Doug, a popular upperclassman, takes Peter, a shy freshman, under his wing at the University of Toronto. Will they fall in love or is their romance only in Doug’s head? 22 year old director/co-writer David Secter kept things just ambiguous enough to get past the censors. The result is a fascinating character study that quivers with homoerotic tension. Winter Kept Us Warm would go on to be first English-language Canadian film to screen at the Cannes Film Festival.
Want to learn more? Then read my spoiler filled recap.
Act One: They Meet
Scene One: University of Toronto, Dining Hall
(The upperclassmen line up at their tables in robes. It looks like the great hall at Hogwarts.)
DOUG (A cocky upperclassman): I say, waiter?
PETER (A shy freshman): Who m-m-me?
DOUG: This is outrageous old chap. This pheasant has a thumb in it. (Puts a phallic rubber thumb on his plate). Take it back to the kitchens immediately!
PETER: Are you s-s-serious?
Scene Two: Library
DOUG: Hey pal. You’re not sore are ya? We always harass the new freshmen. Whatcha reading?
PETER: The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot. That’s where the title of the film comes from.
DOUG: I know him. You read the whole thing?
(They undress each other with their eyes.)
Scene Three: Dorm Rooms
PETER: My mother sent me a care package. She makes a great Finish pastry.
DOUG: You’re a great Finish pastry. It’s a shame Bev can’t join me for the Harry Belafonte concert. Say… would you like to come?
PETER: Hell yes! Sure.
(They go on a super cute date, and walk close enough to each other to touch hands. Then they sit in the sauna together wearing nothing but branches.)
Act Two: Girlfriends
Scene Four: Dean’s Party
PETER: Alcohol’s great! (Peter drinks too much and collapses.)
DOUG: I should check on him.
BEV (A brassy blonde): Hey you’re my date! (But Doug’s already gone). Oh right. I’m a woman in a gay movie.
PETER: I don’t fit in like you do. I wish I had your self-confidence.
DOUG: It’s all pretend. You have your own sort of confidence.
(They frolic in the snow as jazz music plays. PETER shivers in the cold. DOUG wraps his arms around him but PETER squirms away.)
Scene Five: Play Rehearsal
SANDRA (Theater Nerd): You’re the best actor we’ve had in ages. Isn’t Ibsen marvelous?
DOUG: Back off you hussy! How my little Barrymore doing?
PETER: Meet Sandra. She plays my mother. Meet Doug. He plays my father.
Scene Six: Campus
PETER: Why do your friends talk about girls like sex machines? Haven’t you ever been in love?
DOUG: I thought I was. Sometimes I think I mean more to Bev than she means to me.
PETER: She’s obviously not the right girl for you. Keep looking.
(They shower with the jocks. DOUG rubs soap on PETER’s back.)
PETER: Audiences really didn’t get what this film was about?
DOUG: Some did. People see what they want to see.
PETER: Well they can see a lot of us right now.
Act Three: Heartbreak
Scene Seven: Theater
BACKGROUND MALE ACTOR: This guy was hitting on me after the show. Hilarious, right? We just snuck a mention of homosexuality past the censors!
SANDRA: I get depressed when a show closes. I may never see you again.
PETER: Let’s date.
BEV: Why so sad Doug? If I didn’t know better I’d swear you and Peter…
DOUG: Cut it out Bev. Say any more and the University of Toronto won’t let us film on their campus.
(DOUG has an awkward date with BEV. PETER has a frisky date with SANDRA.)
Scene Eight: Dorm
PETER: I slept with Sandra.
DOUG: Gosh darn it. It should have been with me! Don’t you understand that I’ve been in love with you since the day we met? That I just want to hold you in my arms and kiss you passionately?
PETER:… You didn’t say that.
DOUG:… No. This film’s all subtext.
PETER: Remember what you did say?
DOUG: I called Sandra a tramp and then kneed you in the groin.
PETER: Yeah. That was a dick move.
DOUG: And a sad way to end the film.
PETER: You think they’ll ever make happy gay films?
DOUG: I know they will Pete. I know they will.
“It was based on my own experience… At the time, the ‘gay’ term wasn’t even used, and one of the things that I find curious in retrospect is how some quite glowing and perceptive reviews make no reference at all to anything homoerotic. It’s just seen as a rite of passage.” ~ David Secter
Winter Kept Us Warm opened the Commonwealth Film festival, won an award at the Montreal Film Festival and inspired a young David Cronenberg to make films. Sector would move to New York and found an independent film studio. The company was short lived and he retired. Concordia professor Thomas Waugh rediscovered Winter Helped Us Warm in 1982 and promoted the film to a new generation. Sector’s nephew unearthed the rest of his work and profiled his career in the 2005 documentary The Best of Secter & the Rest of Secter. The film itself would be re-released in 2011. I recommend giving it a watch. For more reviews of LGBT+ media click here.
Up Next: Take a tour of Fire Island with some mean gays in 1970’s Sticks and Stones.