He may have made a few mis-steps, but there is no denying that Ang Lee has one of the most diverse portfolios of a still-working director. On the 1001 list, his four entries are The Wedding Banquet, Brokeback Mountain, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and today’s film post. This doesn’t include him delving into the world of Austen, westerns or a solo voyage on a boat with a tiger.
With The Ice Storm, Ang Lee manages to scratch so many of my cinematic itches in a type of film that I have not seen from him before – and plays into a lot of the same areas that made me adore Lone Star. This is an ensemble piece which is part family drama, part melodrama and part slow motion car crash. The cast here is incredible with Sigourney Weaver, Kevin Kline, Christina Ricci, Tobey Maguire, Elijah Wood and the heartbreakingly brilliant Joan Allen.
Watching this in the first week of December turned out to be perfect seeing how this set in the days surrounding Thanksgiving, the titular ice storm occurring towards the end of the film. Ang Lee being the director he is, coupled with Mychael Danna’s haunting score (which is one of the first times I have heard gamelans in an American film) uses the instance of an ice storm to give some truly beautiful and haunting shots of the trees as crystalize and lean over in the ice. Really helps to bring to the fore how stunning and yet dangerous phenomena like this can be.
The actual ice storm aside, this is a family drama in middle class America at the time Watergate was happening. Social change was still in the air as the parents start to flex their own limits – with key parties, shoplifting and substance abuse – just as their teenage children are doing the same (minus the key parties). Makes for an interesting contrast seeing similar behaviour in both generations in different ways and being done in a way that will elicit very different reactions.
I also like how The Ice Storm feels like an earlyish film that, whilst acknowledging that the early 1970s were the height of kitsch, choses to completely cut the heart of what have been a very confusing time to be alive in America. Who do you trust when your president is under investigation? What is your place when the cogs of social movement are still going? Who in their right mind brings their own (albeit attractive) son to a key party? Okay that last one may just be a film specific question, but an important one nonetheless.