. Streaming? I never have done it. I’m not the technology kind of person LOL

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  22. Well, I am currently watching my second William Castle feature of the day, and I was about to write a blog post about it without even mentioning the terrible events currently shaking our country and world. I am quite the shallow person, as you may have noticed. Give yourself credit, because you do a lot more than most! As long as you pet your dogs, which I know you do, you are a worthy human being. PS, like Crystal, I have never streamed anything.

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  23. I have been buying favorite movies and some TV series on (first VHS, then) DVDs, and I’ve got a DVD player in my bed/sitting room. I have enjoyed watching old favorites over again…sometimes, just favorite scenes. Also, I’ve been rereading a lot of books in my library. Lifts my spirits. (I’ve got a lot of hip-hop and ballet flicks.)

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  24. I am sorry you have so much guilt. I understood that when we started this the world as we knew it was gone, so when I saw someone post something about it being a trauma and that we were all grieving, I realized that I didn’t have to do ANYTHING. I stopped chastising myself for not having cleaned out my closets or picked up a new hobby or learned how to make bread. Then I started teaching and all of my effort went into that and sometimes I am just exhausted. I find myself thinking, “Why are you exhausted? You teach LESS now and you do it from home, what is wrong with you?” Well, first of all it is EXHAUSTING to have people “in your” home five times a week. Always having to make sure the area is clean/clear. And not really even second of all, I am grieving. I am going through a trauma (along with the rest of the world). And it is exhausting!!! I also have stopped watching all the things on my list (Netflix) that I would normally watch (FBI Files, Crime Dramas, Forensic stuff) I am on a strict diet of silly comedy and stuff that is pure entertainment. That is all I can handle right now. I recommend it. 🙂

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  25. It is hard to let go of the guilt over productivity – but I constantly find myself asking, by whose measure or definition? I think to “persist in being me” is an absolutely worthy endeavor, and certainly not as easy as it sounds. Always love your essays! 😊🌈 ❤️

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  26. Years ago, I attended a BlogHer convention (for women bloggers) that met near here, in San Jose. I decided it would be good for me, so I packed away my insecurities and went. I learned some good things, but the real treasure from the convention was a sticker I brought back. It’s one of those cling stickers – it attaches impermanently to glass. It is still on my bathroom mirror, where I see it every morning. It has a very simple message:

    You are enough.

    There were some women there with a song, “You are enough” and I remember bursting into tears the first time I heard the song. Then they gave us each a sticker and mine became a treasure, because it reminds me every day that the best I can manage at any given time is just that: enough.

    I don’t entirely believe it, of course, but it is helpful to be reminded of it on a regular basis.

    You are enough, Rachel. In fact, you are amazing.

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  27. Funny that you should mention the Great Courses offerings, because I got their catalog yesterday and am eyeing an upcoming course in How to Sing. I mean properly:). I love the idea that a lot of us are using this time to avail ourselves of things we perhaps weren’t before.

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  28. Rachel, sounds like you have watched quite a few interesting films. Not sure if you have seen “The Women’s Balcony” – I watched it awhile back on Netflix, it’s a great story filmed in Jerusalem. Also, another inspirational favorite, “Arranged” is now streaming on Amazon Prime. To block out COVID-19 worries,I went back and re-watched several seasons of Star Trek Voyager & Stargate Atlantis. Always fun! 🙂

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  29. I have binged on “Nailed It,” a Netflix series about cooks failing dramatically to recreate Instagram worthy baked goods. Your viewing seem a lot more cultured than that! I think I will do whatever it takes to not get sucked into the death and chaos inviting vortex promulgated by the “leader” of our country. If it takes funny cooking shows, so be it.

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  30. Kit Dunsmore

    Your movie watching sounds insanely ambitious to me. My attempts to make things have made it clear that right now, I am NOT up for a challenge. And I would find the things you are watching super challenging. Glad you found at least some things that you enjoyed.

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    • I tried to get back to knitting but my fingers refused. I couldn’t even color!

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      • I was all set to get organized and plan out all my creative projects and when I sat down to do it, my brain said, “Nope.” So I keep trying things. Some days I can do more than others. But not many.

      • Same. I do what I can, when I can, and I feel really guilty about it. That’s my life.

      • Kit Dunsmore

        I don’t see any point in feeling guilty. But I do struggle not to judge myself when I don’t feel like much is getting done.

  31. Pandemic! What Pandemic!! Seems everyone has forgotten the Pandemic! You have found a great way to stay sane and enjoy the time in at least a little!

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  32. Pandemic learned very thing for us everyplace

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  33. Two hundred tv channels, give or take, and nothing is on. I cannot be-LIEVE the number of bad movies I’ve viewed. Most recently, Tank Girl is NOT watchable. Bad acting, bad story, I lasted about 15 excruciating minutes. Ready Or Not I made it through, but again I’m surprised at the number of movies that thrive on foul language. F-words etc. I’ve heard it all, said it all, but as my mom used to say, ‘I don’t see that it contributes to the dialogue’. This too shall pass. (I just bought another jigsaw puzzle. They don’t swear at me.)

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  34. Pingback: Streaming Movies During a Pandemic — rachelmankowitz | FESTIVAL for FAMILY

  35. I wouldn’t watch a movie about the holocaust either since so many Catholics were sent to the camps and executed by gas or gun.
    Did you ever watch the movie about” The Boy in the Blue Striped Pajamas ”
    It is a holocaust movie of the sad and sickening kind.

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  36. I really hear you on the crazy-making push-pull of what to do with oneself these days… but you took all that and turned it into an excellent read here 🙂 As someone who lurks around reading blogs instead of streaming movies during lockdown, I thank you for that.

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  37. The one on Israeli Cuisine sounds interesting. I have become hooked on Korean drama/romance. I know I should stop but they are a guilty pleasure. A lovely Japanese one is Departures, about a musician that returns home and gets a job preparing bodies for funeral rites (dressing and makeup not the stuff morticians do) not morbid in the least.There seems to be a stigma attached to the job that still exists and this film deals with it Beautifully told and filmed story. Iam glad to partially back at work but this means less time for doing things around the house and interferes with watching my Kdrama/romances.

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  38. I too have been splurging time in streaming. I have been writing a lot too, which is good. My blog as gotten a lot of activity with the extra time. I even started my book (finally). But I cannot help by turn on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon… or other shows and let it go. I think I have done more documentation and research on the justice system and racial histories than I would have ever done if my time wasn’t changed. So, if there is a silver lining – or two – those would be a part of it. Thanks for sharing. Love the pix of your baby!

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  39. Wow, what an impressive list of movies! I’m finding that I don’t want to watch much. My husband says “Let’s watch a movie tonight,” and I agree and then somehow …. it gets too late to start one. I’m not sure why. I think it feels like a risk. “What if it makes me feel even worse than I already do?” I say to myself, “What if I make a bad choice and it’s (fill in the blank).” So bravo to you. At least you are risking.

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    • I have felt that way so many times! I’ve learned to trust my gut about which risks to take, and when. Even when peer pressure is pushing me to do something or watch something or read something, my mental health is still the most important determining factor.

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  40. If you get a chance, check out “The Windemere Children”, put on an estate in England after being rescued from concentration camps. Very well done, and more hopeful than I originally expected.

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  41. I liked, very useful article

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  42. I’d say enjoy the media for fun =) I’m sure you do enough, that you shouldn’t guilt yourself about not doing more. Life’s too short! Indulge in a fluffy rom com!

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  43. I’ve watched so much Netflix during this pandemic, it’s running out of suggestions 🙂

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  44. Good for you. Stay safe and relaxed Rachel!

    Reply

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