What’s the most filmic weather element? That’s easy: snow. Two things bring to mind the intersection of cinematography and meteorology. First, it is December, after all, and the most Decemberish weather element is . . . you guessed it. Second, Sunday night the Harvard Film Archive concludes its Jacques Demy retrospective with “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.” Speaking of conclusions, that one-of-a-kind musical ends on a snowy Christmas Eve.
There are so many movies with unforgettable snow scenes. Charlie Chaplin in much of “The Gold Rush.” That little boy on his sled who’ll grow up to be Orson Welles in “Citizen Kane.” James Stewart contemplating suicide in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Takashi Shimura, amid snowflakes, and far more triumphant than he was in “Seven Samurai,” on a playground swing at the end of “Ikiru.” Warren Beatty facing his mortality in a very different fashion from Shimura, during the final minutes of “McCabe & Mrs. Miller.” And so on.
This hasn’t been a bad year at all for cinematic snow. Think of the frigidly unforgiving environment outside the train in “Snowpiercer” – or the even more frigid and unforgiving one offered by the second planet landed on in “Interstellar” (Matthew McConaughey, pictured). Hiking her way through the Sierra Nevada, Reese Witherspoon confronts the white stuff in “Wild.” Bill Murray and Bob Balaban also confront it, duo rather than solo, during the Battle of the Bulge in “The Monuments Men.”
Then there are the non-snow snow moments, as one might call them. The signal to evacuate Saigon was “White Christmas” being played over Armed Forces Radio. That surreal fact figures in one of the best documentaries released in 2014, “Last Days in Vietnam.” (Come to think of it, it also figures in one of the best documentaries released in 2013, “The Unknown Known.” Weird, huh?) The most romantic scene in that thoroughly unromantic movie “Gone Girl” is a kiss that Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike share in a snowy dusting of powdered sugar outside a bakery.
Then there’s “White Bird in a Blizzard,” which on the basis of title alone earns a place on the Hollywood Winter-Precipitation Walk of Fame. Not that such a tourist attraction would make sense, of course. How could you read the names, since they’d all be covered in . . . oh, never mind.