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Wisconsin Death Trip (2000)

Cast: Ian Holm, Marilyn White, John Schneider, more...
Director: James Marsh
    see all cast/crew...
Studio: Homevision
Genre: Documentary, Foreign, Independent, Experimental/Avant-Garde, UK
Running Time: 76 min.
Languages: English
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This film adaptation of Michael Lesy's 1973 book takes a look at the sordid and disturbing underside of life in a small Wisconsin community in the 1890s. In the early 1970s, Lesy discovered a large collection of curious photographs from Black River Falls, Wisconsin, taken near the end of the 19th century, and began doing research on the town in hopes of learning the story behind them. Lesy was startled by what he learned; over the course of a decade, Black River Falls fell victim to a severe diphtheria epidemic, the local economy collapsed following the shutdown of a mining business, a serial arsonist terrorized the community, a lunatic claiming to act under God's orders held 26 people hostage at the local church, two children murdered a farmer, a number of infants were abandoned or killed, and an undercurrent of violence and madness seemed to taint all aspects of the town's history. Using both the original photographs and silent recreations staged by director James Marsh (accompanied by narration from Ian Holm), Wisonsin Death Trip attempts to recreate the disturbing qualities of the photos and news clippings that formed the basis of Lesy's book. The film also features an original score by turntablist DJ Shadow. ~ Mark Deming, All Movie Guide

Special Features:

  • Director and Director of Photography Commentary Track
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Midwestern Gothic: The Making of Wisconsin Death Trip

GreenCine Member Reviews

Completely misleading by paperclipper October 3, 2006 - 11:33 PM PDT
3 out of 4 members found this review helpful
I don't know if Black River Falls just didn't yield enough material or what, but what seems half the anecdotes in this movie don't even come from Black River Falls. There's stuff from Superior (extreme northern Wisconsin), Eau Claire and La Crosse (extreme western Wisconsin) and Appleton (extreme eastern Wisconsin) -- basically from all over the state. La Crosse is the closest city, at about 50 miles away by roads. But 50 miles in the 1890s would have been a much greater distance given the lack of good roads and automobiles. It might as well be in a different state.

The movie makes it sound like some really crazy stuff went on in BRF, and some crazy stuff did happen. But there's only enough Black River Falls material for a half-hour TV special, not a 75-minute movie that uses the same narration for the outro and the intro and repeatedly brings in a cokehead woman who seemed to like to smash windows.

On top of all the geographical hijinx, the whole movie is shot like a film student's first picture. For example, why does the voiceover narration whisper every time someone is sent to the Mendota mental institution, which is also nowhere near BRF? This film is a disjointed mess.

Out, out brief candles by GGoodsell December 25, 2005 - 8:49 AM PST
4 out of 5 members found this review helpful
A member of the media, the one steadfast rule in broadcast journalism is to never report a suicide. The reasoning behind this edict is that an impressionable person upon hearing this would immediately try to attempt suicide afterwards. This rule never made a lot of senses to me ("There's nothing good on TV! By golly, I think I'll hang myself!") until watching this film. Based on the book of the same title, people in a jerkwater Wisconsin hamlet at the turn of the century begin to take their own lives, leading to an epidemic of suicide. I assume that the townspeople, comprised mostly of Scandinavians and Norwegians (who are traditionally a gloomy lot) read about all the self-snuffing going on in the local gazettes and decided to jump on the bandwagon. The beautiful black-and-white photography compliments the various stories extremely well. Among the many tales presented are the ones about a Victorian matron who abandoned her family to smash shop windows full-time and the opera singer for whom "Lachme" was composed for dying in abject poverty on a farm. The moral of this death trip appears to be "simpler times don't necessarily make for happier times."

Not as sexy or violent as the title suggests. by aaronas November 28, 2005 - 6:49 PM PST
3 out of 4 members found this review helpful
This movie lacks the punch that the title suggests. It was, however, poetic as well humorous. At times it was trance inducing. There are some similarities between this movie and Vinterberg's _Dear Wendy_. I think that this director has it in him to make a really great movie. This isn?t that movie but it is still a good movie well worth a look, especially if you are looking for something different.

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GreenCine Member Rating

(Average 6.46)
79 Votes
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