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Andrea Arnold On the 'Luxury' of Adapting 'Wuthering Heights' and Working in Mud

By Austin Dale | Indiewire October 3, 2012 at 11:49AM

Academy Award-winner Andrea Arnold is back with "Wuthering Heights," her stunning and sadomasochistic take on the oft-adapted Emily Brontë novel. Arnold's previous films, "Red Road" and "Fish Tank," all closely follow their main characters through trying situations, usually with the camera inches from the faces of her subjects. Her deeply subjective style often uses a 4x3 Academy ratio, enclosing a tight frame around her deeply isolated characters.
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"Wuthering Heights"
Oscilloscope "Wuthering Heights"

One of the things I responded to most in the film was the Academy ratio, and it was used brilliantly in "Fish Tank" as well. What is it about the Academy ratio that works for you?

It's funny. I absolutely loved using it in "Fish Tank," and we tested a lot on "Wuthering Heights." We shot some video, and then some film. We tried different stocks and things. With some of that original stuff, we had we shot it straight without a matte and projected it, and it was just the film in Academy ratio. I didn't think it was something that would come up, but when it did, I was like, "Oh my God, that looks so beautiful." I loved it all over again, even though I knew it would be a provocative choice. It's a film with a lot of landscapes, so everyone expects you to use a wide screen.

I've thought about it quite a lot since, and I think why I like it is because my films are mostly about one person. I'm following that one person and I'm keen on that one person. It's a very respectful and beautiful frame for one person. It gives them a lot of space. You can frame one person in a 4x3, and it gives them a lot of - I don't know - humanity? I'm not sure.

I like it as well because it's the whole negative, and you're not cutting anything off. Mostly what everyone's doing it cutting off the top and the bottom, and I love that we don't do that. We're using the 35mm film negative and you get more information. It gives you more headroom, and you get quite a lot of sky. Those moors are very green, and if I shot a landscape, I figured the sky would be changing all the time. But that's not the real reason, I suppose, it's more of a justification. You know what I mean? You try and justify what you do, but sometimes you just love it and it's hard to understand why.

"I think people making the fuss haven't done their research or, as you've said, yes, it's laziness."

The terrain looks so gorgeous, but I can't imagine what the filming conditions were like.

When I was looking at the first cut of the film, I felt a bit annoyed, because it didn't look as bad as it was. With the mud and everything, people see the film and say, "Wow, that looks bad," but it doesn't look anywhere near as difficult as it was to be there. That's sometimes frustrated me with film, and I try hard to capture what it's like to be there, and sometimes you can't quite reach that place, and it's still a challenge for me to do that, because I still feel I haven't managed to achieve that. We were there for 12-hour days from Monday to Friday, so you really have to dress up in lots of layers and big farmer's boots.
We've got an outtakes film of all the various things that makes the crew laugh, and it's full of people falling over. Robbie Ryan, who did all the handheld, he just runs everywhere. He's like a ghost. And he fell over quite a few times, with the 35mm camera. There's so much footage of him slipping and the image just falls to ground.

The mud around the house became so deep. It was up around your ankles each day. There were some spaces in the house where there would be a lot of crew, and it would be so freezing. It wasn't the most luxurious shoot, but we certainly made up for it in the pub on Friday night. We had all-night parties. There was a local pub which we were well into, and we got very friendly with all the people there. We had some great parties, including some skinny dipping in the lake in November. I just can't believe we did that.

Reading "Wuthering Heights," it's very clear that Heathcliff is an outsider/foreigner, yet in every other adaptation, he's played by a movie star. Why do you think there was such a fuss in the press about your casting of a black actor as Heathcliff? It just seems like really lazy journalism to me, but what do you think?

I don't read anything, so I didn't know there was too much fuss, but people always ask me about it. I think it's weird that they would make a fuss, because why not? If you go through the descriptions of Heathcliff in the book, it is very, very clear that he's not white. "Was your mother an Indian princess and your mother a Chinese emperor?" That's not being said about somebody who's from Yorkshire. When he first arrives, he speaks a language they can't understand. Hollywood started making this film a long time ago, and it's actually surprising to me that no one has done it before. There was a massive slave port in Liverpool at that time. It's possible that Heathcliff could have been the son of a slave or had come off one of the ships. It's possible.

I think people making the fuss haven't done their research or, as you've said, yes, it's laziness.
 

This article is related to: Andrea Arnold, Wuthering Heights, Interviews