Much of the country has seen dramatic amounts of snow this winter with even the massive waterways like the Great Lakes and Niagara Falls both freezing over. Many areas have set new record temperature lows or at least have come close. Despite Spring approaching soon, there still seems to be no end in sight. This got me thinking about movies and snow.
I have always had a fondness for movies with snow. My favorite time of the year to watch films with the fluffy stuff, other than Christmas, is in the summer. Living in Florida, by the time July and August come around, the extreme heat and sticky, thick humidity have settled in, and it is not going anywhere, at least, not until late October, if we are lucky.
As regular visitors here are most likely aware, I grew up and lived in New York for many years, so I know snow. I know the good, the gentle beauty of fresh snow falling, I know the bad, trying to get home from work, cleaning the sidewalks and ice, and I know the ugly, like the brownish, dirty, melting slush. There is nothing as ugly as waiting on a street corner for a street light to change; a lake of filthy slush in front of you and a truck or bus drives by splashing the mess all over you. It just makes your day!
Snow has been in movies since the silent days, most famously in Chaplin’s 1925 silent classic “The Gold Rush,” where Charlie’s tramp travels to the Yukon in hopes of striking it rich during the Yukon Gold Rush. The snow scenes are realistic works of nature’s beauty, thanks to Chaplin doing two weeks of location work in the Sierra Nevada where he recreated the historic journey when hundreds and hundreds of prospectors struggled across the mountainous Chikoot Pass in search of promised riches.
But snow in films goes back further than Chaplin’s classic. In 1908, a Russian documentary called, “Moscow Clad in Snow” was made. It is interesting, not only for the snow, but it gives us, the viewers, a look at the Russia we have read about in their greatest works of literature or seen in films like “Dr. Zhivago.” The short documentary is available on line here.
Over the years, snow has covered a wide variety of film genres. Westerns like William Wellman’s “Track of the Cat,” Anthony Mann’s “The Far Country,” Robert Altman’s “McCabe and Mrs. Miller,” where snow actually fell for nine days during the shoot enhancing Warren Beatty’s death scene, and most recently in “The Assassination of Jesse James by The Dirty Coward Robert Ford,” have all made for stunning and fascinating visual scenes. Horror films have used snow to increase the isolation of its characters in works like Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” where we leave Jack Torrance frozen to death. Other snow filled horror/suspense flicks include Arthur Penn’s “Dead of Winter,” Rob Reiner’s “Misery,” based on another Stephen King’s novel, “The Abominable Snowman” and both versions of “The Thing.” In comedy, Bill Murray gets to live it over and over again in Harold Ramis’ “Groundhog Day,” and in war films like “Battleground,” “The Heroes of Telemark” and “Fixed Bayonets,” the snow makes the horrors of war even more challenging.
Of course, you cannot discuss films with snow without mentioning Christmas. Here in Florida, it is generally more of a sweaty Christmas than a White Christmas. Christmas cards, decorations and movies all tell you that Christmas equates with cold weather and snow! Santa, at the mall, wearing shorts and dripping with sweat from the beard his is wearing is not conducive to the jingle bell spirit. Yet, for many people who have lived in warm climates their entire lives, a summer like Christmas is all they have known. So watching holiday flicks with snow is one of the ways to get into the spirit of the season when you live in the Sunshine State. Some of my own holiday favorites include the Alastair Sim version of “A Christmas Carol,” the excellent Canadian film, “Mon Onclo Antoine,” John Huston’s final directorial effect, “The Dead” and of course, Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Sitting in a comfortable chair with some munchies, a cat or two nearby, and a classic Christmas film on the DVR, all that is left to complete the picture is a fireplace and a crackling fire to make the holiday right. Of course, in Florida, a crackling fireplace would only cause me to turn on the air-conditioning!
There are plenty of other snow filled cinematic works. I have listed a few other favorites here but feel free to add your own.
Snow Falling on Cedars
A Simple Plan
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisonvich
On Dangerous Ground
March of the Penguins
Die Hard 2
The Bishop’s Wife
Away From Her