I had the pleasure of watching Blast Theory’s parade performance Spit Spreads Death. This hard-hitting production showcases a parade to commemorate those who lost their lives during Philadelphia’s 1918 flu pandemic.
It all began in September 1918. The world was dealing with an extremely deadly flu virus. Unaware of the power this flu had, Philadelphians flooded the streets to cheer on a World War One parade. This joyful and exciting time for these patriots suddenly helped spread the disease that eventually killed 20,000 in just six months. Having so many people die, in such a short amount of time, made it difficult to mourn everyone who passed.
Until Blast Theory.
Their video shows a parade full of men and women holding white cards with the names of those who lost their lives in the flu pandemic. The video begins by singing “protect yourself from infection…” and goes straight into the parade and singing the names of those who died.
“Ruth Anna Barr.”
The music continues to play during shots of cars or people watching the parade and remains. When it would switch to shots of by-standers watching the parade walk by, you can see their faces full of curiosity, some visibly confused by the sudden change in atmosphere on the streets.
The parade aims to recognition to those who passed during the flu pandemic and has a mixture of camera angles to effectively show how big this parade is and how much this parade means to those walking.
I was struck with feelings of remorse and sincerity for those who lost their lives and family to flu pandemic, It made me think about the current pandemic we are going through, and how we have similarly lost so many to a deadly disease. The production is very effective in making you wonder about those who sadly lost their lives, offering a performative, collective expression of grief and remorse.
The parade walked all the way to a line of stalls which were labelled as shown on video as ‘History’ and ‘Protection.’ The History stall explains the 1918 flu pandemic and what happened. The Protection stall was administering the flu vaccine to those who consented to having it.
It is a very slow production; 10 minutes of walking and singing victims’ names. I do like this style of directing and the shots that follow throughout brings it together nicely. However, having 10 minutes of the parade can feel like a bit of commitment for those who have never heard of the flu pandemic, and just clicked on it out of interest from seeing it on their recommendation page.
The lighting and contrast throughout Spit Spreads Death is wonderful. One particularly mesmerising shot consists of a mixture between white and black cars together. The aesthetically pleasing look of this shows how much attention Blast Theory have paid to the small details.
Philadelphia suffered during this pandemicy. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, this led to a Philadelphian dying of the flu every five minutes. And in a single day, the disease killed 800. Specialists at the time, tried to warn everyone about the parade and what would eventually happen if the 1918 celebration went ahead but no one would listen, publish the worries of the specialists. The parade went ahead, and the flu deaths skyrocketed. Now, this new parade is not a celebration, but a powerfully performed warning and excercise in regret that carries particular relevance given what we are all going through today.
Words by Tori Scott.
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Image: Blast Theory