Tim Grierson on Director Andrea Arnold and Her Superb “Wuthering Heights”


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Breaking into Hollywood is never easy, but in the 21st century it’s still especially difficult if you’re a woman. A study produced earlier this year found that only 5% of 2011’s top 250 grossing movies were directed by women. (In case you’re wondering if that number is an anomaly, 7% of 2010’s top 250 had a female director.) There are plenty of reasons why that figure is alarming, but if you’re in need of a silver lining within that particularly gray cloud, it’s worth noting that we perhaps have more great female filmmakers right now than in any era of film history. Whether it’s a veteran like Chantal Akerman (whose “Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles” was the only movie made by a women to hit the Top 50 of the recent Sight & Sound critics poll) or vital independent voices such as Kelly Reichardt, Lynn Shelton, Lynne Ramsay, Debra Granik, Lisa Cholodenko and Nicole Holofcener, there are plenty of superb movies directed by women. (And this isn’t even mentioning Jane Campion or Kathryn Bigelow, who became the first woman to win a Best Director Oscar for “The Hurt Locker,” and whose “Zero Dark Thirty” is one of the most anticipated films of December.)

Another woman who deserves to be in this conversation is Andrea Arnold. Like several other names on the above list, she flies under the radar a bit: Her first two films combined grossed just over $500,000. Hopefully, her third (and best) feature will help raise her profile. It’s her first adaptation, but it contains all the qualities that distinguish her as one of our most exciting new filmmakers, which is an odd thing to say about someone who’s 51.

Her new movie is “Wuthering Heights,” based on the Emily Brontë novel, and it opens in New York on Friday. (It’ll be moving across the rest of the country soon after.) This is Arnold’s first period feature, but she makes the tragic love story between Heathcliff and Cathy feel bracingly contemporary.

For those unfamiliar with the book, “Wuthering Heights” tells the story of a young, penniless boy named Heathcliff (Solomon Glave) who is adopted by a kindhearted farmer (Paul Hilton) who lives in the foreboding, isolated English countryside. (Fans of the novel will note that Arnold has chosen to make Heathcliff black, a nod to modern-day interpretations of the possible racial background of this brooding, mysterious character.) Heathcliff instantly takes a shine to Cathy (Shannon Beer), the farmer’s sweet daughter, and a bond develops between them — despite the irritation of Cathy’s bigoted brother Hindley (Lee Shaw).

Even if you skipped over Brontë’s classic in school, watching “Wuthering Heights” you can sense in your bones that a happy ending seems unlikely for Heathcliff and Cathy. But the precise way in which Arnold tells her story provides so much sadness and passion to the familiar text — according to IMDb, this is the 15th version of the book made for film or television — that its romantic anguish is as bruising as the rain that pounds down on the characters.

In a sense, Arnold’s directing career has led to remaking “Wuthering Heights.” Failed love and disconnected souls have long been a hallmark of her work. After ending a career as an actress and television personality, Arnold started making short films in the late ‘90s, winning the Oscar for Best Live Action Short for 2003’s “Wasp,” which was about a beleaguered single mother who tries to get back with an old boyfriend by trying to convince the man that her four kids aren’t hers. The gritty handheld camerawork, the luckless characters, the examination of class, the refusal to go for the easy resolution: “Wasp” can be seen as an introduction to everything Arnold would explore when she turned to features.

Her first feature, “Red Road,” about a woman (Kate Dickie) who works as a surveillance camera operator, and her second, “Fish Tank,” about a teen (Katie Jarvis) who grows strangely close to her mother’s sexy boyfriend (Michael Fassbender), were unsparing portraits of life lived on the margins of society. Arnold could sometimes be faulted for indulging in a sort of “poverty porn” — letting her characters go down dark paths that feel contrived rather than organic — but her skill with emerging or first-time actors was remarkable, as was her ability to make you care for such unhappy people.

With “Wuthering Heights,” she takes her work to a new level, although she hasn’t veered dramatically from her usual milieu. Both actors who play Heathcliff — James Howson is the character as an adult — and Beer are making their screen debut, and there isn’t a false note in any of the performances. And while Arnold’s previous work has zeroed in on modern-day ills, she herself recognized the connective tissue between her previous films and Brontë’s novel. “Think about Heathcliff,” she said before filming began, “he’s an outsider, he’s a Gypsy boy. It’s a big class story. All my films have been about class, and ‘Wuthering Heights’ is more of the same.” Quite right, but never before has she made her underdog hero so monstrously empowered. Both Glave and Howson portray Heathcliff as a quiet, powerfully introspective soul whose burning desire for Cathy is immediate almost from the start. Denied his prize by fate and Hindley’s cruelty, Heathcliff may be Arnold’s most despondent protagonist, but she gives him a heroic resolve that’s new in her films. As a result, her “Wuthering Heights” is a tragedy that plays out with such fire that you’re never convinced that Heathcliff won’t end up with his beloved.

And then there’s the way Arnold has constructed her film’s strikingly atmospheric look. Working with her longtime cinematographer (Robbie Ryan), editor (Nicolas Chaudeurge) and production designer (Helen Scott), Arnold has envisioned the moors of Northern England as a perpetually damp, bleak enclave cut off from the rest of the world. The book’s gothic tone is captured on screen without music — all the better to hear the wind blow through the lonely trees — and framed in the old-fashioned, boxy 1.33 aspect ratio, which makes the characters feel even more trapped in their environment. (It also denies the viewer the widescreen pleasures of the beautiful locales. Arnold isn’t interested in making a travelogue.) As with her previous films, “Wuthering Heights” is a feast of intensely sensual and immediate encounters. “Red Road” and “Fish Tank” both featured powerfully carnal sex scenes, and although her new film doesn’t possess a similar moment, an exchange between Glave and Beer amidst the moors ripples with such awakening passion that it’s spellbinding. Few current filmmakers translate their characters’ desires into screen language as potently as Arnold does, and the longing in “Wuthering Heights” is so viscerally visual that it’s a small marvel.

Without any major stars, this “Wuthering Heights” won’t catapult Arnold into the realm of commercial blockbuster filmmakers, although with any luck it’ll be one of the year’s top 250 grossers. But although one wouldn’t want to dismiss the importance of box office to help make a director’s life easier when it comes to financing his or her next project, works like Arnold’s should remind us that grosses matter much less than artistry. Like many of Arnold’s female contemporaries, vision and talent are commodities she has in abundance. If audiences aren’t interested in noticing, it’s their loss, not hers.


'Soft' Rock

Get Gentle and Soft With The Blue Jean Committee’s New EP

The Documentary Now! band has a new EP.

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The Blue Jean Committee is about to head straight up the charts with their new song “Gentle & Soft.” Is it us, or did it just get really smooth in here?

The band, whose tumultuous history was chronicled in a compelling two-part episode of Documentary Now!, is back with an extremely soft bullet with the release of Catalina Breeze, an actual 12″ EP with actual songs that you can actually (and should actually) buy. As Fred Armisen, who sings in the Blue Jean Committee along with his Documentary Now! cohort Bill Hadertold EW, he wanted the band to capture the ’70s California soft rock sound. “So the best way to do it for us would be to just spell it out and call the song ‘Gentle and Soft,'” Armisen said.

The EP, which will be released on November 20th, also features the classic BJC tracks “Mama You’re a Dancer,” “Walking Shoes” and the titular jam all about relaxing Catalina breezes. True to its name, the Catalina Breeze EP will hit you like the wind, rushing your hair into a halo, which is as gentle and soft as it comes. Head over to Drag City to listen to song samples and grab the EP.

For more Documentary Now!, check out the complete archive, episode clips, and music from the show.


Lorne Visits the Cat Ranch

Lorne Michaels Finally Talks to Marc Maron on WTF

Maron returns to IFC in 2016.

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A historic summit of comedic minds has finally happened in the Cat Ranch — Lorne Michaels sat down for an interview on Marc Maron‘s WTF Podcast. And you can listen to it here.


20 years ago, Marc had a meeting with Lorne about possibly taking over Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live. But then Marc never got a a callback—and his brief meeting with the SNL guru has haunted him ever since. This week on his WTF podcast, Marc finally got closure. As Marc wrote on his website, “In the history of WTF, Lorne Michaels is talked about more than any other person. Now he is finally a guest.”

In addition to discussing why Marc wasn’t ready to join the Not Ready for Primetime Players, the episode’s wide-ranging conversation also covers the reason Michaels started the show back in 1975 and what keeps him doing it each and every season.

Listen to WTF on iTunes or download from the WTF podcast website. And be sure to check IFC.com for more updates on Marc and season 4 of his comedy series Maron, which returns to IFC spring 2016.

That 70s Show Fez

Fez Fever!

Think You Know Fez? Take This Quiz!

Catch That '70s Show Mondays and Tuesdays from 6-11P ET/PT.

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Fez played the role of the outsider on That ’70s Show, but was quickly welcomed into the Circle. How deeply have you accepted Fez into your life? Click below to start the quiz and find out!


Ghostbusters Everett

Ghostbusters In Hell?

7 Lost Ghostbusters Movies That Almost Happened

Catch a Ghostbusters marathon Saturday, Nov. 7th starting at 8P.

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With a new Ghostbusters movie set to debut next year, it’s time to start getting ready for an all out blitz of slime-flavored nostalgia. It’s been 26 years since we’ve seen a Ghostbuster on the big screen, although it hasn’t been for a lack of trying. Ray Stantz himself, Dan Aykroyd, has fought to make another movie in the franchise for decades. Bill Murray famously stood in the way of his efforts, refusing to even read a script. But behind this Ghostbusters Cold War, there were always a plethora of rumors, many coming from Aykroyd himself. Before you catch the Ghostbusters movies this month on IFC, check out a few of the Ghostbusters projects that could’ve been.

1. Ghostbusters in the Future

Columbia Pictures

In Making Ghostbusters by Don Shay, director Ivan Reitman recalled the stacks of pages Aykroyd had spent years putting together when he first joined the project. Originally conceived as a Blues Brothers-esque romp for Aykroyd and John Belushi, the early versions of the script saw a team of “Ghostsmashers” battling demons through a variety of “different planets or dimensional planes.” Reitman describes the first pages as one unending action sequence that was heavy on the ghost busting, light on anything else. He guessed those 50 pages would cost hundreds of millions of dollars (and these are ’80s dollars, remember) so the team went back to the drawing board.

2. Ghostbusters: The Next Generation

Paramount Pictures

Many considered Ghostbusters II a disappointment. Murray supposedly described it as “a whole lot of slime, and not much of us.” Apparently Aykroyd wasn’t in that camp, almost immediately starting work on ideas for a third film. The concept he quickly hit on, and has seemingly continued to champion in one form or another for the last two decades, was the idea of introducing a new, young crop of Ghostbusters. Over the years the rumors of who these new ‘busters might be, often started by Aykroyd himself, have included everyone from comedy superstars to TV witches. Chris Farley, Will Smith, Chris Rock, and Ben Stiller all seem like obvious choices. As time went on Bill Hader, Seth Rogen and Anna Faris joined the list. But Alyssa Milano, Eliza Dushku and Criminal Minds actor Matthew Gray Gubler? Aykroyd may have been drinking a bit too much of his Crystal Skull vodka at that point.

3. Ghostbusters Vs. Greek Gods

Columbia Pictures

In the late ’90s, rumors started to circulate that a script for a third Ghostbusters was ready to go. An early indication of how to sidestep Murray’s involvement, this outing would deal with Egon and Ray trying to keep the business afloat while battling Hades, Greek God of the Underworld. But it appears those rumors were just that. No script has ever seen the light of day.

4. Ghostbusters 3: Hellbent

Aykroyd, along with former SNL writer Tom Davis, penned the script for this iteration. The concept involved the Ghostbusters being sucked into an alternate version of Manhattan, called Manhellton, where the people and places of New York City were replaced by demonic versions. Of course, a new crew was involved. IGN reported at the time that the new team included a pierced New Jersey punk, a “pretty but uptight gymnast,” a “Latino beauty,” a “dread-locked dude” and a young genius whose giant brain made his head comically over-sized. The main villain was reportedly the Devil by way of Donald Trump, which shows Aykroyd may hate ghosts, but he might just be psychic. While the script was never produced (Murray dubbed it “too crazy to comprehend), the story was repurposed as a video game in 2009, with the original cast reprising their roles.

5. Ghostbusters: Cadets

Columbia Pictures

In 2009, Aykroyd and Ramis were at it again, talking up the idea of a new generation of Ghostbusters. Though Murray still wasn’t on board, Aykroyd laid out his vision for the threequel, which would center on the team “learning how to use the psychotron, the accelerators…all these great tools that they’re going to have.” Um…okay? What’s wrong with good ol’ fashioned proton packs?

6. Ghostbusters 3: Grumpy Old ‘Busters


In 2011, Aykroyd dropped hints that the original Ghostbusters would return, even without Murray’s involvement. This time the script would play up their age, adding “My character, Ray, is now blind in one eye and can’t drive the Cadillac…He’s got a bad knee and can’t carry the packs…Egon is too large to get into the harness.” Thank Gozer we never had to see Ray huffing and puffing while carrying a proton pack.

7. Ghostbusters 3: The Return of Oscar?

Columbia Pictures

With Aykroyd trying, and failing, over and over again to get something going, Harold Ramis decided to step in. He hired The Office scribes Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, who also wrote Ramis’ big screen comedy Year One, to put together a script from scratch. Supposedly centered on Peter Venkman and Dana Barrett’s grown son Oscar joining the team, there was some momentum. Once again, Murray still refused to play ball, reportedly shredding a copy of the script and joking he would only appear in the film as a ghost. With the studio refusing to move ahead without Murray’s involvement, the project petered out. The final nail in the coffin appears to be Year One itself. Murray said in a interview at the time, “Well, I never went to see Year One, but people who did, including other Ghostbusters, said it was one of the worst things they had ever seen in their lives.”

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