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Wound tight and cocky, Jimmy Starks (Guy Pearce) is a smooth-talking salesman certain he's on the verge of a big break. Even when his car stalls in the middle of nowhere, a roadside soothsayer (J.K. Simmons) assures him a windfall is on its way. But although Jimmy is skeptical and sure he's calling his own shots, the would-be prophet's prediction comes true, and Jimmy becomes fearful that the mysterious seer could be right about something else…to beware the first snow. Co-starring Piper Perabo and William Fichtner. Directorial debut for screenwriter Mark Fergus (Children of Men).
 

 First Snow


My Auntie Theo, who lived in the hills above Dublin Bay, started my obsession with snow when she gave me James Joyce's short stories on my first trip to Ireland. We are all Irish in our clan, we are so very Irish. And it's that last paragraph of The Dead-—my vote for the great short story-—that put a splinter in me forever. The snowflakes begin falling, wet and heavy, down on everything living and dead-—and every human concern, every fear, every hope, dissolves away into haunting silence. The guy could write.

Theo and my Uncle Harry took me to the very house where the story was set, on that Feast of the Epiphany, January 6, 1904-—exactly 100 years to the day later. John Huston directed his final film here, his stunning adaptation of the Joyce story. Or maybe he just did the exteriors here-—the great man was pretty sick at the time. I shot about 50 photos of that townhouse, dodging traffic along the Liffey, trying to see inside windows and doors. And finally, as some people were leaving, I got a glimpse inside the main doorway. The staircase. I could see Anjelica Huston, in my mind, standing on that staircase, lost in a reverie, frozen by the image of the boy who had braved death for her love. Damn, the guy could write.

Anyway, I kept following snow. Of course, there was plenty of it in New York City, the place where I grew up. Plenty in Boston where I studied business for no particular reason. But then along came New Mexico. I chased a pretty girl out to Albuquerque, in a part of the country I couldn't have found on a map. They sold joke passports in the airport gift shop, I guess because so many people didn't realize it's one of our 50 states. It was desert out there-—high desert. High desert meant that it snowed there. A lot. Then the sun would burn it off a few days later. And so this alien place became a second home to me, even after the girl got tired of me and went away.

I co-wrote a film to be shot in that desert, which had changed my eyes forever, as much as the Joyce story had blown my mind. The highways out there, the pink sunsets on the Sandia Mountains, the limitless horizon. (Take a drive from Santa Fe down I-25 at midnight and you'll know pretty much all there is to know.) To tell our story, we needed snow. But not too much. If it arrived early, that was the end of a beautifully constructed schedule, and the sanity of a very nice line producer. On the other hand, the thought of laying down snow blankets, blowing phony flakes around with giant fans, using computer-generated particle patterns-—sounded as magical as the broken shark in Jaws.

But then, that final week, the snow came-—as if on cue. A late February downfall, ten inches in a single night, first time in 50 years, a hundred years!-—well, in any case, it was rare. And we all did the sign of the cross that morning, then got the hell out there to shoot every foot of it we could. In a story about the Gods-—laughing their asses off about all human endeavor-—we felt like they (or She or He) had really cut us a break.

My Aunt Theo died last year, after an illness that she kept quiet from everyone. I was going to claim that she had some cosmic role in sending us the New Mexico snow-—but the timetable doesn't work, and that's a bit on the nose for my people, anyway. She was buried near my old man, my grandparents, my Uncle Vincent, in a small cemetery in Tipperary, dedicated to the families of the local Garda (which is a flowery Gaelic way of saying "cops"). It's the kind of place Joyce would have approved of-—an austere, orderly patch of modest stones and modest epitaphs-—right outside a town regularly pillaged by Cromwell. (Like I said, we are extremely Irish.) The place is filling up fast, and I'm recognizing more and more of the names. And this isn't as scary as it used to be.