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Hot & Bothered Amongst the Heather

wuth·er·ing /ˈwəT͟HəriNG/

adjective NORTHERN ENGLISH (of weather) characterized by strong winds. "it's a wuthering day on the moors today"

I watched the Olivier/Niven/Oberon Wuthering Heights on Turner Movie Classics the other night. I started with reluctance knowing the book so well and knowing how choppy and camp the William Wyler (Funny Girl, The Best Years of Our Lives) version turned out to be.

To give you an idea of the roughness of the film it captures only 16 of the 34 chapters of the book, making enormous leaps and leaving too much to the imagination. The saving grace is the deft lighting and camera work of Greg Tolland (Citizen Kane, The Long Voyage Home) and, of course, the fated hormone raging gothic greek tragedy hot mess of the two young lovers. Just like Cathy and Heathcliff - I couldn’t get enough!

“Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.”

This book embraced passionate standards not practiced in polite Victorian society. It was written by Emily Bronte when she was 29 - a perfect age for a late bloomer to embrace love’s madness and write about it. She died the next year. Her sister Charlotte’s wrote the preface to the second edition.

“My sister's disposition was not naturally gregarious; circumstances favoured and fostered her tendency to seclusion; except to go to church or take a walk on the hills, she rarely crossed the threshold of home. Though her feeling for the people around was benevolent, intercourse with them she never sought; nor, with very few exceptions, ever experienced. And yet she knew them: knew their ways, their language, their family histories; she could hear of them with interest, and talk of them with detail, minute, graphic, and accurate; but WITH them, she rarely exchanged a word.”

I kept watching the movie. It was delicious in its dishy melodrama. You could feel a girl’s solitude in it’s story.

A better version of Wuthering Heights is the disturbing and ultimately more convincing 2012 film directed by Andrea Arnold (Films: Red Road, Fish Tank, American Honey. TV: Transparent, Big Little Lies). Arnold is known for giving actors total control in creating their characters, and her style provides actors with the support and room they need. Sounds like heaven!

In her film Fish Tank, Arnold shot the scenes in order, and the actors did not know what would happen in scene B until scene A was shot and in the can. The actors took the outrageous trek of this film’s story and discovered the path with their characters. As a result, the film feels more spontaneous than most.

In his review of Arnold’s Wuthering Heights, Seattle film critic Robert Horton says,

“The grim, feral nature of Emily Bronte’s classic novel is emphasized by director Andrea Arnold, who plays the love between outcast orphan Heathcliff (here imagined as a mixed-race character) and Cathy at a life-and-death pitch. The film’s full of mud and blood, and doesn’t pull any punches, so don’t go expecting a nice British period piece.”

Horton ends the review by postulating that Emily Bronte would have approved.

Watch these trailers to compare and contrast and give the opening a listen.

Also, be sure to read Robert Horton’s excellent review.

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