How Not to Make a Movie

Here is a film that left me speechless, just about.

The Ice House, written by John Bowen who is supposed to be famous, although based on this effort, I can’t imagine why, was part of the BBC’s Ghost Story for Christmas series, vintage 1978. Most of the short films in this series are superb, or at least really good. The Ice House is not one of them. It’s only 34 minutes long, but that’s at least 33 minutes too long.

What’s it about? Blamed if I know. That clip up there may be the best scene in the film.

There’s this guy who goes to stay at an exclusive health spa where everybody talks funny, and it has an ice house which maybe has a dead body in it, maybe not, and there’s this creepy plant, and none of it makes any more sense than Joe Biden trying to summarize King Lear.

Nevertheless, it does serve to illustrate a few lessons about movie-making, or about any other kind of story-telling, for that matter.

1. When you put something into a story, put it in for a reason. In The Ice House there’s an old lady in a turban who whimpers and mutters unintelligibly. The rest of the time she’s all right. No one can figure out what is her role in the story.

2. If it is a story about human beings, the major characters in it ought to be recognizably human. The characters in The Ice House talk like robots programmed by Vulcans. They also display unreadable facial expressions–especially the female lead, who always looks like she’s suddenly going to dash up a tree with an acorn in her teeth. Real people do not talk or act or look like the people in this movie.

3. When you’re  telling a story, it’s always best to have a plot. A story isn’t much of a story without a plot. At the end of the story, the audience ought to be able to answer the question, “What happened?”  The Ice House is one of those movies that only seems to end because they ran out of film and didn’t know where to get any more, or they just lost interest, wandered off, and were never seen again.

4. If you’re going to show your audience something which, you hint, has A Deep Hidden Meaning (this happens about once every five minutes in The Ice House), you had better get around, sometime, to revealing what that Deep Hidden Meaning is, or you will come off as a mere prattling fool.

I hope I have given you ample warning never to watch The Ice House by John Bowen. It is my good deed for the day. It is a humanitarian act. (There is, by the way, a murder mystery entitled The Ice House, starring Kitty Aldridge: but it’s much longer and nowhere near as awful.)

You owe me, pilgrim.