WISCONSIN DEATH TRIP
USA 1999, dir. James Marsh, 76m
Marsh mixes fiction and documentary in a valiant effort at dramatising Michael Lesy’s ‘unfilmable’ Source book, and the results, while ultimately slightly disappointing, are often strikingly original. The film chronicles the disasters that befell rural Wisconsin communities around the town of Black River Falls towards the end of the 19th century: economic depression, murder, suicide, madness, epidemics, superstitions, bizarre phenomena. Contemporary photographic records give way to with stark black-and-white recreations (nicely narrated by a dead-pan Ian Holm), interspersed with colour sections showing modern-day Black River Falls. While there has never been a shortage of films eager to expose the violent dark side of American frontier myths (Michael Mann’s Last of the Mohicans perhaps the best), none have blended humour, horror and evocative visuals in the same way as Wisconsin Death Trip. It may occasionally veer towards the pretentious, the repetitive, and the monotonous, but it’s more often arrestingly watchable, studded with bizarre and poetic images, building up a haunting, disturbing power that’s hard to pin down or shake off.