Sundance Dispatch #4: 'Wuthering Heights,' Twitch, and Alien Life Forms

Sundance Dispatch #4: 'Wuthering Heights,' Twitch, and Alien Life Forms

Jan 21, 2012

Folks, I will be honest with you. This is only my second year at Sundance, and I'm still figuring things out. Sometimes getting into screenings is a crazy maze of requests and tickets and passes and things! Everyone is very helpful, but I kind of screwed the pooch by not getting on top of my stuff yesterday when I arrived after traveling across the country for 8 hours. I only saw one movie today, which is super lame! I know people who saw four movies today! My blood pressure is rising as I write this.


The one movie I did see today was Wuthering Heights, directed by the fantastic crackerjack Andrea Arnold. I adored Arnold's movie Fish Tank, which is on Netflix Instant, so I was looking forward to Wuthering Heights. Arnold is a feisty director with a singular vision, and Wuthering Heights is definitely a singular take on Emily Brontë's story. Purists, be warned; this is not the high gothic romance we read in high school.

The screenplay by Arnold and Olivia Hetreed shifts the bulk of the story to Heathcliff and his emotional development, and the direction supports that this is primarily his story. Some of the shots are literally from his point of view -- a close-up of Catherine's hair as he rides behind her on a horse or her face as they wrestle together in the mud as children. Unlike the book, Arnold explores the emotional development of Heathcliff, not just who he is but how he becomes the cruel antihero we know him as. Arnold's Heathcliff is still a terrible, selfish person, but making the movie almost as a character study of Heathcliff makes me wonder if we're somehow supposed to empathize with him a little bit more.

The movie is long and slow and makes the viewer work to meet it halfway. One could argue that Heathcliff could spend less time peering in Catherine's windows and letting the rain soak him to the bone as he sulks on the moors, but the experience verges on the meditative.

Although it takes place in the eighteenth century, the handheld camera work and quick cut editing gives it a more modern feeling. It is grim and muddy and sometimes utterly mundane, but also beautiful and even sensuous at times.

The parallels between Fish Tank and Wuthering Heights are startling. Fish Tank takes place on a modern housing estate, and its center is an explosive young woman who has an equally twisted relationship with an inappropriate love interest. Arnold's interest in not just what her characters do but who they are and how they got there is what makes her such an interesting storyteller. Her penchant for working with untrained actors like Katie Jarvis, who was discovered arguing with her boyfriend on a Tube platform, and former drug dealer James Howson, who plays Heathcliff as an adult, is another fascinating aspect of Arnold's method. Unfortunately, we haven't heard from Jarvis in a while, and it looks like we might not be seeing much of Howson in the future, based on his recent conviction for "racially aggravated harassment."

After a stop at the magical Rite-Aid near the theater and a brief pit stop at the hotel room to drop off our luggage, my girl gang (The Slammin' Smoothies) headed to Main Street for a stop at the Twitch party, where we saw many friendly faces -- and the awesome Larry Fessenden! Main Street is a strange place that's plopped in the middle of an otherwise sleepy ski town; it's surreal in the same way that Times Square tends to make me feel as if I'm leaving my body, except people are way friendlier and there are less people trying to get you to go into comedy clubs for free. We finally found a restaurant that wasn't full right as hunger turns to rage, which we sated with delicious fried pickles. And in the tail end of our adventures, we found this majestic creation in a parking lot behind Main Street that suggests something otherworldly is taking place in the back alleys of Park City.

Categories: Features, Film Festivals
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