Well, I haven’t done one of these in a while. For 39 months, to be precise. But November 2020 is no ordinary month, and honestly, we have no idea how this issue will feel. Because, even as I write these words, I know that if you’re reading them a few days from now the world will be entirely different. I just don’t know how it will be different. And that makes it incredibly hard to know what kind of issue we should be rolling out for you this month.
We typically pick out a theme for each issue two to three months in advance, but this one wasn’t decided until the last possible moment, and even then I wasn’t sure. I kept thinking if we waited just a little bit longer, I’d be able to figure out what November would feel like in advance, but of course I was deluding myself. Because if there’s one thing that 2020 has taught me, it’s that anything can happen, at any time; if I told you even nine months ago how we’d all be living the past seven and a half months, you would have thought I had lost my marbles. And then you throw in the most important election of our lifetime on top of that, and there’s just no possible way for anybody to know or predict how anything is going to feel by next week, let alone by the end of the month.
So, after strongly considering doing a full on political issue or opting for completely escapist fare, we decided to split the difference and go for something that feels eternally relevant in modern American life: Farce. To tweak the old Oscar Wilde quote, farce felt right as “trivial comedy for serious times;” a way to lampshade the moment without being consumed by it. Beneath all the wordplay and mayhem, farce points out the absurdity of the world around us, and reminds us: Sometimes you just have to laugh, right? And sometimes, ludicrous as it might seem, that laughter is also revealing—of our tastes, perspectives, needs, and wounds.
Our hope here is that, whatever might happen in the next few days and weeks, BW/DR will be a place you feel safe coming to in order to (mostly) get away from it all. Because if you’re like most of us on staff, you already spend enough time reading about politics and pandemics, scrolling endlessly through Twitter, and expecting the worst. And who knows, maybe this month will be bad! That seems like a distinct possibility, given the year we’ve all had so far. Or maybe, just maybe, after nearly eight months—but really, four years—of chaos and misery, we’ll finally be given a brief respite, a few moments of victory and elation. Maybe the future will seem a little bit brighter for a change, and we’ll feel a bit more hopeful about the direction our country is going in. If it wasn’t abundantly clear already, we’re pulling for (and strongly endorsing) a Joe Biden presidency, and it’s our fervent hope that this letter seems quaint in a few days. Writing from this side of things, that still seems possible, and we hope you’re reading these words in that kind of world.
In the meantime, we hope, as always, to provide you with some words and art to delight and distract you while we all hold our breaths. So here’s what we have for you this month, however things may turn out: New essays on everything from the Marx Brothers (A Night at the Opera) to surreal 1960s Czeckoslovakian cult classics (Daisies) to the Coen Brothers (Burn After Reading); a look at The Muppets early years and a look back at Death to Smoochy; a case for reading Alien: Resurrection as farce and for reveling in the farcical heart of Young Frankenstein; an attempt to wrestle with the art of Sacha Baron Cohen, a deep dive into Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula; and finally, an extended interview with writer/director Kenneth Lonergan on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of his first film, You Can Count on Me.
Staring down the first week of November, we have no idea how the coming weeks will shake out (we certainly didn’t know what would happen between putting up the call for essays and our first day of publication). All we can hope is to continue publishing the best work we can on film and television, essays that feel necessary, or just pleasant to read. Some months we’re right on the money, others we’re just buying a plot in Los Copa so we never miss a laugh.