WUTHERING HEIGHTS: DVD
In late 18th century England, Yorkshire hill farmer
Mr. Earnshaw (Paul Hilton) on a visit to Liverpool finds a
homeless boy on the streets. He takes him home to live as part of
his family at Wuthering Heights on the isolated Yorkshire moors
and names him Heathcliff (Solomon Glave, James Howson). In due
course, Earnshaw's son Hindley (Lee Shaw) grows bitterly jealous
of Heathcliff - who forges an obsessive relationship with the
farmer's daughter, Cathy (Shannon Beer, Kaya Scodelario).
Following Mr. Earnshaw's death, Hindley rejects Heathcliff as
family and makes him a servant. After a misundertsanding,
Heathcliff runs away believing Cathy has betrayed him, but
returns three years later a changed - and more polished - man. It
sets in train a chain of tragic events.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It's instructive to read
Andrea Arnold's comments on making her film in the briefing
notes: "It's gothic, feminist, socialist, sadomasochistic,
Freudian, incestuous, violent and visceral. Trying to melt all
that together into a film is an ambitious and perhaps foolish
task. Any attempt will never do the book justice. But it was like
I had no choice. Once the idea was in my head I could not put it
down. Even when things became very difficult I couldn't let it
In a nutshell her words reflect what she was trying
to tease out from the underlying work (all the emotionally
charged elements she lists) as well as the self indulgence that
audiences discover in the way she tries to achieve her ends. She
is right on all counts: it's a foolish task to approach this work
with such a cemented agenda and it's foolish to persist with it
when evidently it doesn't work.
I think it falls down
because she can't articulate WHY she wanted to make it into a
film, and WHAT she wanted to say - not only is this missing in
her notes, it's missing in the film. The notes refer to the drive
for authenticity in replicating the period and the characters;
but that's not a motive for making such a film.
I am drawing on these notes so much is because I am searching for
what she wanted to achieve as a yardstick for reviewing the film.
It doesn't work for me and Andrea Arnold is a celebrated
filmmaker; what went wrong?
Perhaps it's as simple as she
says: she couldn't put the idea away. Perhaps it's as simple as
she doesn't tell the story well. For me the film is misguided and
misjudged. The first half is especially dull, made so by the
composite of creative decisions ranging from tight, hand held
camerawork that makes it impossible to discern the image - which
is in a constrained 4x3 aspect ratio, adding to the stylistic
decision to frame everything in tight close up. This
claustrophobic attack is countered by endless cutaways of the
windswept moors, thistles, birds, bugs, leafless trees, meadows,
gorges, hills and mud.
The dialogue - of which there is
little - is recorded in purist Dogme style it seems, against
background noise and with heavy Yorkshire accents to make it
almost impenetrable. There is no underscore (that's not a
criticism) but the sound design is user unfriendly.
impression we get is that the film is driven by attention
seeking: 'look what a dramatic image this is' or 'look how we
can disturb your expectation' - without considering the audience.
The worst things a filmmaker can be accused of is making a boring
film, or a film that takes the audience for a fool - or a film
that ignores the cinematic needs of the audience. Arnold's
Wuthering Heights seems to do all of these.
The windy moors of Yorkshire have never
seemed as bleak as in Andrea Arnold's depiction of Emily Bronte's
Wuthering Heights. With only the howling wind, the pelting rain,
the squish of the mud and the sounds of nature to accompany the
narrative, Arnold is quick to set the tone, albeit it is these
sounds that dominate, rather than the dialogue of Bronte's prose.
While tragedy displays her shadowy form throughout the tale that
begins when an orphan boy is brought home to the moors by a man
who says it is the Christian thing to do, zero emotional impact
results. Physical and mental abuse perpetuates throughout the two
hours plus of the film's running time with little reward and
Bronte enthusiasts will despair.
rather than that of class is the key factor in Arnold's story,
with Heathcliff portrayed as black of African descent. The film
begins with the adult, distraught Heathcliff (James Howson)
banging his head against a wall, before we are transported in
flashback to the austere evening, when as a youngster (Solomon
Glave) he was first brought to the moors. It is only Cathy
(Shannon Beer as the forthright teen) who makes Heathcliff's life
tolerable. He is beaten and badly treated by everyone else -
especially Cathy's older brother Hindley (Lee Shaw), whose
jealousy is apparent from the outset. Heathcliff spends much of
his time hiding behind corners from where he watches the rest of
the world. His main participation lies in his activities with
Cathy: riding on the moors, mucking about in the mud and doing
simple things together.
There are birds fluttering
overhead, dogs barking, beetles clacking and moths fluttering
their wings. Such is the accent on the world around the
characters, that events, actions and dialogue are often blurred
as a result. It is after the half way mark, when tables are
turned and Heathcliff returns to the moors as a successful
gentleman, that the adult actors Howson and Kaya Scodelario take
over from the younger, less experienced actors. The frustrations
of the storytelling are endless however, and the dynamic between
Heathcliff and Cathy is more credible as youngsters. The endless
longing and hopelessness becomes tiresome.
began illustriously with an Oscar with for her 2005 short Wasp,
followed by prestigious awards for her feature films Red Road
(2006) and Fish Tank (2009), the latter winning the Cannes Jury
Prize. Wuthering Heights is a study is despair and unlikely to
win acclaim on any level.
February 14, 2013
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WUTHERING HEIGHTS: DVD (MA)
CAST: James Howson, Solomon Glave, Shannon Beer, Kaya Scodelario Paul Hilton, Simone Jackson, Steve Evets, Eve Coverley, Lee Shaw, Amy Wren, Jonathan Powell
PRODUCER: Robert Bernstein, Kevin Loader, Douglas Rae,
DIRECTOR: Andrea Arnold
SCRIPT: Andrea Arnold, Olivia Hetreed (novel by Emily Bronte)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Robbie Ryan
EDITOR: Nicolas Chaudergue
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Helen Scott
RUNNING TIME: 129 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 11, 2012
SPECIAL FEATURES: .
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount Home Entertainment
DVD RELEASE: February 13, 2013
RIVERSIDE SNEAK PEEK PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 4 consecutive Tuesdays - March 10, 17, 24, 31, 2015 - at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.