One year ago today I went to a sold-out screening of the movie Casino Royale at the Museum of Modern Art here in New York. It was set to be the start of a Daniel Craig retrospective, one that would lead up to the big premiere of the next Bond flick, and Craig was there for a Q&A. It also happened to be Craig's birthday that night, and so the entire audience sang him "Happy Birthday" and that's what that video above is of.
Something else, you may be aware, was going on one year ago -- the very first cases of COVID-19 had just made it into our city, and we were on the verge (about a week and a half later) of a total shut-down. The videos we'd been watching from Italy, of people singing out their windows that had seemed so improbable, impossible, within a few weeks that would be us.
And yet there we were, a few hundred people, boisterously singing "Happy Birthday" with no masks on to one of the biggest movie stars in the world in an enclosed underground screening room. I do remember I had bought some hand sanitizer that day and was offering it to my friends who'd come along for the show, and that seemed so silly and novel -- a guy sitting behind us commented on us using it with a laugh. We laughed too, and we felt weird about it. This'll all be over soon, we thought.
That video seems surreal and dangerous to me now, like we're blindfolded singing on the deck of the Titanic -- did any of the people in that room have COVID right then? I always used to make jokes about the audiences at MoMA screenings being up there in age -- when I can finally go back and watch movies again and I sit in this exact room in MoMA how many of those familiar old characters will be gone? Slipped away in these twelve months, locked in their apartments or loaded onto cold storage trucks? That video feels beamed in from another universe altogether.
I don't know when or how we take stock of this past year. We certainly can't yet, as we're still experiencing this trauma. It ain't over. We're still losing people left and right, and Capitalism might be demanding that we re-open the movie theaters at quarter-full capacity but I sure ain't ready to go anywhere near them. As much as I miss communal experiences like the one seen on that video, as constitutive as they were to what made me fall in love with living in this cramped, beautiful nightmare of a place, the best, what's best is we just keep being communal by ourselves, one by one, for a bit longer. We'll sing "Happy Birthday" again, someday soon. For all of us changed people, and for the ones that are gone too.