Saturday, April 04, 2015

"Wuthering Heights": 2011 remake of Emily Bronte's tragic Gothic classic is almost a horror movie


I recall in twelfth grade English (back in 1960), our male teacher said, at the start of the school year, that “English literature was the better literature”, than American.  There are a lot more centuries of it.
I think when I was subbing ten years ago, an English class got to watch part of the 1939 “Wuthering Heights” film.  I’m a little surprised that I didn’t follow up and rent it on Netflix.  But recently I found the 2011 film, directed by Andrea Arnold.  The film was shot in old 4:3 aspect to look like a classic film (though in dank color), but the DVD bloated it out.
  
This was Emily Bronte’s only novel (as “Ellis Bell”), before she died at 30. Her sister Charlotte edited it before publication.  But by the standards of the Victorian era it was hard-hitting and controversial. 

The basic plotline concerns a mixed race relationship between a servant youth man Heathcliff (James Howson, with Solomon Glave as the boy) and a foster sister Catherine (Kaya Scodelario, with Shannon Beer as the young girl).  Of course, it is forbidden and doomed, as she marries Edgar Linton (James Northcote). 

The organization of the book is interesting.  Wikipedia describes it as like a gothic romantic horror story, told in retrospect (after the first three chapters), as if the farmhouse (given the name of the film) had been haunted.  The Wikipedia article (here ) also has a timeline, and a character diagram showing the relationships among the persona with various colored lines.  This is quite helpful with a complicated plot with many chapters (although the novel is not that long).  I notice the “hate” lines.  By way of comparison, in my novel, there is a love triangle, because one of the two main male characters, a married family man in intelligence services as a catastrophe approaches, is confronted by his wife as she suspects he is gay, but there is never any hatred or real jealousy, just disappointment. I don’t think I understand jealousy.    

The film, though, jumps right end, with little dialogue in the first half, and plenty of barren landscapes.  Eventually we see the scars on the kid’s body (even in intimate scenes) from his assigned station in life.  Later, Heathcliff will almost consummate the relationship with her corpse.  The novel was written a couple decades before the American Civil War, and one wonders if the author anticipated it. 

The DVD offers a video essay by film critic David Fear from “Time Out New York”.  This extra short shows the film clips in the original classic aspect ratio. This is certainly not a historical period piece like what we got used to from, for example, Merchant Ivory.


The film is distributed by Oscilloscope and IFC.  It seems as though Oscilloscope has distributed a lot of films that in the past would have gone out as Warner Independent Pictures.  I don’t know why WB dropped using its separate indie brand.  The official site is here
     
I think this film showed at the West End Cinema in DC, now closed, back in 2012.  I missed it then.  So maybe watching this is my “goodbye” for that theater, that will be missed.  I understand the owner is directing a new film himself now.  The GWU area needs an arthouse theater.  Could The George Washington University Documentary Center , which always advertised at the West End, consider taking over the lease? 


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