Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Wisconsin Death Trip

Two years ago I received Michael Lesy's WISCONSIN DEATH TRIP for Christmas.

The following April I visited Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and stayed at the Brumder Mansion.


Carol, the owner, immediately began telling me about a weird, artsy documentary that had recently been made there called WISCONSIN DEATH TRIP. I told her I had a copy of the book. She actually handed me her copy to look at, and I got the feeling she wasn't used to running into anybody who'd ever heard of it. Carol is involved in local theater, and it turned out she played a few characters in the film and was involved in rounding up period props. I stayed in a room where one of the murders was filmed. While there I watched the video of WISCONSIN DEATH TRIP. Does this seem as weird to anybody else as it does to me? Anyway the book is amazing, and the film is amazing. A lot of great camera shots and music by John Cale.

The Brumder Mansion event served as a trigger for the book I have coming out in September.


Writer/Director James Marsh's first feature, WISCONSIN DEATH TRIP, is an intimate, shocking and sometimes hilarious account of the disasters that befell one small town in Wisconsin during the final decade of the 19th century. The film is inspired by Michael Lesy's book of the same name which was first published in 1973. Lesy discovered a striking archive of black and white photographs in the town of Black River Falls dating from the 1890's and married a selection of these images to extracts from the town's newspaper from the same decade. The effect was surprising and disturbing. The town of Black River Falls seems gripped by some peculiar malaise and the weekly news is dominated by bizarre tales of madness, eccentricity and violence amongst the local population. Suicide and murder are commonplace. People in the town are haunted by ghosts, possessed by devils and terrorized by teenage outlaws and arsonists.
Wisconsin Death Trip


Jer said...

Very weird and very very cool.

Mary Louisa said...

That kind of thing is right up my alley. I can't wait to read the book that will come from that, Anne.

emeraldcite said...

Sounds spooky and fun.

But no zombies? Hmm....

Freaky nonetheless.

Tribe said...

That sure is weird, Anne. By the way, the soundtrack is not only John Cale, but I believe that there is also a piece by blues great Blind Lemon Jefferson.

WDT is one those things that I never would have imagined could be filmed, and yet, it's not a bad film at all. With its vistas of contemporary Wisconsin, contrasted with the recreated old Wisconsin, I think it portrayed how fragile things like family, health, life were, and how, under the veneer of small town marching bands, it wouldn't take all that much to bring us back to the brink of fronteer anarchy that was portrayed in the original text.

I think that WDT was intended originally as some sort of grad school paper that surmised (I hope I'm correct)that at some point in a limited region of Wisconsin there was some of mass psychosis brought about by the living conditions that prevailed at that time. The author set out to "prove" his thesis by using photographs and newspaper reports.

Whether he proved his point or not, it was one hell of a story.And the movie masterfully expanded on that by adding the slices of contemporary Americana life.

By the way, it's my understanding that the director of the film had previously done a sort of similar documentary about medieval animal executions (the name of the film escapes me). It seems that there was a time in history when animals would be tried for crimes such as stealing or assaulting, and if found guilty, would be executed.

anne frasier said...

tribe, thanks for the interesting additions. and thanks for reminding me of the book and movie to begin with.

Jeff said...

Did you hear any weird noises or witness anything flying around the room at night while you were there?
I don't know why I love this creepy kind of stuff, but I do! :)

anne frasier said...

no, but after getting home i read an article about my room supposedly being haunted. guests have claimed to find blood in the bathtub.

Anonymous said...

You watched a video portraying a murder in the room you were staying in? That seriously rocks. Kind of like eating popcorn during an autopsy.

I wonder if they found the blood before or after adding the bubble bath....

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Anne, you have wonderful, eclectic taste. I'll have to check this out.

P.S. The word verification today is Ohfoug. Love that.

anne frasier said...
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