While it’s probable that the microbudgeted political-action movie Ice received only a tiny theatrical release back in the day, it nonetheless qualifies as a minor historical artifact. Ice represents a very specific sort of political cinema—call it “notes from the underground.” Just as the film was plainly designed to energize receptive audiences with precious little hope of converting skeptics, the movie holds minor appeal when appraised with modern sensibilities. Those on the far left will be more sympathetic to the attitudes and grungy style of the picture, while those in the center and on the right are more likely to find watching Ice pointless. After all, the 130-minute drama is a black-and-white experimental piece that occasionally features text passages and culminates with a crude sequence using children’s toys and miniature sets to express overt statements about power structures in society.
Reduced to its simplest level, the plot is about a consortium of revolutionary groups trying to align their agendas for combined action against the Establishment during the time of the Vietnam War. Much of the film comprises long debates among young people with clashing ideas regarding how best to trigger social change, so there’s an interesting trope about freedom-of-speech warriors airing grievances so openly they can’t agree on anything. A little of this material, however, goes a long way—and there’s a lot of this material.
Also featured are brief vignettes of violence inflicted upon activists. Some of these scenes are vicious, as when thugs perform some sort of genital mutilation on a male activist; although that moment isn’t explicit, it unfolds, painfully, in real time. And then there are bits that tick the requisite ’70s-freakshow box, like the sequence of experimental-theater players crawling around a stage while wearing pig masks. It’s not fair to say that Ice is impenetrable, since writer-director Robert Kramer’s political stance is obvious from start to finish. But there’s pronounced dissonance between accessible scenes of humans interacting and clumsy stretches featuring representative imagery. Particularly dubious is the aforementioned final scene, during which a toy-sized nuclear missile humps a robot toy bearing the label “Ruling Class.”