High Museum of Art: Films

In Honor of Snow and Ice by Linda Dubler

As we collectively emerge from the recent  deep freeze, let’s not lose those afghans, Snuggies and warm couch companions just yet. Here are a handful of snow films as chilly as any Hitchcock blonde.

McCabe and Mrs. Miller.

Robert Altman’s revisionist western is notable for all sorts of reasons, from its Leonard Cohen score to its brilliant pairing of Julie Christie as a savvy, opium-smoking madame and Warren Beatty as her smitten business partner, a gambler and a romantic fool.  The film ends in an extraordinary gun battle during a blinding snowstorm, a masterpiece of choreography and cinematography.

Nanook of the North

Enormously popular when it was first released in 1922, Robert Flaherty’s landmark documentary about an Inuit hunter and his family has been restored and released with a new score by Criterion. The film, which was financed by a French fur company and shot near Hudson Bay,  isn’t a pure work by any means–(Nanook’s wives and children were played by people who weren’t his wives and kids; a scene in which Nanook fights to land a harpooned seal was completely staged)–but as Ephraim Katz observed in The Film Encyclopedia, “What made Nanook so remarkable was not its validity as an anthropological study of an exotic ethnic group but its success in capturing the essence of primitive man’s struggle for survival against the hostile forces of nature.”

Noi the Albino

If you felt stir-crazy after being cooped up for a day or two in Atlanta, (where a recent glimpse outside revealed greenery frosted with snow) try trading places with Noi, a poster boy for teenage alienation hailing from the bleak, colorless end of nowhere otherwise known as  Iceland. This very deadpan comedy about a Nordic rebel  is for those who prefer absurdist situations to jokes, and who like their humor espresso dark.

Dr. Zhivago

Who knows how many animals sacrificed their skins so that women around the world could wear fur hats like Lara’s in Dr. Zhivago? Or how many human nerves were frayed by the tinkling of music boxes playing her theme? Dr. Zhivago was roundly booed by critics upon its release in 1965, but the public ate it up.

When it was  restored and revived for its 30th anniversary, Roger Ebert declared that it was “an example of superb old-style craftsmanship at the service of a soppy romantic vision, and although its portentous historical drama evaporates once you return to the fresh air, watching it can be seductive. ” Ebert observed that “the story, especially as it has been simplified by [director David] Lean and his screenwriter, Robert Bolt, seems political in the same sense Gone With the Wind is political, as spectacle and backdrop, without ideology.”

And like Gone With the Wind, it’s the epic sweep, and all that snow, that impresses. Lean built an ice palace out of wax, and resorted to simulating snow with marble dust and plastic during filming in Spain at the height of the summer.

Still yearning for a polar blast? Consider Fargo, March of the Penguins, Encounters at the End of the World, or the Turkish film Climates. And here’s a great YouTube video:

Have any favorite snowy movies? Post them in the comments!

Linda Dubler

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