Talk Sixties, Act Fifties: The Ice Storm

“All that Swinging Sixties. It didn’t do anyone any good, did it? Easy sex and the Pill. Marriages were ruined. I never did approve. I never really enjoyed the sex.”

-- Christine Keeler


I suspect I’d have been more impressed by The Ice Storm had I seen it in a theater the year it came out (1997) instead of on DVD this week.

The film, set in 1973 suburban Connecticut on Thanksgiving weekend, is undeniably stylish and even coldly haunting in parts, like the best work of Alex Colville.

However, Ang Lee’s “Asian” appreciation of social pecking orders (he is a great admirer of Ozu), which were on display in his previous film, Sense and Sensibility (1995) was underused in The Ice Storm, because everyone belongs to the same affluent class.

As well, too many bits of business that might have seemed fresh in 1997 – like the stoned girl’s head flopping onto one boy’s crotch; another boy’s death echoed in a Fantastic Four panel –  now seem corny.

The Ice Storm is best remembered fifteen years later for its “key party” sequence.

(See this “controversial” 2003 parody ad for the Toyota Corolla):

These “key party” scenes in The Ice Storm aren’t particularly thrilling, or even salacious. We remember them because we wonder: did suburban 1970s squares really try to get in on the younger generation’s “free love” hijinks a few years after the fact?

A survivor of London’s “Swinging Sixties” told me he’d participated in one of these “spin the bottle for grown ups” get-togethers, but he’s my only primary source. It’s possible these suburban wife swapping “affairs” are an urban legend, like “rainbow parties” or “bra burning,” which only became “real” after someone invented them and spawned a moral panic.

I’m not spoiling much when I tell you that nobody at the “key party” in The Ice Storm has a great “swinging” experience. Almost everyone involved is bitter or reluctant beforehand, or miserable later.

You might think this is because the movie was made in 1997, twenty five years after the fact, and reflects society’s reluctant acknowledgement that the freewheeling 1960s and 1970s were a long, loud, colorful multi-generational social disaster of the first order. (Albeit with a decent soundtrack.)