The Ice Storm: About The Story

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Rick Moody's scathingly witty novel of the Seventies, The IceStorm, was published in April of 1994. Reminders were not longin coming that the era it portrayed was now part of history: themonth of May began with the death of Richard Nixon, who isvirtually a character in the book, and ended with the death ofJacqueline Kennedy, the widow of another president whosename is never mentioned, although the events the book recountstake place on November 23, 1973 -- the day after the tenthanniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination.

Moody's first book, Garden State: A Novel, about dazed andconfused New Jersey teens, had won the prestigious PuschcartPress Editors' Book Award. The Ice Storm, which was set in theauthor's home town at the time he was growing up, portrayedparents and children alike floundering in the backwash of theSexual Revolution. It also received an enthusiastic criticalreception.

The Ice Storm was brought to the attention of producer JamesSchamus by his wife, literary scout Nancy Krikorian, who knewRick Moody from Columbia University's MFA program. "It's anastonishingly cinematic book," says Schamus. "But, because ofits truly literary qualities, people may have missed itsextraordinary cinematic possibilities."

Schamus showed the book to Ang Lee with whom he and partnerTed Hope had already made four films. Despite the obviousappeal of Moody's comedy of familial errors for the creator of"The Wedding Banquet," Lee says what attracted him to the bookwas its climax: the scene where Ben Hood makes a shockingdiscovery in the ice, followed by the emotional reunion of theHood family on the morning after the storm. "The book movedme at those two points," says Lee. "I knew there was a moviethere."

Lee signed on to make the film and it fell to Schamus, while heand Lee were in England making "Sense and Sensibility," to turnMoody's very literary novel into a screenplay that would serve thedirector's purposes. (Lee and Schamus had previously workedtogether on the writing of Lee's first three films, "Pushing Hands,""The Wedding Banquet" and "Eat Drink Man Woman.")

"The Ice Storm," which is set in the High Seventies, is a periodpiece like Ang Lee's previous film: an adaptation of JaneAusten's Sense and Sensibility that was nominated for sevenAcademy Awards and won for Emma Thompson's screenplay. "Ifelt this was just the opposite of 'Sense and Sensibility,'" Leesays. "In 'Sense and Sensibility' the social code wants you to berational and good, and the characters want to be bad; in 'TheIce Storm' the social code wants you to be bad, and actuallythey're not so bad after all -- they still want to be good."

In other ways, "The Ice Storm" is a new departure for thefilmmaker. In Lee's first three films the characters are breakingwith old ways, but the values of tradition are movingly embodiedby the wise, dignified father played in each film by Sihung Lung.(Lee jokingly refers to those films as his "Father Knows Best"trilogy.) "Wise" and "dignified," however, are hardly the words todescribe "The Ice Storm's" befuddled anti-hero Ben Hood, or anyof the other parents in the film who are too preoccupied withtheir own need for "self-realization" to set an example for theirchildren.

"The structure of society is breaking down more in this film thanin my early films," Lee says. "The situation is more chaotic. Thewhole nation is in an adolescent period, experimenting with newthings, new rules -- even the adults are behaving likeadolescents."

"At the same time, the period portrayed is innocent and goodbecause people are rebelling against old rules and the old order.The concept of the New Age looks a little funny today, but thecharacters in the film are reaching out for something. We'rejaded now, while the people of that era were very fresh and boldabout reaching for their limits."

"What they encounter in the process is human nature, and theice storm, which gives you a little more respect for Nature. It turnsout that we're not that free after all."

James Schamus says that writing the screenplay for "The IceStorm" was an exercise in double vision. "On the one hand," hesays, "I saw it very much from the kids' point of view. I myself grewup in the '70s. All the growing pains the kids are going through in'The Ice Storm' are still with us in the young adults of thegeneration that grew up in the Seventies. On the other hand, I'ma parent, so I was really looking at it from the point of view oftheir parents, who are experiencing, through the force andpressure of what's happening in society, many of the same thingsas the kids."

"The movie makes parallels between the parents' and the kids'behavioral patterns," says Ang Lee. "Like father, like son; likemother, like daughter." Those parallels, which underlie andshape the seemingly chaotic events in Moody's novel arepreserved -- accentuated, in fact -- by Schamus' screenplay. "Tosee your father cry is one of the most frightening, but ultimatelymoving things you can experience," says Lee. At the symboliccenter of the rapidly warping social landscape, in the film as inthe novel, are Richard Nixon's televised addresses to the nationand the Watergate Hearings, which offer ongoing proof that thenation's ultimate father figure has been lying.

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