Monday, October 14, 2013

Silent Snow, Secret Snow (1966)

... aka: Silent Snow, Secret Snow by Conrad Aiken

Directed by:
Gene R. Kearney

The short story "Silent Snow, Secret Snow" is perhaps the best-known work of American poet and writer Conrad Aiken. It was written in 1934 and is often included in classic fantasy and horror anthologies. Aiken was a celebrated writer during his day, winning a PSA Shelley Memorial Award in 1929, a Pulitzer Prize in 1930 and numerous other prestigious awards; eventually ending up as Poetry Consultant of the Library of Congress and earning the title of Poet Laureate. To get some insight into the author's work, which is heavily symbolic and psychological, one only has to only take a brief look at Aiken's biography. When he was just 11-years-old, his father - a wealthy, respected brain surgeon in Savannah, Georgia - suddenly and without warning or provocation, went crazy and murdered his wife before turning a gun on himself. Aiken had heard the gunshot and discovered both bodies. It was one of those inexplicable tragedies that sometimes occur in life and there were no clear cut answers to why it occurred. Afterward, Aiken went to live with an aunt in Massachusetts, but the incident clearly shaped him as both a human being and as a writer.

This long-forgotten attempt to visualize the story (directed, shot, edited and co-written by Kearney) is also full psychological vagaries and elements of the unexplained. It involves a young boy named Paul (Simon Gerard) who begins to change for the worse; suddenly losing complete track of time and becoming withdrawn from the world around him. He can no longer pay attention in school (except for in geography class when the North and South Poles are discussed) and is often caught daydreaming and staring out into space. He shrugs off playing with friends and becomes distant and eventually hostile toward his parents, especially after they have a doctor come to check in on him (all "hostile presences" to him). All Paul can seem to think about is snow; a secret world of snow, and that world (and the voice he hears within) preoccupies all of his thoughts. Paul awakens every morning listening to the mailman's footsteps outside and hopes to one day no longer hear those steps clicking across the sidewalk...

Just like with the story, one can make what they want of out of all this. I've seen interpretations as varied as the boy simply and consciously rejecting the cruel world around him ("Snow growing heavier each day, muffling the world, hiding the ugly...") or, because of the voice he hears, that he suffers from a mental disorder (namely schizophrenia). Others have tried to find the meaning behind all of the snow, or just the color white (Paul becomes just as entranced by a crystal chandelier and a glass of milk), that seems to give Paul solace and peace. Either way, the boy clearly is internally retreating from the world at large for one reason or another.

This 17-minute short was filmed in black-and-white on a very low budget, but it's a noble, effective attempt at the story. There's an eerie score from George Kleinsinger, with lots of out-of-tune string plucking, and though the acting is pretty amateurish, Michael Keene does an excellent job narrating (basically a read-through of the story). Director Kearney cut his teeth producing the nudie movie The Monster of Camp Sunshine (1964) and went on to pen scripts for Games (1967), the giant bunny camp-fest Night of the Lepus (1972) and the TV movies The Invasion of Carol Enders (1973) and Crime Club (1975). He received an Emmy nomination as writer of the series Kojak (1974-78) and also adapted Silent Snow again in 1971 for the TV series Night Gallery. That version was narrated by Orson Welles.


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