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The Drunkard's Lament
(40:15, 2018)
An epistolary, musical reimagining of Wuthering Heights by Branwellóthe tubercular, alcoholic brother of Emily BrontŽ.

When Branwell ó the neíer-do-well, tubercular brother of the Brontë sisters ó discovered that Emily was writing her first novel, he offered to be her editor. Once he realized that he was the model for the alcoholic Hindley Earnshaw character, he reimagined the story as a musical memoir of his own life with Hindley as the hero. Edited and arranged from the damaged film fragments, notes, sheet music and letters to his best friend Francis, this weird and revisionist adaptation is meant to have premiered on the 50th anniversary of the deaths of Emily and Branwell Brontë.

The world premiere is in Buenos Aires in April at BAFICI.

link to presskit

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The soundtrack was created by musician Colleen Burke. She brought together musicians like Jim White (The Dirty Three), Sally Timms (The Mekons), Michael James and Munaf Rayani (Explosions in the Sky) to create this strange revisionist musical. This is the fourth film that Jim Finn and Colleen Burke have collaborated on. The other films Interkosmos, La Trinchera Luminosa del Presidente Gonzalo and Chums from Across the Void have all gone on to have some kind of cult musical status.

Jim Finn brings back actors from previous films to play the two Cathyís: Isabella Pinheiro from Chums and Nandini Khaund from Interkosmos. Murray Gordon (Heathcliff), a South African philosopher and tech entrepreneur, is acting in his first film though his brother played a minor character in Roman Polanskiís Macbeth. Linda Montano (Hindley Earnshaw) is a seminal performance artist best known for her acupunctured-head video Mitchellís Death and being roped together for a year with Taiwanese performance artist Tehching Hsieh. Jesse Stiles returns to work his sound magic. He teaches at Carnegie Mellon and has worked on projects by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, The Yes Men, filmmaker Penny Lane as well as various films by Jim Finn. Filmmaker Josh Lewis created the handmade 16mm film emulsion for the project at his artist-run lab in Ridgewood, Queens.


Ever since I read Wuthering Heights when my high school girlfriend left her summer reading paperback at my house, Iíve never been happy with any of the film or television adaptations. One problem is that the female lead dies halfway through. Another is that the anti-hero Heathcliff rapes his wife, hangs her dog and kills his only son. Film adaptations always play churlish but ruggedly handsome while some of the BBC miniseries adaptations go the other way and portray him as a hairy lurker of the moors. And then there are so many amazing characters like Joseph the evangelical, Hindley the drunken uncle, pathetic nouveau riche Lockwood and sickly little Linton that get short shrift in adaptations that focus on the unconsummated love stories between Heathcliff and Cathy.

I had read about a lost early cinema adaptation and wanted to create a film close to the time when people were more freaked out about what a creep Heathcliff was. As I was researching, I came across early negative reviews of the novel. By the time she died at age 30, Emily Brontë had been writing poetry and speculative historical fiction for over 20 years. Most of those writings have been lost, and she left relatively few personal letters. Unlike Emily, Branwell wrote letters constantly, and his descent can be traced from the promising brilliant artist of the family to the broke, alcoholic and opium-addict who was sick so often that no one noticed when he contracted tuberculosis.

As I read his letters, I became interested in what he must have thought of his sistersí surprising fame. I used his letters as a scaffold to build the film aroundótaking liberties with his words to allow for the many hours Branwell spent in pubs and bumming off people, which would never have been committed to paper. He has generally been portrayed as the loser brother to three brilliant sisters. But what if his brilliance was in a kind of charmed performance for the local drunks? I mean, why did people continually give him money, alcohol and drugs? Why did a wealthy woman risk her estate and children to have an affair with her sonís tutor? Obviously sexism played a large part in his being considered a genius when at least two of his sisters were actual geniuses, but even so there must have been something. The story of the husband who wanted him dead for sleeping with his wife was a good start. I wanted to bring some of that strange charm and brilliance of Branwell to a revisionist adaptation of Wuthering Heights.

We worked with Negativland Film Labs to create a handmade 16mm film emulsion that we painted onto acetate stock. We experimented with different chemistries, stocks, temperatures and even which sides of the film to paint on. Not all of the experiments were purposeful. This presented enormous challenges when shooting a quasi-narrative. The film was roughly rated between 2-10 ASA so had to shoot in bright sunlight with a Bolex lens that could open to an f 0.95 aperture that I had to borrow repeatedly from the film department cage at Pratt Institute where I work. I was asked and sometimes wondered myself why I didnít just film on Kodak 16mm and then drag the print through some gravelly mud. But I really liked the idea that some of the footage could fail. And some did actually, necessitating annoying reshoots. I thought that would keep us close to this idea of lost cinema, since we didnít get to choose which films were destroyed in which ways over the years.

We cast performance artist Linda Montano as Hindley the drunkard brother. Since she had spent a year roped to Taiwanese performance artist Tehching Hsieh and chanted on video about the suicide of her ex-husband with an acupunctured-head, I figured she could bring something extraordinary to the role. For Heathcliff I cast a South African philosopher-hippie turned tech entrepreneur and fellow Park Slope parent who I met in my sonís Kindergarten class. Murray looks like a 19th-Century ship captain and I knew he could play a villainous yet somehow charming fin-de-siècle reprobate! For Cathy Linton I cast Isabella Pinheiro who stole the show in her two minutes of my film Chums from Across the Void. For the widow, I cast the lead from my first feature Interkosmos, Nandini Khaund. On film she has the same amazing presence that she has in real life and is such a fun human to work with. I cast my wife Cat Mazza and baby Cosmina as the wife and daughter who harrass Branwell with their constant need for milk. My son Franz plays the doomed Linton Heathcliff and for Branwell I cast video artist Paul Tarragó whose voice brings some kind of sad magic to the loser brother that history only mocks.

And, of course, there is the music. I knew I wanted a musical soundtrack created by Colleen Burke. She along with Jim Becker wrote the music for my films Interkosmos and La Trinchera Luminosa del Presidente Gonzalo. Most recently we collaborated on the final film of my Inner Trotsky Child trilogy. What I love about working with her is that I can send her links, books and vinyl albums of the music Iím excited about. She translates the vibe that I think I want into the songs and brings together musicians like Jim White (The Dirty Three), Sally Timms (The Mekons), Michael James and Munaf Rayani (Explosions in the Sky) to create this strange revisionist musical. Itís all brought together by sound designer Jesse Stiles who spends most of time dragging his Carnegie Mellon students to abandoned mines around Pittsburgh for underground electronic music extravaganzas. For over two years I have been shooting, traveling, editing, building miniatures, reshooting, panicking, working with sound designers and musicians and actors, painting, blow-drying film, getting a Bolex fixed, calling 16mm film gurus for advice and planning my retirement from film. I am happy to launch the film into the Earthís atmosphere.





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