Loving Winter Madness
“What this sad, sweet and delicately humorous film emphasizes is that falling in love can be an act of unflinching madness, with the potential to drive those involved far, far over the edge.” Writing for New West earlier in his career before becoming the venerable film critic of the Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan was analyzing Chilly Scenes of Winter (1982), adaptor/director Joan Micklin Silver’s droll and tender adaptation of New Yorker writer Ann Beattie’s novel of frustrated romance that claims a prominent place among small, overlooked cinematic gems that claim a fervid following, in this case more than three decades after its abortive initial 1979 release under the title Head over Heels and its rechristening with its source book’s original title and altered ending three years later. It’s about how everyday people deal with outsized emotions, set in recognizable, relentlessly ordinary environs and populated by characters who walk the fine line of being charming and grating. One year after he and his girlfriend Laura (Mary Beth Hurt, doing double Twilight Time duty this month alongside her movie-debuting role in Woody Allen’s 1978 Interiors) ended their romantic relationship, unhappy mid-level Salt Lake City civil servant Charles (John Heard) still isn’t over it. She has moved on and married another guy, goofily named Ox (Mark Metcalf, a co-producer on the film), but their union has cooled – and Charles sees a second chance to rekindle the flame with Laura. “It is in many ways the truest, most achingly accurate portrait of a modern relationship we’ve had on screen,” Turan wrote. “It captures so much – how perfect things are when they’re right, how everything reminds you of the loss when they’re not, how incapable we feel of extricating ourselves from the maelstrom – that it will make you laugh to keep from crying.” Silver smartly supports her lead players: Peter Riegert (the future star of Local Hero and Silver’s 1988 charmer Crossing Delancey) as Charles’ best bud, co-producer Griffin Dunne as a doctor friend, burly Kenneth McMillan (TT’s Runaway Train) as his bemused stepfather, Nora Heflin as Charles’ co-worker Betty, co-producer Griffin Dunne as the fitness-minded boyfriend of Charles’s sister, and in her final film role, Academy Award® winner Gloria Grahame (far removed from her tough moll in TT’s The Big Heat) as Charles’s eccentric, suicidally inclined mother. It’s a film that Silver gets asked about a lot, such as in this November 2014 BlackBook.com conversation with Hillary Weston here: http://bbook.com/film/joan-micklin-silver-chilly-scenes-of-winter/. And the filmmaker (whose other credits include Hester Street, Between the Lines, Loverboy and the noteworthy telefilms Bernice Bobs Her Hair, Finnegan Begin Again and A Private Matter) does so again for the upcoming TT hi-def Blu-ray in a new Audio Commentary chat with producer Amy Robinson. Silver is also the subject of a critical study of her moviemaking career (due for publication next year) by film historian Daniel Kremer, whose insights on the film will be excerpted in a three-part series starting tomorrow. Chilly Scenes of Winter, also featuring an Isolated Track of Ken Lauber’s score that includes some unused music positioned as originally intended, debuts February 14. Preorders open February 1.