Snow: it means a lot of things to a lot of people. From the gothic of Edgar Allan Poe’s glacial whiteness, a terrifying signifier for the absence of meaning, all the way to the snow-filled carols from childhoods both contemporary and historical. While we wait around wondering whether the oft-promised snow will arrive and liven up this rather mild Irish winter, some of our HeadStuff writers shared their thoughts on their favourite frozen features.
Downhill Racer (1969)
The ski movie sports genre hasn’t ever really made the jump (heh) across the Atlantic: the parodies we see in It’s Always Sunny and South Park are probably our main exposure to the genre. So if you’re going to dive (or ski jump) in, there’s no better place to start with the progeniture, which is often heralded as the best as well. The directorial debut of Michael Ritchie, Downhill Racer stars Robert Redford as David Chappellet, a member of the US ski team who is in many ways as uncaring and inscrutable as the snowy Austrian slopes around him.
It’s rarely ever clear if he has any interests or attachments beyond his drive to become an Olympic champion, with his self-centred nature creating a rift between him and his father, girlfriends, and even his teammates. It also stars Gene Hackman as his regularly-frustrated coach. It’s worth watching even just for its final scene, which leaves the viewer (and Chappellet) in utter uncertainty: what does winning at all costs mean when it leaves one utterly empty inside? Sarah Cullen
The Shining (1980)
Is there a more hopeless shot in cinema than the snowdrifts piling up against the sides of the Overlook Hotel? Of course there is – a dozen more could probably be found in Stanley Kubrick’s other films – but in that moment it seems as if all hope is gone. When Wendy Torrance (Shelley Duvall) is heaving her son Danny (Danny Lloyd) out of a bathroom window so he can scamper down one of those mountainous drifts as his father Jack (Jack Nicholson) batters down the door with an axe those snowdrifts seem insurmountable. The greatest threat in Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of Stephen King’s 1977 snowy chiller isn’t Jack’s encroaching madness or the ghosts encouraging him to “correct” his wife and son but the driving snow trapping them all together high at the top of the world.
When it comes to haunted house (or hotel) films the question of “Why don’t they just leave?” is often raised. Not with The Shining, though. By the time Wendy and Danny recognise that something is deeply wrong with Jack, the time to leave has passed and the Overlook is wrapped in a cocoon of freezing white powder. It’s a classic “Who will survive and what will be left of them?” scenario filtered through that unique Kubrickian. The choice between elevators filled with blood, an axe-wielding spouse and an assortment of horrifying phantoms or freezing to death in a white out is next to impossible and that’s what makes The Shining so chilling over four decades later. Andrew Carroll
The Simpsons Movie (2007)
Following their banishment from Springfield, Homer drags Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie to snowy Alaska in search of a new life . Their initial experience is dreamlike. Enjoying their Christmas card surroundings, they bond as a family, forget their troubles and display nauseating joy. The scene is so perfect in fact, that the local wildlife goes to the trouble of serenading Homer and Marge. Indeed, the feelings of warmth this portion of the film evokes are comparable to how we feel waking up on Christmas morning.
However, what happens next is perhaps a more accurate depiction of the human experience with snow, the Christmas season that intuitively comes with it, and Christmas day past 11am. Homer falls out with his wife, goes on a drinking binge, and by the end of their time in Alaska, the Simpson family are no longer on speaking terms. (Think Christmas day with distant cousins post a game of Monopoly). Further, in the same way that the day’s leading up to New Years necessarily involve painful introspection prompted by the weeks of “a few festive ones” prior and the no-man’s-land of December 26th to January 1st, post Alaska, Homer gets lost and pursues an epiphany about his personal flaws.
All in all, this film is the most accurate depiction of snow and Christmas there is. Jonathon Boylan
White Rock (1977)
If snow is what you’re after, White Rock has got you covered. On paper, the film, directed by British documentary film-maker and producer Tony Maylam, is a sports documentary about the 1976 Winter Olympics held in Innsbruck, Austria. It’s presented and narrated by Hollywood legend James Coburn, who pops up now and then in a variety of curious get-ups – from clunky hockey pads to revealing spandex onesies – mansplaining to us how bobsledding works with his trademark smouldering intensity. You’ll honestly have a newfound respect for snow after viewing this film. For one, it manages to bear Coburn’s red-hot charisma without turning to slush. Incredible!
But wait there’s more! There’s Rick Wakeman’s blaring synthesizer soundtrack, which, when paired with Arthur Wooster’s absolutely gorgeous slo-mo cinematography, will put you in a deep trance lasting a blissful 76 mins. White Rock is fascinating in every way. I’m sure the intention was to pay tribute to athletes while educating the public on lesser-known events, but thankfully it’s much more entertaining than that, like a gloriously camp(ier) version of Riefenstahl’s Olympia. Brian Bowe