The Distancer: Friday, July 31, 2020

DAY 141: The Apartment

Happy Friday, friends!

Remember elevators at work? (I legitimately don’t think I’ve been on one since March)

As we’re rounding the corner from month #4 to month #5 in quarantine, let’s not get so bored that we backslide on our progress entirely. Mindful that I might be a bit of a scold here, I’ll let Dr. Fauci take it away…

Not to give you a minor panic attack for the weekend, but … it’s looking like the widely accepted conclusion that children don’t seem to spread COVID-19 might not necessarily be the case. That’s not to say throw out what we’ve learned thus far and say “lol nothing matters,” only that things are complicated. Per a report quoted in The New York Times, children under 5 can host up to **100 times** as much virus in their upper respiratory tract as adults. Gulp.

Finally, inspired by this helpful tweet from Vote Save America, I wanted to call attention to an excellent charity called Pizza to the Polls, which crowdsources reports of long poll lines and delivers pizza there to incentivize people staying there to exercise their civic duty. (As a reminder, long lines at voting places are not the sign of a healthy democracy!) Until such time as we can alleviate the larger structural issues there, we might as well reward flexing the democratic muscle with America’s favorite vegetable. Yes, lest we forget, Congress in 2011 declared that a thing.

Support Pizza to the Polls

Now, what you came for…

DAY 141: The Apartment (available on Amazon Prime)

Often times, winning Best Picture is one of the worst things that can happen to a movie’s legacy. (Ahem, Green Book, which otherwise would have withered into obscurity in the “white people solve racism” genre.) I say this with great love and admiration for an organization that once employed me for a brief period because it is very tough to know in the heat of the moment what will stand the test of time. The Best Picture prize dooms its recipients to a lifetime of comparison; later discoveries of the film inevitably invite the question, “Was it really as good as the competition that year? The other movies they didn’t even nominate?”

It’s always a pleasant surprise to find a winner that does stand the test of time like Billy Wilder’s The Apartment. The 1960 Best Picture champion eludes easy categorization — I guess you’d call it a forerunner of the contemporary “dramedy,” a film that toggles seamlessly between droll observational wit and poignant human emotion. And six decades later, the satire of Wilder (and co-writer I.A.L. Diamond) still stings and resonates with its barbs at corporate America.

The film follows clock-puncher C.C. “Bud” Baxter, a low man on the totem pole in the insurance business whose chipper, Chaplin-esque demeanor belies a pervasive loneliness. He sticks around his Midtown Manhattan desk longer than his colleagues because he’s hitched the wagon of his success on his Upper West Side apartment. The only thing more grotesque than the fact that he pays **$85 a month** is that he loans out the key to high-ranking executives at his company as a bachelor pad where they can take their mistresses in the city … in exchange for consideration for promotions, of course.

Word starts to get around among the top brass, and soon enough, Bud spends more time wandering the streets than between his own sheets. The Apartment taps into a kind of urban melancholy, specific but not limited to New York, that can overcome you when feeling alone whilst simultaneously surrounded by throngs of people. It’s a sensation that feels weird to miss during the pandemic, but the existence of such a feeling is often just the negative externality of living in such a vibrant metropolis.

Even as Bud grows visibly sickly and fatigued, the dangling of higher status in front of him by personnel director Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray) leads him to take on another “client” of sorts for his apartment. At the same time, his confidence in future ladder-climbing emboldens Bud to begin courting the bubbly yet brooding elevator operator Fran Kubelik (a very young Shirley MacLaine). Little does he know that even in a giant office within the country’s biggest city, people are more connected than he could ever imagine.

The Apartment takes us to some joyous places as well as some darker ones, often times within the same scene at the drop of a pin. There’s a reason Billy Wilder raked in six Oscars over the course of his illustrious career — he understood something about the complexities and irrationalities of the human condition like few others in the medium’s history. This is a film that captures how characters can both trick and treasure each other, not to mention themselves, both consciously and unknowingly. It’s funny when it needs to be, tragic when it has to be and truthful to ways we live and love throughout.

Be good to yourselves and to each other,

See past recommendations