Chilly Scenes of Winter
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The trailblazing Joan Micklin Silver—one of only five women to direct a film for a Hollywood studio in the 1970s—digs fearlessly into the psychology of a thorny relationship in this anti–romantic comedy, based on Ann Beattie’s best-selling novel, about lovelorn civil servant Charles (John Heard) and his married-but-separated coworker Laura (Mary Beth Hurt). Months after their affair has ended, Charles is haunted by memories as he desperately attempts to rekindle a love that perhaps never was. Switching deftly between past and present, Micklin Silver guides this piercing deconstruction of male wish-fulfillment fantasy beyond standard movie-romance tropes into something more complicated and cuttingly truthful.
Joan Micklin Silver’s Chilly Scenes of Winter receives a new Blu-ray edition from The Criterion Collection. It is presented on a dual-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with a 1080p/24hz high-definition encode.
Despite the film falling into relative obscurity (outside of a rare DVD that pairs it with Cutter’s Way, it has only received one significant home video release before this, a Blu-ray from Twilight Time), it was still seen fit to give the film a new 4K restoration (from a scan of the 35mm original camera negative) and the final results are striking and surprising. Admittedly, the film’s visuals aren’t particularly lavish, replicating other American films of the period, but all the subtleties within the presentation stand out. Firstly, I was most impressed at how well this new scan handles blacks and shadows. The film has many sequences that take place at night or in dimly lit settings, but the blacks never come off muddy or crush out detail, and the range present within the shadows is vast enough that the little details still pop. The color scheme is not exceptionally diverse, loaded with lots of browns and grays (the main character works a government job, so it seems to suit), but they’re saturated well, and the pops of blue and red can be striking. Whites are also clean, aiding in all of those snowy exterior shots.
The restoration has cleaned things up spectacularly, and the encode looks sharp. The film has a reasonably grainy look, and it is rendered well. The image retains a sharp look most of the time, though there are a handful of moments where things appear to have been managed a little bit, with grain looking a little smudgier (the second-to-last screenshot demonstrates this). Outside of those few moments, the presentation does a superb job with fine details and textures, and John Heard’s herringbone pattern overcoat looks very sharp. Altogether it comes out looking incredible.
Criterion presents the film’s monaural soundtrack in lossless PCM. Dialogue and music sound very sharp and clean with solid range and fidelity. The soundtrack has been cleaned up thoroughly, and I don’t recall anything noteworthy.
Twilight Time’s edition featured a commentary with Joan Micklin Silver and producer Amy Robinson that sadly hasn’t been carried over to this edition. Still, Criterion has assembled a fine collection of material. First are some archival features around Micklin Silver, including a 14 minutes excerpt from a 2005 interview with her by Michael Pressman for the Director’s Guild of America and then Katja Raganelli’s 45-minute profile on the director, Joan Micklin Silver: Encounters with the New York Director. Both go over her background and upbringing before touching on her first film Hester Street, with Carol Kane even appearing in the documentary to talk about the experience. Her 2005 interview excerpts then focus specifically on Chilly Scenes, the director even talking about the issues that came up with the studio, which included a hesitance on their end around the title, which they felt was too Bergman-esque (it ended up being initially released as Head Over Heels). The Raganelli also touches on the film and even brings in interviews with the film’s producers, Amy Robinson, Mark Metcalf, and Griffin Dunne, who talk about how the project came together and the experience of working with the filmmaker. Together both offer a decent enough portrait of the filmmaker and details about the film’s production.
To delve even further into the film’s history and production, Criterion has put together a new 28-minute program entitled Producing “Chilly Scenes of Winter,” featuring Metcalf on his own and both Dunne and Robinson together. The three get into detail about the production and working with the director, sharing a few interesting casting stories (they had gone after Jeff Goldblum and Bill Murray to play the role that would go to Peter Riegert) before discussing how the studio would come to dump the film despite them being very hands-off during filming (they were distracted by Heaven’s Gate). They also mention the advertising for the film, which pushed it more as a goofy romantic comedy. Though it features the Chilly Scenes title and was used for a re-release, the disc's included trailer highlights how off the tone was.
Their discussion is far more detailed about the production than what’s covered in the other features. Yet its best section is the first bit, where the three discuss New York in the 70s and how it was a perfect environment for young actors, many of whom would go on to very successful careers thanks to the community that formed (amusingly it’s here where we learn Metcalf only came to meet Dunne because he was interested in dating Dunne’s roommate, Carrie Fisher, which, as one would figure, didn’t pan out).
The three also talk about the re-release with the intended title (Chilly Scenes of Winter), which United Artists wanted but only on the condition that the ending is cut off. Criterion includes the original ending here. Apparently, this reflects the book's conclusion (which I won’t spoil), but, as it’s covered elsewhere, it doesn’t work in the context of the film and feels off after everything that precedes it, despite the inherent uncertainty. The included essay (written by Shonni Enelow) suggests Micklin Silver wasn’t happy with the original ending, though this isn’t clear in her interviews whether this is indeed how she felt. Maybe she mentions this in that missing Twilight Time commentary.
At any rate, despite the lack of that fairly significant feature, the features here cover the film reasonably well and are great to go through.
Impressive release for a film that seemed doomed to obscurity. Criterion packs in some great features alongside a sharp-looking new presentation.