This week, Jeff Godsil re-visits the film soleil After Dark, My Sweet, while Matthew of KBOO's Gremlin Time looks again at Luther,a film based on the TV series, and we also assess the recent Criterion release of Chilly Scenes of Winter.
Film at 11 chilly scenes of Winter.
If you read a lot, it's unusual to come across a writer of whom you have never heard, especially when they have published over 100 short stories in the New Yorker magazine. I'm referring to Nancy Hale, who has just been commemorated by the Library of America with a volume in its series, and to help place Nancy Hale in the history of American fiction, the LOA turned to Anne Beattie, one of Hale’s, many successors in the New Yorker's history of short fiction.
For a collection of short stories, Ms. Beatty wrote an appreciation of Nancy Hale, whom she met while teaching at U of Virginia college at the height of her hippie days. I've only just heard of Nancy Hale, and haven't read any of her stories, so I'm not sure if she is in the same tradition as Hale. One of the best ways to ensure traduce yourself to Anne Beattie, however, is her novel, chilly scenes of winter, which captures the so-called "dirty realism" of the times, also seen in Raymond Carver, and Mary Robison, among others, stories of ordinary people, immersed in the dull jobs, domestic worries, mass produced merchandise, and the occasional verified pop culture artifact, such as Janis Joplin in the novel.
The novel was adapted into a movie in 1979, scripted and directed by Joan Micklin silver. The director had already made something of a name for herself as an independent, if more mainstream, filmmaker with the earlier, Hester Street, a portrait of Jewish life in early New York City, and Between the Lines, a surprisingly accurate account of what life is like at a alternative weekly newspaper, with a cast rich in character actors.
Chilly Scenes film was not particularly popular,. Retitled head over heels, and with a trailer that misrepresented it as a goofball, romantic comedy, the film was abandoned by the distributor and flopped. Renata, Adler, subbing as a movie reviewer in the New Yorker at the time, wrote a mostly negative review. Later, in 1982, new studio heads decided to re-release the film under its original title, and remove a happy ending, which followed the book, but that the filmmakers eventually concluded was a betrayal of the tone of the narrative and of the characters. The film was given a new life and was better received.
Now it is commemorated in a new criterion collection, edition Blu-ray with a host of supplementary materials.
- Bearing spine #1176, and a nice new box cover by Marc Aspinall, the disc comes with a New, restored 4K digital transfer, a new feature with producers Griffin Dunne, Mark Metcalf, who also appears in the film, and Amy Robinson, who had a major character in Mean Streets;
- A 45-minute documentary from 1983 about the director; excerpts from a 2005 Directors Guild of America interview that covers the making of the movie; the Original ending of the film, the trailer, and in the box, n essay by scholar Shonni Enelow, which also can be read on the Criterion website.
Not include is an audio Commentary with Writer/Director Silver and Producer Amy Robinson that appeared on an earlier DVD release. It may have been deemed dull, as the two barely talk in what is meant to be a yak track.
- Seeing Chilly Scenes again today, however, is like peering into a zoetrope into a previous century where people walk different, and you don’t quite get people’s motivation, and don’t share the language and unstated cultural anchors that they take for granted.
Charles (John Heard) has been pining after lost love Laura (Mary-Beth Hurt) who happens to be married to a former football player nick-named Ox who now sells A-Frame houses in Denver. They also have a daughter. During their affair of a few months, Charles has idealized Laura, suffocating her with his high opinion, one that not only she, but we, don’t share. She apparently has some talent as a chef, making successfully that middlebrow dessert Baked Alaska, but her dubious attractiveness is contrasted with his moral shallowness, as he pursues a married woman who, though she is separated and living apart, still has not made a complete break. His infatuation prevents him from seeing the arrogance in his stance that he is more perfect for her than Ox.
He works as a bureaucrat and lives in a house inherited from his grandmother. He has a sister who appears in the opening scenes but then disappear backs to college, a step-father (Kenneth McMillan) who just wants to be friends, and a dotty mother played by noir actress Gloria Graham in a part not too distant from the Graham portrayed in the bio-pic Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, and his best friend Sam (the reassuringly charming Peter Reigart) could be in any number of ‘80s or ’90s films such as Walking and Talking or Reality Bites, as a young adult still living like a college student with no direction and no motivation to do anything.
Quoting the Adler review from November 26, 1979, is helpful:
It must be remembered also that producer, Amy Robinson comes from the world of Martin Scorsese, but here Laura's behavior in the movie theater seems out of character and somewhat childish. The strategy of the film may have been to present Charles initially as normal and charming, and then slowly unveil his obsessive and compulsive nature.
Nevertheless, the film as well acted, and its episodic narrative captures something of the pointless sense of life of the times. John Heard died in 2017 after a career resurgence playing a gambling-addicted cop in the Sopranos, while Mary Beth Hurt went on to marry director and writer, Paul Schrader, and now sadly suffers from Alzheimer’s. Somehow that makes the unreality of Chilly Scenes more real.