It’s hard to say what the word COVID-19 will conjure for us in a decade, but in the current moment for most it elicits the stress and fear of the last two years. The pandemic has had long-lasting effects on all of us, from the lives lost and disrupted, to the industries that may never recover. And we’re still not out of it, which adds a further layer of stress when talking about it as we approach another Fall and Winter.
But, at the same time, it seems it feels so important to document this time, the experiences and the feelings so none of it is lost to history. It was a shared experience, yes, but one that had many different facets. That’s what Johnny Sweet’s new documentary seeks to do. Last Call: The Shutdown of NYC Bars is a very tight look at the pandemic through the eyes of hospitality workers in New York City, one of the most hard-hit and most locked down locations during the height of the pandemic.
Sweet conducts a series of interviews with those who populated and worked at bars, those for whom their livelihood and a big piece of their lives disappeared in an instant. It chronicles the early days of the pandemic last Spring and Summer, capturing the feelings of despair, isolation and anxiety that preyed upon people who didn’t know when, or even if, they’d ever see their lives return to normal.
The film captures a bit of the larger picture of life in New York City, but predominately it focuses on the experiences of its subjects, who share their stories in powerful one-on-one interviews as the film captures the period and the fear and uncertainty that lingered into the editing process.
I remember watching the footage of the loss of life in New York City. It was jarring. It’s a place we think of as a hotbed of life and activity, reduced to a ghost town nearly over night. The depictions of an empty Times Square and other landmark locations were striking. That is part of what makes this story engrossing, as Sweet taps into those who made their living and, in many ways, defined their identities from being a part of that world. They were forced to cope with a lack of options and opportunities, trying to figure out how to pay the bills and wondering if they’d want to return to a service industry job even if it was possible.
The film is powerful in capturing this story and making you think about these people and their vital role in our daily lives in a unique way. I doubt this will be the last of these kinds of stories we get in the coming years, but Sweet does a nice job of exploring the subject and creating an emotional connection with the subjects and the audience in under an hour. It can be hard to wade back into this subject right now, but this is worth checking out and considering.
The film is available to stream beginning Friday, August 13.
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.