WHITE NOISE | Wuthering Heights

Arnold approaches a story that’s familiar to so many through a rapt, sensory attention that cuts through any preconceptions to the raw material of the facts at hand. By Louis Rogers


As the young Cathy Earnshaw starts to take a tentative interest in Heathcliff, the orphaned boy her father has taken in, she decides to take him out to one of her favourite places. They trudge up a steep hill whose rocky summit looks out over the moors, and there, as so often in the film, they commune through electrically charged silence. The howling moorland winds that have been gathering in the background of earlier scenes becomes deafening at this exposed point; as Cathy and Heathcliff share the exhilaration of their dizzying perch, the sound of Andrea Arnold’s film maxes out to a kind of thick white noise.

Arnold’s Wuthering Heights is an intensely tactile film. With its close-cropped 1.37:1, near-square aspect ratio, it homes in close on the drip of dew from grass, the brush of a feather on skin, the scrape of a branch on a window pane. It’s also restless: the camera follows fast moving characters, and faster-moving animals, with fervent attachment, resulting in disorientating blurs of action when things get physical. Arnold approaches a story that’s familiar to so many through a rapt, sensory attention that cuts through any preconceptions to the raw material of the facts at hand. Like Cathy and Heathcliff on their hill, she seems to welcome the sensory breakdown that overloaded sensitivity can produce: sounds roar into senselessness, winter sunlight flares in the lens, snow maxes the capacities of film stock to screenfuls of white.

In A Year With Swollen Appendices, Brian Eno reflected: “CD distortion, the jitteriness of digital video, the crap sound of 8-bit – all of these will be cherished and emulated as soon as they can be avoided. It’s the sound of failure: so much modern art is the sound of things going out of control, of a medium pushing to its limits and breaking apart ... The excitement of grainy film, of bleached-out black and white, is the excitement of witnessing events too momentous for the medium assigned to record them.” In her vital take on Brontë’s novel, Arnold embraces just this kind of expressive failure, using it as an irrefutable index of the truth in a story that could be lost to fictitiousness. 

 

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