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What happened to Wuthering Heights?,
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This review is from: Wuthering Heights [DVD] (2011) (DVD)I have read Wuthering Heights numerous times for the past twenty years, always loved it, and was very excited about seeing Andrea Arnold's rendition of it, whose films I had just recently started to enjoy (Fishtank, Red Road). I could not have been more disappointed.
Leaving aside the utterly cheap attempt at originality by casting a black Heathcliff when Emily Bronte calls Heathcliff a "gypsy" numerous times throughout the book, the adult Heathcliff (James Howson) lacked entirely the animal power, intelligence and fierceness associated with the character as Cathy puts it in the novel: "he's a fierce, pitiless, wolfish man". Instead his performance was that of an effeminate, sullen, lifeless creature, whose attractive atributes remained thoroughly hidden.
His Catherine was in short, not Catherine,(Kaya Scodelario), and the only glimpse of that character to be seen was in the younger Cathy (Shannon Beer).
In Andrea Arnold's previous films I admired her vision of beauty in ordinary every day things, even the more gritty aspects of life, here however, the incessant rolling in dirt seen through the tiresomely shaking hand held camera effect is bound to wear one out sooner or later. If making a classical story more "contemporary" and "real" means endless, tedious images of filth and grime, not discussed in the original novel, please take me back to the more outdated approach, any day!
Another incredibly annoying aspect of the film is the butchering of the language, apparently still all in the cause of the contemporary crucade. The language of the book itself is simply so perfect and beautiful that all you have to do is preserve it in the scripts, somehow however screen writers and directors always think that they are going to "improve" it by cutting it backwards and forwards, and in the case of this film, adding dozens of f... words. The unique thing about "Wuthering Heights" is that it is "Wuthering Heights". If they really think they are making it "better" by these kind of absurdities, perhaps they need to find a different story to work with.
Lastly, when Emily Bronte called Heathcliff a gypsy, she meant a gypsy. With that connotation come all sorts of associations of wildness, sensuality, thievery, unreliability etc. which are relevant in the cultural context of the story as well as the painting of Heathcliff's character. When changed into a black person, the web of cultural associations as well as the underpinnings of the character change entirely and make Heathcliff into something which obviously Emily Bronte never intended. How about film makers try to trust that Emily Bronte knew her own mind and try for once to represent her will faithfully instead of boosting up their own egos with claims of so called originality and contemporary approach?
If you want to see a good rendering of Wuthering Heights, try rather the Ralph Fiennes version or the latest Tom Hardy, both of which infinately superior.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 16 May 2012 08:12:06 BDT
P. G. Harris says:
Really good review. But I would say that wouldn't I, as I agree with it. However, I would say that the point you clarify with great skill is the arrogance of contemporary adaptors who believe they can change and improve on classics. Now there are times when it is necessary to change things simply because a book doesn't work on screen. Then there are times when the filmmaker is simpler boosting his or her ego. So your review quite rightly asks, and implicitly answers the simple question.
Who is the greater artist, Emily Bronte or Andrea Arnold?
It links to a similar hobby horse of mine
Who is the greater artist, Andrew Davies or Jane Austen?
Thanks for the review
Posted on 11 Sep 2012 02:32:23 BDT
I haven't seen the film yet because it hasn't been released in the US, but I agree that filmmakers too often believe they can improve a work when they would be better off sticking to the source material. I am especially bothered by the way this novel has been treated in adaptations, with many truncating the work to fulfill a stereotype that the story is a romance (which it is not). Nevertheless, descriptions of Heathcliff's appearance and ancestry are more ambiguous than you may realize. The word "gipsy" in this novel could refer to the character's low beginnings that may have involved wildness, sensuality, thievery and unreliability without him having to be of one particular race of people. The fact that he is picked up in Liverpool, a major port in the slave trade, suggests that he could be an escaped slave. When Heathcliff was first introduced to the Earnshaw family he "only stared round, and repeated over and over again some gibberish that nobody could understand," and this could be an African language. Furthermore, he is constantly referred to as an "it," which also suggests that the family views him as property. In fact, Hindley's treatment of Heathcliff evokes slavery, and the portrayal of Heathcliff by a black actor might help highlight the racial tensions present in Wuthering Heights. The racism that runs rampant through the novel might be better translated onto film by a black Heathcliff because a guy with olive skin isn't automatically non-white to a modern audience. Regardless, the fact that Heathcliff's origins are so uncertain is a pivotal point of the novel.
In reply to an earlier post on 23 Sep 2012 09:24:53 BDT
P. Wheeler says:
I agree that casting Heathcliffe as black makes complete sense of a rather strange story. When the news about this approach first broke I was astonished and immediately began a re-read and wondered how I had missed it before!
Posted on 19 Dec 2012 22:34:45 GMT
Last edited by the author on 19 Dec 2012 22:58:34 GMT
Cathy (yes, really) says:
The comments made on the inappropriate choice of a black Heathcliff are rather missing the point. I suggest the writer does some more research into the various interpretations of the novel - none of us can claim to know what Bronte had in her mind. The DVD 'A regular black' available from the Bronte Society gives a fascinating take on what can be interpreted as the origins of the character, as do numerous critical essays. I'm a lecturer in English Literature so it's my job to look at the countless angles from which we can 'come at' the novel - it's surely a lifetime's work and each generation brings its own milieu, including film directors!
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