Monday, October 24, 2011

Wuthering Heights adaptions: A trailer analysis

My love for Wuthering Heights may not be apparent on this blog, but in the weeks leading up to Andrea Arnold's highly anticipated adaption of Wuthering Heights I will prove otherwise.

Wuthering Heights is my favourite novel and naturally, I am excited when a new adaption is released, as I enjoy seeing a creative director's vision of the characters and their complex relationships. Whether or not I particularly appreciate their vision, I don't deny that I get a thrill when I see flesh and blood versions of Catherine and Heathcliff on the screen.

In this post I am going to look at the various adaptions of Wuthering Heights, the more well known ones (those that merited a trailer), through the medium of their trailers (so the more popular adaptions then). Beginning with Andrea Arnold's 'teaser trailer' for the upcoming release of Wuthering Heights on November 11th.

The 2011 trailer stars Kaya Scodelario as Cathy and the unknown actor James Howson as Heathcliff. As suggested by this trailer and confirmed by director Andrea Arnold, the focus of this adaption is the first half of the novel. Shannon Beer is the young Cathy, and Solomon Glave is the young Heathcliff, both making their film debut.

This is the best Wuthering Heights trailer of them all. It suggests something dark and uncomfortable, the infamous story is appropriately weighed down with a heavy, drooping atmosphere. It reminds one of 'psychic landscapes'. The camera work is tempestuous, at the mercy of the unforgiving weather conditions of the moors, it lends a tangible thrill to the proceedings.

The overall mood conveyed alludes to themes of despair, loneliness and childhood bonds, with allusions to death and the transitoriness of life. This is a world of contrasts, the interior versus the exterior. While nature is cleansing, it responds, expresses extreme emotion (Heathcliff lying on the ground with the rain on his face) - it offers little comfort, it is just like "the eternal rocks beneath, a source of little visible delight, but necessary."

The sense of foreboding is always omni-present, the wind wails relentlessly in the background. The shot of two birds circling across the moors, a reminder that two similar souls are locked together for life, or in this case, beyond death. Nature grounds all living creatures, we are all at its mercy, the moors are their dangerous playground.

I don't know what this predicts for the film, perhaps Arnold focuses too much on mood rather than the relationships.

Since there is (blessedly) little dialogue in this trailer three quotes particularly come to my mind whilst watching:
"What were the use of my creation, if I were entirely contained here? My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff's miseries, and I watched and felt each from the beginning: my great thought in living is himself." (Cathy)

"My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I'm well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary." (Cathy)

"You said I killed you—haunt me, then! The murdered do haunt their murderers, I believe. I know that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always—take any form—drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! it is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!" (Heathcliff)

The 2009 Wuthering Heights adaption was made for ITV television and divided into two parts. Therefore the "trailers" were more teasers than anything else. Made for a television audience.

This trailer takes for granted that we are already familiar with the story. It opens with the scene from the first chapter where Heathcliff awaits Cathy's ghost. The story is immediately associated with a violent aspect as the ghoulish fist comes smashing through the window pane and grasped blindly by Heathcliff.

The voiceover is of Cathy quoting one of the most famous passages from the book, her "I am Heathcliff" speech, spoken in confidence with Nelly. It is apparent that this adaption focuses on their teenage years together. We are acquainted with a shot of Nelly, which is significant, as she acts as the novels primary narrator, the story of Catherine and Heathcliff is told through her voice.

This adaption is embroidered with a definite sexual element - the kissing scene is not in the book, as far as the book portrays there is no sexual contact between Cathy and Heathcliff, to Nelly's knowledge anyhow. This is sexing it up for a new audience since this is the first adaption in over a decade, audiences tastes in costume dramas have evolved.

There is a ghoulish, otherworldy element - the grave digging scene suggests a grim finality and an eternal reunion can only be found in death - "We will not talk of our seperation again" - "[I] wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth." The trailer ends with Heathcliff breaking into Cathy's grave and embracing her corpse.

The music is an interesting touch, it has an element of folklore and the oriental about it, which seems appropriate considering the book alludes to Heathcliff's Gypsy-like appearance and elusive ethnic background. It also reminds me of the vagabond lifestyle of the gypsy traveling communities, who have no fixed place of origin nor do they have a fixed abode, which also parallels the uncertain origins of Heathcliff's background. Heathcliff leaves the Heights for a period and travels abroad, upon his return he is fixed with a certain degree of wealth, again of which we have no clue as to how he obtained, whether it was through employment in the wars, or by dishonesty. What we know of Heathcliff's character and temperament, it could easily be one as much as the other.

This is probably the most famous adaption of Wuthering Heights. The 1994 adaption with Ralph Fiennes as Heathcliff and Juliet Binoche as Cathy.
The soundtrack is one of the most remarkable things about this film and trailer, composed by Ryuichi Sakamoto and notoriously hard to come by (out of print), it supplies a powerful and eerie backdrop.

Heathcliff's voice domineers the opening, in a scene conceived particularly for this film adaption, which sets the theme for the direction their relationship will take. The moors are presented as uninhabitable and barren, where Cathy and Heathcliff only find comfort in each other in the crevices and most isolated parts of the countryside.

Even though this is one of my favourite adaptions of the story, I'm not a fan of this trailer at all, I don't like the melodramatic voice over. I think it caters for an American audience. It unnecessarily poses it as a Romeo/Juliet story, "but she was sworn to another" (untrue, one of the complexities of the story is that she accepts Linton's proposal and sacrifices Heathcliff) "It was Cathy's own choice.. and Heathcliff's own curse". The dramatic use of words "passion", "obsession" are overly dramatic and theatrical, dumbing down the unique pull of the story. It doesn't require these overblown descriptions. Voiceovers in general tend to date very quickly.

The selling point of this film is that it is the first adaption up until that point to adapt the whole book.

The 1939 version starred Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff and Merle Oberon as Cathy. Ironically, the lead actress, Oberon, whose own parentage and ethnicity is as hotly debated as Heathcliff's.
This adaption is stamped with the authority of the studio from the outset, which means the story will unfold under a dictated auteurship - "Samuel Goldwyn".

This is definitely posed as a romance story. With Laurence Olivier in the role as Heathcliff, his character is posed as the archetypical cinematic, handsome hero, as much as Heathcliff is the Byronic hero. The film industry in these days was dictated by the studio system and was notorious for "colouring up" actors as opposed to using genuine ethnic or mixed race actors, even if the role required it. Heathcliff is displayed as being brave and strong, with women swooning over him. He is a "gypsy", the lure of the exotic surrounds him.

The movie's selling point is certainly its star cast - typical of the studio system of the time. It is directed by William Wyler, who had directed Jezebel the year before, a story about a Southern belle shunned by her community for her vain and shocking behaviour.

This was not filmed on location, most of the scenes are filmed within interiors, which instantly takes away from the beauty of the book. So much of Cathy and Heathcliff's time is spend outdoors, the moors are central to their story. This adaption was filmed in California, heather was shipped over especially from England to 'recreate' the Yorkshire background, but not very convincingly.

The trailer makes it apparent that Heathcliff is an outcast, but he is curiously desired by women and despised by men. It is very much in the tone of the movies of the time, where the exotic vagabond who doesn't answer to societies' rules is posed as the hero (Errol Flynn's Captain Blood for example). understandably it is catering to the tastes of cinema-goers of the time. But such an unconventional story doesn't quite merit such a conventional treatment, which is what frustrates me.

There is some powerful dialogue and racial slander used throughout "You're not as black and horrible as they all think", "Gypsy beggar", "I'll be your slave" which are problematic in themselves. However, none of the script captures the powerful nuances of Emily's narrative, disappointingly.

Related posts:
Here is a previous post I wrote about Emily Brontë and Wuthering Heights.

Please share your opinions of the 2011 trailer or the other adaptions!


  1. I'm glad you posted this, because I meant to ask you which adaptation you prefer - and this is so well written! The Ralph Fiennes version is my favourite and I agree with you about how great the soundtrack is and also dislike the trailer for the same reason (voice over). I was under the impression that a lot of people disliked that film. I haven't actually seen any other adaptations of Wuthering Heights, but I love the new trailer and am looking forward to seeing the film!

  2. I can't wait for the Andrea Arnold film, I just spent all of today making the graphics and posters for our screening of it. Great post x

  3. I'm not a massive WH fan but I'm interested in Andrea Arnold's take on it.