Snowbound cinema

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A satellite view of snow across Great Britain on January 7, 2010.

Walking the snow-laden streets this week felt like a considerable novelty when we rarely have snowfalls of any depth here and what there is never lasts much longer than a day. The current low temperatures which began just before Christmas may be inducing a national trauma but the genuinely wintery weather makes a change from the dreary weeks of rain and cold which usually prevail until April.

Whilst trudging through the crusted ice I found myself remembering favourite films which make the most of winter landscapes. Here’s a short list to follow the earlier winter-themed posts.

McCabe & Mrs Miller (1971)
Several Westerns before this one had featured winter scenes but I think Robert Altman’s was the first to be set at the height of winter in a snowbound town. Memorable for Vilmos Zsigmond’s photography, Leonard Cohen’s lugubrious songs, Warren Beatty’s doomed businessman stomping around wrapped in furs muttering “Pain, pain, pain!”, and the finale when he’s hunted down by a trio of assassins.

The Shining (1980)
Has anyone not seen this film? Despite the artificial snow, Kubrick’s direction and John Alcott’s photography communicate authentic chills, both meteorological and metaphysical.

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Yes, it’s a genuine Christmas postcard from Oregon’s Timberline Lodge which became the model for Kubrick’s Overlook Hotel. Writer Tom Veitch sent me this some years ago.

The Thing (1982)
John Carpenter’s grisly Antarctic horror is the film I still find to be his best. Like his earlier Assault on Precinct 13, this is another siege situation borrowed from Howard Hawks only this time the enemy is within. Until someone films At the Mountains of Madness, this is the closest you’ll get to Lovecraft’s polar nightmares.

Runaway Train (1985)
Few people know this: escaped convicts Jon Voight and Eric Roberts find themselves on the titular train with rail worker Rebecca De Mornay, and it’s a long ride through frozen landscapes as they try to escape the law and the train itself before it crashes. Andrei Konchalovsky directs a story by Akira Kurosawa rewritten by Edward Bunker (who has a cameo) and others. The result is a strange blend of hardboiled drama and existential symbolism with a great score by Trevor Jones.

Fargo (1996)
One of the Coen Brothers’ best. Watching this again over Christmas along with many of their other films, it was amusing to see Steve Buscemi transform from Fargo‘s vicious and splenetic kidnapper to the mild-mannered character he plays in The Big Lebowski. Despite the statement at the beginning of the film, Fargo isn’t a true story but its existence became tangled with some curious real-life events.?

Update: I was reminded on Twitter about Altman’s bizarre future Ice Age drama, Quintet, which I should have mentioned above. Not as successful as the earlier film but its setting certainly suits the weather.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Bruegel in winter
Winter panoramas
Winter music
Winter light
Kubrick shirts
At the Mountains of Madness
Images by Robert Altman

Cormac and the Coens

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CM, JC & EC photographed by Eric Ogden.

First an Oprah interview, now a feature in TIME; the famously reclusive Cormac McCarthy is almost becoming gregarious. The TIME piece is only a short sit-down between CM and the Coen Brothers which serves to promote the forthcoming film of No Country for Old Men but it’s still something this Cormac fan is happy to see. A shame it isn’t longer, I’d love to hear a tape of the full meeting. Thanks to Steve MacEacheran for the tip!

Previously on { feuilleton }
Still No Country for Old Men
Cormac and Oprah
No Country for Old Men

No Country for Old Men

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no_country2.jpgOne of the posters for the new Coen Brothers’ film has finally surfaced and the design is pretty similar to the original book jacket by Chip Kidd (later spoiled with poor type layout in the UK edition). The book cover looks better but we’ll probably see some variations on the poster design anyway. I’m reading the novel at the moment and loving it, so the prospect of a Coens adaptation is rather mouthwatering. This should see them back on form again after the calamity of The Ladykillers and they do the hardboiled thing really well. Cormac McCarthy’s dialogue is spare and witty; Ethan Coen’s characters are either excessively verbose or they hardly speak at all so it’s easy to see the appeal, especially when the plot isn’t so far removed from Blood Simple or Fargo. I’ll be waiting impatiently now for the trailer.

Previously on { feuilleton }
In praise of Cormac
The poster art of Bob Peak
A premonition of Premonition
Cormac McCarthy book covers
Perfume: the art of scent
Metropolis posters
Film noir posters