Streetcar: Fun with Fungi

A sure indication that the day was going to be slow was that one of the few diversions was a film entitled “Fantastic Fungi: The Magic Beneath Us.” Slow days have been plentiful in the COVID-19 era, but mercifully Phase 2 had allowed for movie theaters to be re-opened, and that included the Broad Theater located on the street of the same name.

For theater operators and film-goers the good news was that movie houses, allowing for social distancing, were open. The bad news was that there were hardly any films to show, as even Hollywood had to take shelter.

So, with the absence of social life as we know it, learning about fungi was not a bad alternative. The documentary, which was released in 2019, has had good reviews and has appeared on various web and pay channels. There is much to learn from the film, but if you can only take three thoughts away, they might be these: One: Let’s hear it for mycelium! They form an underground network of cells that for billions of years has been transforming decaying matter into living soil. Two: Mushrooms are the visible, above ground, part of mycelium. Three: Mycelium can also clean the environment, kill termites and bedbugs and improve our immune system. Not bad for a life lived underground.

As mighty as mycelium are, there was another marvel surrounding us, the Broad Theater, a four screen conversion of a 1923 Spanish Colonial Revival building that, at various times, has warehoused supplies for boats and plumbing.

Quick, how many commercial movie theaters are operating in the city? There are only two, the Broad and the uptown Prytania, where “Confederacy of Dunces” readers might recall, Ignatius Reilly went to the movies. (In Arabi there is also the funky Zeitgeist Theater and Lounge which describes itself as a “non-profit art house cinema.” and has the motto, “Something for and against everybody.”)

There were once movie theaters in practically every neighborhood. (Mid-City, where I live, had the Carrollton and the Cortez. One is now the site of a medical facility for seniors the other is an empty lot.) Downtown there were the first-run movie houses, including the Lowe’s, the Saenger, the Orpheum and the Joy plus, and more recently, the now closed theaters at Canal Place. Toward the once seedy river’s end of Canal Street there were the porno places.

Movie houses that survive in the city these days tend to be more of art houses showing the kind of films nominated for Academy Awards in the categories that we seldom ever see.

We also see little of fungi because of their subterranean life. The film explains that fungi can mushroom, literally, into great things. Of course, sometimes nature’s unseen can be dangerously harsh. As we stepped outside and positioned our masks, we were reminded that the day was quiet because of the unseen dangers in the air.

If only fungi could fight that.


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