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3.3 out of 5 stars
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3.3 out of 5 stars
Format: DVD|Change
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on 25 May 2004
Haunting, sinister, tragic, beautifully macabre, James Marsh has created an unforgettable work of art in his documentary, "Wisconsin Death Trip". Themes of infanticide, madness, suicide, murder and violent gun-related activity that would make the most cynical paperback chronicler of the doings of serial killers think twice, abound in this stately and exquisitely -imagined film. In one small community,we are presented with the hardships and sufferings of the people through the accounts in their local newspaper. They become vibrant, real, characters who live for a modern sensibility in dramatised vignettes, whispered details from the director of the oft-frequented madhouse, and in powerful photographs preserved from the period. The music contributes to the air of spirited melancholy, ranging from opera to Appalachian melody. Present day scenes point up the undying weirdness still to be found in an outwardly wholesome and idyllic setting- "a great place to bring up children", yes indeed, but also a place where they regularly met with an early demise.
Required viewing, and incidentally, a perfect present for the Goth in your life.....
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Part documentary, part eerie reconstruction, this is a dream-like, languid film about numerous strange and disturbing events that occurred in a small area of Wisconsin in the late 19th century. Featuring extracts from newspapers of the time, as well as vintage photographs, it also includes beautifully-shot monochrome sequences by way of illustration. Also inter-cut are much shorter sequences featuring the same area as it is today - still, in fact, a very small community.

Murders, suicides, the tragic deaths of children, insanity, and even a woman who feels compelled to smash windows drift through this film, all at the same slow, dreamy pace. There is also some historical context given for these endless strange events, some of which seemed to be triggered by the terrible poverty and hardship suffered by recent immigrants to the US trying to scratch out a living on worthless land, particularly in the depths of a particularly brutal winter. However, this isn't a film that purports to be in any way investigative: no answers are offered up. Instead, we're left to make up our own minds about what we've just seen.

This is an incredibly atmospheric, oddly compelling film, and occasionally a little disturbing. It's not something you'll forget in a hurry.
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It is the late 1890's in the town of Black River Falls, Wisconsin and everything is going to hell. There is a diphtheria epidemic that wipes out the children and a long lasting economic depression. Soon after, many of the residents lost their grip on reality and commit suicide and murder in some bizarre and startling ways. James Marsh's documentary pulls the viewer in with these macabre tales and underscores them with color reenactments of some of the events. These reenactments, however, tend to take away from the mysteriousness of the story and keep reminding us that we are over a century away from this event and this is, after all, just a documentary. If only Marsh had kept it all black and white and interspersed more of the real photographs of the townspeople (Black River Falls had its own resident photographer), then it might seem more eerie. It also raises the question that this might not have been that unusual during this period of time in rural America. Black River Falls just happened to have well documented these events. Still, as a reflection of a time when life was hard and times were tough, Marsh succeeds in finding some truly strange occurrences. It's almost as if a curse was placed on this one small town. Iam Holm narrates and his foreboding voice is perfect.
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on 23 August 2015
From the director of Oscar award Man of Wire, one of his best films, made in the early years. This is a very peculiar and unique way of making documentaries, as much as Man on wire was. It is based on pictures, sounds, VO, and many suggestive elements that convey a sense of mystery, exactly like it was a ghost film. And it is not only the story but also the way it is told that make it feel like a supernatural story, even though it is not.
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on 18 March 2013
Saw this many moons ago on BBC TV and it knocked me for six. A human and harrowing portrait of the real American West sans Roy Rogers and Trigger. It took guts to be pioneers and so often it ended in isolation, mental illness and tragedy. Striking images meld perfectly with a haunting sound track.
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on 4 February 2014
Excellent film. A collection strange, disturbing and sometimes funny stories, taken from an 18th century small-town newspaper. Well worth a look.. Will get you wondering about the archives of your own local newspaper.
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on 23 June 2005
This brilliantly directed and edited film deals with the town of Black River Falls in Wisconsin, America, from the numerous unexplained murders and suicides from 1890 - 1900, to the troubled lives of Black River Falls residents of the present day. No explanation is given for the deaths in this particular part of the world, but what exact explanation is there? Could it ever happen in the UK?
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on 11 January 2016
This is a thoroughly engrossing documentary and well worth the watch for anyone with a taste for the darker aspects of life/history. Really rather a very haunting set of testimonies that will stay with you a while. Downloaded from Amazon Prime, very happy with the video quality and sound. If it has a fault it's only that you just want to know more...
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on 23 December 2013
Have watched this so many times and find something different each time. Ian Holms voice is perfect as is the eerie whisperer. The actors and scenes are shocking but believable a very interesting tale
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on 5 February 2015
Not an enjoyable documentary, lacks all narrative other than documents and newspaper articles of the time read out loud, while one is watching random images and recreations. No investigation of the happenings to find out why such horrors happened so extremely often in that particular community. It all consists only of listing of suicides, murders, and deaths of more natural causes. I couldn't watch it longer than half of the film for the accompanying music was really annoying as well, more noise than anything, but that is of course just personal taste.
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