Thursday, July 8, 2010

"Oh it gets dark, it gets lonely/On the other side from you"

For one reason or another, I haven't been able to escape Wuthering Heights these past couple weeks. I've never read the book (philistine, I know) and my only exposure to it has been through the "classic" 1939 adaptation starring Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon which is on my imaginary list of the most overrated films of all time. For one reason or another, I had remained completely ignorant of the umpteenth film version of the Emily Brontë novel currently in production. As soon as I heard that Andrea Arnold was directing, however, my attitude instantly went from "Ugh, really?" to "Holy shit, gimme!" I've already gone on and on about how spectacular Fish Tank was in my mid-year review, but after watching her 2007 film Red Road recently, I'm fully convinced that she is one of the most interesting up-and-coming directors around. Her preference for socially and emotionally isolated female protagonists is certainly a refreshing perspective given the male-dominated industry. I'm definitely intrigued by what she might come up with in this version. From what I gather about the book, she seems like a perfect fit. And even if it doesn't completely work, it simply has to be better than the '39 version, right?

Possibly even more exciting/intriguing than Andrea Arnold in the director's chair, however, is her choice for Cathy: 18-year-old actress Kaya Scodelario. The actress, best known for playing the omnipresent Effy Stonem on the UK TV series Skins, is perhaps a surprising choice given that Gemma Arterton, who seems on the brink of mega stardom this year, was originally cast before Arnold took over. But if you've seen Scodelario on Skins, particularly in the first or second series, you know that even at her young age, she definitely has the chops to pull it off. I recently re-watched her Skins debut in the series one episode where she, without uttering a single word the entire episode, goes out to party with her loud mouth best friend and ends up getting drugged by someone out for revenge on her brother Tony (Nicholas Hoult). I was impressed the first time, so much so that she instantly jumped to the top tier of my fave Skins characters. On this go-around, I was able to look past the audacity of the show to give this wordless protagonist an entire episode and realized what an incredibly gifted actress she is. Working only with your face is incredibly difficult and something very few actors have the luxury of experimenting with now that the silent era has been over for 80+ years. Scodelario is more than up to the challenge and manages to become this completely watchable and fascinating enigma in the middle of all these scarily intense scenes of Disturbed Teens Gone Wild. Scodelario doesn't simply let the contrivances do all the work for her. She's constantly "in" the moment and makes the most of her presence. As soon as the episode is over, you feel like you need to know more about this character, the biggest question mark being, obviously, "Why doesn't she speak?" Scodelario has the talent to play Cathy, but with Arnold guiding her, I'm positively foaming at the mouth to see what she can do.

I managed to escape Wuthering Heights for a bit until a couple of days ago when I watched this 1946 film called Devotion. The film is a typical love triangle melodrama, very common in those days, with perhaps the only difference being that it involves both Emily and Charlotte Brontë as two points in the triangle. I was interested in the film mainly for Olivia de Havilland as Charlotte, but she proved to be, like the film itself, nothing special. The real story, however, was Ida Lupino as the eternally moody and tragic Emily. I've seen quite a few films about famous authors, particularly from this time period in Hollywood, but none of them are as interesting as Lupino's work in Devotion. She uses Wuthering Heights, Emily's only novel, as a way of character development, embodying the dark, Gothic mood of the novel in ways that the '39 adaptation only dreams of. All her life, Emily has been preoccupied with this dark, mysterious house on the dreary moors she loves so dearly. She decides to write about this house, adding a tragic romanticism to match the darkness that surrounds it, much to Charlotte's confusion. When Charlotte admits that she doesn't really understand Wuthering Heights as Emily begins writing it, in a way it's her way of admitting that she doesn't really understand Emily. Emily realizes this and accepts it, for she knows that her ideas about love and relationships are beyond Charlotte's interests and capabilities. Lupino does some smart, fascinating work in a completely thankless role in Devotion, proving that she, completely understanding the work, would have made a great Cathy in a production of Wuthering Heights. Thanks Merle Oberon for fucking that up.

1 comment:

seanisbored said...

I'm wary of any adaptation of Wuthering Heights but I think Arnold has the post-modernist chops to pull off something that is at the very least interesting. We've already seen what she can do with disenfranchised/out of place females

Kara is unbelievably engaging as an actress but I don't think she has the chops to pull off something as dialogue/plot-heavy as this. All of her skill is in her eyes and her mystery, obviousy a huge part of Cathy, but can she do a period piece??

I'm rooting for them both but still very wary.How can Cathy = Effy???

(Also, for more on the Bronte's read The Bronte Myth by Lucsta Miller, great academic read about their personal lives and legacy.)