Double feature: Summer is winding down…why not make sure to fully appreciate its tail-end by reminding yourself of the cold weather ahead?
“Jane Eyre” and “McCabe & Mrs. Miller” will serve you well in that capacity. Both films contrast darkness and light, warmth and cold so starkly that you’ll feel their snowfalls, cuts of wind, and clammy fogs. But it’s not just the weather in these films that will give you a vicarious chill. Both make use of narrative techniques that heighten their sense of suspense, sometimes to beyond what their plots call for.
“Jane Eyre” zigzags through flashbacks and flash-forwards to keep its story at maximum tension. Its heroine scares herself – and viewers – with the products of her own imagination, which, though powerful, is not without its blind spots.
While the sense of doom in “McCabe & Mrs. Miller” is palpable, its exact weight and portent is obscured by dialogue that overlaps or fades into murmurs. We can feel that something bad is coming, but we don’t know quite what, and so are left to imagine the worst.
The lighting crews of both films seem to have received the same one-word memo: “Chiaroscuro.” Their candle- and fire-lit scenes radiate visual beauty and mystery, and compel you to lean forward and strain for faces to emerge from the shadows, for unidentifiable objects to announce their true form.
Both movies can be described as painterly. With its cervine-necked, smooth-haired, indirectly-lit heroine, “Jane Eyre” could be a flipbook of Georges de la Tour pictures. And “McCabe & Mrs. Miller”‘s bawdy, fuzzily illuminated saloon antics recall any number of English and Dutch Old Master tavern scenes.
Watching these films together is also apt because the oddball “McCabe & Mrs. Miller” can lend “Jane Eyre” some of the sheer weirdness that it lost in translation from source novel to theatrical release. (Check out the latter film’s deleted scenes for bits of the bizarre that ended up on the cutting room floor.)
For a marathon: “The Shining” is another cold-weather film whose tactics make your own imagination do the heavy lifting in keeping you enthralled.
“In Bruges” (also cold) has a number of visual and narrative parallels with “McCabe & Mrs. Miller,” including a memorable church-tower scene.
(Creative Commons licensed original images courtesy of “crazystitch” at Flickr and Florica at WordPress)