Posted by Susan Doll on February 7, 2011
Snowpocalypse, snowtastrophe, snowmageddon, blizzaster. The news media grew increasingly creative in referring to last week’s major snowstorm as their coverage moved from pre-storm to mid-storm to post-storm. Yet, they had nothing on social media: Twitter enthusiasts coined “snOMG” and “snownami,” while many Facebook users changed their profile photos to the image of Jack Nicholson frozen in the snow from The Shining. The instantaneous response to the storm on Facebook, Twitter, and blogs reflected the shared experience of those of us caught in the Snowpocalypse, creating a community among the 30 states affected by the storm, including eight that endured blizzard conditions and massive accumulations. The official total was over 20 inches here in Chicago, making it the third largest snowfall on record for the Windy City.
Weather forecasters began their warnings the previous weekend so when the storm hit Chicago on the afternoon of February 1, residents had their plans in place for getting home and riding out the storm. Bloggers across the Midwest began cataloging survival supplies, which included lists of movies to enjoy during the snow days. Just how popular movie-watching became during the storm and its aftermath is evident by news accounts of people stockpiling movies and popcorn right alongside their groceries. Letters on the Redbox blogsite recount customers’ adventures of braving the blizzard to rent a movie only to find the machines frozen from the snow that was blowing sideways from the 40mph winds. Radical movie-goers negotiating record-breaking weather to find a flick—that’s the Chicago I know.
I saw so many roving reports on the news of people stockpiling both food and movies that I did my own informal survey of what people watched during their snow days, how they came to select those titles, and why they thought movie-watching was so appealing under these conditions. While several bloggers offered winter-related titles for snowbound viewing, including The Gold Rush, John Carpenter’s The Thing, Fargo, The Shining, and Frozen (about teens stranded overnight on chairlift at a ski resort), no people I polled watched movies with this theme. What their viewing choices and rationales for selection did suggest was that movies are more than just time-killing entertainment for many of us.
Several colleagues in Chicago used the extra time provided by the snow days to catch up on movies they needed to see for professional reasons. Fellow film instructor Larry Knapp, who has been investigating Bollywood and Hollywood films with Indian actors or by Indian directors, rightly noted, “Watching a film is work for us.” After putting his sons to bed, he caught Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay and actually enjoyed it—a fringe benefit of the job. Film instructor Michael Smith, who pens a Chicago-centric blog called White City Cinema, viewed Jean-Pierre Melville’s homage to the French Resistance, Army of Shadows, and Ozu’s 1932 family drama I Was Born But. . . . Michael gets the award for watching the least escapist fare of anyone I polled. Joel Wicklund, who is currently programming a series of indie shorts for a special show at the Wilmette Theater on February 11, manages a horror-film website called Shadows & Screams. This year marks the 100th birthday of Vincent Price, and Joel reviewed Cry of the Banshee for his website and also caught Price in a half-hour episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
For some, watching movies while trapped inside during a snowstorm expands on pre-existing feelings of comfort and pleasure already associated with film-going. In New York, Michael H. watched My Foolish Heart, the 1949 romantic drama starring Susan Hayward and Dana Andrews. He selected this classic from the Golden Age because, “Older films are nostalgic and let me reclaim and revalue an era I didn’t care for growing up. They also remind me of the good times I had watching old films as a little boy.” Ed H. echoed that sentiment in his preference for old-school epics, complete with overtures and intermissions, because they reminded him of watching this type of movie in the magnificent picture palaces in downtown Chicago as a kid.
Diversity rather than nostalgia defined the selection for Rovena R. who watched Richard Gere at his most handsome in An Officer and a Gentleman, the unusual documentary about an unwitting celebrity Winnebago Man, and the Australian drama Animal Kingdom starring Jacki Weaver in her Oscar-nominated role.
Brit, my movie-loving cousin attending graduate school in Ohio, opted to catch up on recent films. Perhaps a bit too happy to get a break from classes, she revealed, “The last thing I wanted to do were papers for school.” Her choices were a serious film with critical acclaim, The King’s Speech, and a commercially driven genre flick, Buried. The King’s Speech gave her the opportunity to see Colin Firth in what will probably be his Oscar-winning performance, while Buried proved interesting because it was one of those films set in one location. Actually, it’s an extremely limited setting—it’s shot almost entirely in a box. Brit jumped at the chance to fill her snow days with movies because, “It gives me a full day to pretend I’m somewhere else or someone else, even for a day. I watch romantic comedies because I want to be the one who Tom Hanks meets at the top of the empire state building; I watch thrillers because I want to catch a serial killer alongside Morgan Freeman; I watch horror movies because. . . well sometimes you just want to be scared. . . .Movies give you a chance to imagine what your life would be like if you were that character, and that’s why I’ve always loved watching them, especially on a day where it’s okay to do nothing but watch movies.” That’s my cousin Brit—she’s pretty smart.
Phil M. watched a documentary about an unusual family of mountain rebels from Appalachia called The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia, which is an update of an earlier film about the same brood called The Dancing Outlaw. Phil selected the film because, “I’ve got the mountains in my blood, too.” Phil noted that the appeal of watching movies in the snow “lies in the fact that you’re involved in a communal experience. There’s nothing else to do (well, almost…), so everyone’s watching movies. It’s like participating in a giant city-wide, homebound film festival where you’re the curator.” And, he added that it’s nice to drink some wine, turn up the heat, and get cozy.
If you are lucky, you can turn up the heat and share that wine with someone special. Cuddling up to watch movies while a storm rages outside is a romantic experience that not only bonds two people but also takes the edge off the cold and your mind off shoveling. I heard from several couples who endured the Snowpocalypse by watching movies together. Lisa W. and Brian W. settled down to watch The Madness of King George, though after shoveling 20 inches of snow, they were too tired to watch anything else. In a she picks-he picks compromise, Michelle Z. and her significant other opted for Kiltro and Conan the Barbarian. He chose the films because of the martial arts and fight scenes, and she agreed to them because of the “hot guys,” and both liked the “cheese factor” of each movie. Given the duration of the storm and its after-effects, some couples opted for television series on DVD. Brian E. and Cary J. chose David Lynch’s celebrated Twin Peaks series, though I do not know if they snacked on cherry pie while watching. Sharon G. and Andrew H. watched the entire BBC version of The Office. Sharon nicely articulated, “I think there’s something comforting about TV series in this weather because of the bond you form with the characters over time. I remember doing a similar thing last winter with old seasons of Lost.”
Families who spent Snowmageddon together watching movies chose a variety of popular hits, obscure curiosities, and familiar classics. Roger M. and his daughter Laine rented last year’s sci-fi hit District Nine, which was not to their tastes, and The Brave One, the Jodie Foster revenge drama that created controversy a couple of years ago. Revenge was also on Dominick’s mind who watched Kill Bill Vols. I and II back-to-back with his college roommates. Despite the violence and vengeance, Dominick M. had this to say about the experience, “More than anything, particularly in an apartment that’s taken on something of a family dynamic over time, [watching movies during the storm] allows everybody to take time—without having to get up or run errands—to simply enjoy themselves. It’s a saccharine sentiment, sure, but true anyway.” Andrea A., of Lancaster, Ohio, also echoed the value of watching movies with loved ones, whether it’s your surrogate family or your own flesh and blood, “I love to watch black and white movies when I am snowed in….the older the better. The appeal to me is the fact that when it is bad outside, I know my family will be inside with me. There is something old-fashioned about the family sitting around the television together. You don’t see that very often today with televisions in every room.”
My friend Debbe Goldstein, a screenwriter who lives in Phoenix, was not part of Snowpocalypse, but she made an interesting point when she called television the “modern hearth.” Gathering around it to view movies—the myths and fairy tales of our modern age—while feeling the isolation of being snowbound is akin to telling or reading stories under similar circumstances back in the day. It suggests the desire to feel the comfort, warmth, and safety of home and family, whether it’s through memory or experience.
Hope everyone survived the Snopocalypse no worse for the wear.
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