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Wisconsin Death Trip DVD

James Marsh, 1999

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Film Details

Directed by James Marsh

Produced in 1999

Main Language - ENGLISH

Countries & Regions - American film

MovieMail's Review

Michael Lesy’s original Wisconsin Death Trip was a counter-cultural coffee table book documenting the curious events which took place in Black River Falls, an isolated community, in the 1890s. Featuring photographs of the time and text taken from a local paper which told of arson, murder, suicide, hauntings, and a sense of all-pervasive mass insanity which took the town to the brink, the tome was published at a time of turbulent American history and seemed to suggest a country screwed-up since its inception and now spiraling off into crazed senility.

Director James Marsh has here staged a documentary reconstruction of the book’s events, shot in a beautiful black and white of doubt and ambiguity, full of shadows, and achieving that rarest of cinematic feats: the capturing of ghosts on celluloid. The film’s hallucinatory, apocalyptic tone isn’t a million miles away from something like Koyaanisqatsi, but maybe that – and the film’s genesis – sounds a little too trippy; in paralleling the story of Black River Falls then with location footage of the town today (looking all the more unreal for being shot in shimmering pageant-band colour), Marsh gives a good enough sense of those ghosts bleeding through to the present, like the spirits coming out of the woodwork in Lars Von Trier’s The Kingdom.

Tellingly, this is another American frontier town whose crack-up (there’s a memorable serial window breaker) is presided over by an outsider figure named Cooper: Frank Cooper, the English editor of Black River’s newspaper, writes in an ironic, semi-amused tone, his shootouts and locomotives the stuff of a real-life High Noon, the town’s cast of kooks a prototype Twin Peaks. Marsh – like Lynch – is a filmmaker in thrall as much to the madness as to the beauty of America, his tale of manifest destiny gone wrong possessed of a definite heart of darkness: the story of those told to go west up river, only to find themselves lost up a creek without paddles

Mike McCahill on 20th April 2004
Author of 357 reviews

Wisconsin Death Trip

Film Description

Surreal and dreamlike documentary about the strange and murderous goings-on in Black River Falls, Wisconsin in the 1890s. With music from sources as varied as Debussy and Blind Lemon Jefferson and shot in sepia and black and white for a turn of the nineteenth century experience, this is a bizarre experience.

DVD Details

Certificate: 15

Publisher: Tartan Video

Length: 75 mins

Aspect ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen

Format: DVD Colour

Region: 0

Released: 24th May 2004

Cat No: TVD3470

DVD Extras

  • Feature length commentary by director and director of photography
  • 'Midwestern Gothic' - The making-of Wisconsin Death Trip
  • Deleted scenes
  • 4 page booklet with film notes
  • Tartan trailer reel.

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