Chilly Scenes of Winter Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: The Star of the Movie Is Director Joan Micklin Silver

Joan Micklin Silver’s Chilly Scenes of Winter is based on the best-selling book of the same name by Ann Beattie. It was first released as Head Over Heels: a romantic comedy with a happy ending forced by the studio in 1979. Then, it was re-released with the original title and ending intact (perhaps less happy this time, but definitely more enigmatic) in 1982. This month, it gets the Criterion Collection treatment.

In Chilly Scenes of Winter, we meet Charles (John Heard) nearly a year after he has been dumped by his co-worker, Laura (Mary Beth Hurt). At the time Charles and Laura dated, Laura was temporarily separated from her husband. They meet in the cavernous mailroom that somehow works quite well as a cute place to run into a potential partner. On the other hand, the movie was made in the late ’70s and there is a sense that Charles is too pushy, too clingy, almost creepy at times: there is a problematic scene in which Charles quite clearly says to Laura, “I am going to rape you.” Heard and Hurt are able to somehow get out of the scene without losing all credibility. For the most part, though, Charles and Laura are cute, charming, intelligent, and funny. Unfortunately, Charles cannot handle the pressure of a relationship that often feels to him one-sided. Will Laura return to her husband? Will she stay with Charles, instead? These are the questions that keep Charles up at night and moving toward possessiveness.

The supporting cast is excellent. Peter Riegert plays Sam, Charles’ best friend, and every scene he is in crackles with the electricity of a friend watching a friend self destruct. Sam will always be there to help, and, in fact, is willing to be a participant in some of Charles’ crazier schemes to win back Laura’s heart. Laura’s husband, Ox, is played by Mark Metcalf with an oafish, good-natured goofiness that is a far cry from his usual roles as a screaming loudmouth (he played Neidermeyer in National Lampoon’s Animal House). Metcalf was one of the three young producers of the film along with fellow actors Griffin Dunne and Amy Robinson.

The real star of the movie, though, is the director, Joan Micklin Silver. The Blu-ray extras do a great job of explaining how hard it was to be one of just a handful of female directors at the end of the 1970s. Somehow, Silver, and the three very young, very green producers created a truly quality film. The set-pieces are almost all hung on the great talent of John Heard, but it is the crisp, clean direction that obviously holds this gem together.

Blu-ray Special Edition Features

New restored 4K digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack.

New program featuring producers Griffin Dunne, Mark Metcalf, and Amy Robinson: A wonderful short discussion with the three producers who were lucky at every turn. They found a good book with inexpensive rights. The director searched them out because she loved the book and wanted to be a part of the project. A studio picked it up right away; and when the studio head left for United Artists, she took Chilly Scenes of Winter, director Joan Micklin Silver, and all three producers. Most appealing is how charming Dunne, Metcalf, and Robinson are all the time. It is obvious why people would bend over backward for the chance to work for them.

Documentary from 1983 by Katja Raganelli about director Joan Micklin Silver: A strong, in-depth look into Joan Micklin Silver’s first few movies and up through Chilly Scenes of Winter. The presentation is in German with quality subtitles and all portions of Silver’s interview are in English.

Excerpts from a 2005 Directors Guild of America interview with Micklin Silver.

Original ending of the film, cut by Micklin Silver for its re-release in 1982. As stated above, the studio heads got their way back in 1979, and Chilly Scenes of Winter was turned into a romantic-comedy called Head Over Heals with a five-minute tacked-on ending that just doesn’t come off as realistic. Luckily, better studio heads prevailed in 1982, when the producers asked for Chilly Scenes of Winter to be re-released with the proper title and ending. It is a much better film now.

Trailer. English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing.

An essay by scholar Shonni Enelow: Serves as a smart introduction to the film and the times in which it takes place.

Greg Hammond

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