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Arts & Culture

Cinema Junkie Podcast 194: The Global Pandemic Film Primer

Vincent Price starred in the film version of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Masque of Red Death," that depicts the Black Plague.
American International Pictures
Vincent Price starred in the film version of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Masque of Red Death," that depicts the Black Plague.

From Cambodia to Hollywood, pop culture explores how fear and panic can spread as readily as a virus

Cinema Junkie has been exploring escapist films to distract you from our current coronavirus pandemic but as parts of the country and some businesses start to reopen I decided it was time to explore some unconventional pandemic films that raise issues beyond just the virus itself. I will be speaking with neuroscientist and emotion researcher Eric Leonardis who has been spending his quarantined time at home watching pandemic films but he has an interesting take on these movies because he wants to see how emotions like panic and fear can spread as readily as a virus and how words can be as dangerous as germs. We will consider silents to contemporary films as well as films from China, Cambodia, South Korea and the U.S. So wash your hands, put on a mask, and defy being infected by these pandemic movies.

Films from the silents to the present day, from Cambodia as well as the U.S., have been dealing with themes of pandemics for more than a century. Find out how these films deal with more than just disease but also how fear and panic can spread as readily as a virus, and how language can infect people as much as germs.

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Cinema Junkie has been exploring escapist films to distract you from our current coronavirus pandemic but as parts of the country and some business start to reopen, I decided it was time to explore some unconventional pandemic films that raise issues beyond just the virus itself.

UC San Diego's Eric Leonardis is a cognitive scientist and emotion researcher and he has been creating a list of films that look to past and imagined pandemics but he has an interesting take on them as he examines them from a cognitive as opposed to an epidemiological one.

The list begins with the silent, German expressionist film "Die Pest in Florenz" from 1919, which focused on the Black Death just as the world was recuperating from the Spanish Flu.

In Asian, there are a number of films ("The Flu," "Fall of Ming," "Run!") dealing with pandemics that arrive in 2013 after real-life incidents of SARS and MERS.

This list is not for the faint of heart sheltering at home and may increase anxiety but these films show how artists and audiences may use fiction to explore fears and concerns, and we may even be able to learn from them if we realize that pop culture can be a fascinating look at who we are and the societies we create.