Every year, it seems we try to ascribe some great meaning to the Academy Awards. Beyond superficial debates about what is the best (or how we might even go about defining “best,” a task that feels reductive to the nature of personal reaction and opinion), I appreciate more the arguments about how the Awards stand as a “cultural touchstone,” a reflexive means for the industry to communicate how they want to be perceived. The Oscars may themselves be an industry, replete with full-page Variety ad after full-page Variety pushing a studio’s most touted project. Regardless of whether you still consider them culturally relevant or rich people aimlessly rewarding each other, the Oscars can help us inscribe meaning on a year. The films they group together tell us the kinds of characters and screenplays and the styles of directing that a very large voting body coalesced around. While there are plenty of 2012 releases that didn’t get a single Oscar nomination—The Dark Knight Rises, anyone?—focusing on the ones that did can perhaps tell us something important about the cultural moment of 2012. Continue reading “Historical Representations Weigh Heavily on Best Picture Nominees” »
Andrea Arnold’s wonderful 2011 adaptation of Emily Brontë’s novel begins its one-week engagement at the Nuart Theatre today.
Tree branches batting against a window. Clouds gathering for rain. A boy leaning in to smell a girl’s hair. The rhythm of horseback riding. Children running through a field. A fleeting gaze of desire. These are all shots that stuck with me throughout and after Wuthering Heights. This has less to do with the aesthetic pleasure of their construction—of which there is plenty—than how director/cowriter Andrea Arnold and her filmmaking team stir our various senses in the narrative. I find myself incredibly drawn to the film’s employment of the camera, its ability to capture beauty in the landscapes as well as complexities in the characters.
Wuthering Heights is probably the best adaptation you’ll see all year. I’m not saying that because it follows every facet of Brontë’s novel to a T; if that’s what you expect out of an adaptation, you’re probably better off waiting for a three-part film of a 300-page novel (oh wait, that’s The Hobbit.). Rather, it’s a fully cinematic evocation, one that runs so deep you’re likely to forget it was a book in the first place. Eschewing all literary pretenses so tantamount to most films adapted from esteemed novels—for instance, voiceover narration and static, lush cinematography—this Wuthering Heights is muted, subjective, and painful.
The phrase “overwhelmingly sensual” entered the conversation I had about the film with a group of colleagues after a special advance screening at Westwood’s Billy Wilder Theater last weekend. This unmistakable sensual quality emerges through the camera, and I cannot help but continue to try and explore how the cinematography accomplishes this. Atmosphere is carefully considered: landscape shots and production design alternately invoke richness and sparseness. It is just as easy to feel in awe of the fog rolling over the impossibly green hills as it is to feel struck by the creakiness and claustrophobia of the country home. The camera often travels with the characters in a given scene, but it cuts in to focus on intimate details. The slow pace of the film, which builds carefully across scenes and acts, creates a feeling of being absorbed in both the characters’ perspectives and the beauty surrounding them.