The Unspeakable Challenge: day 23, movie 23
The only documentary in our line-up, the 1999 film adaptation of Michael Lesy’s 1973 book, isn’t what you would expect to find in a review of Lovecraftian cinema. However, if you watch the film, you will find yourself drawn down a rabbit hole of madness that the Old Gent himself would have found fascinating.
We have Ian Holm voicing the newspaper editor Frank Cooper, as a displaced Englishman with the beginnings of a Wisconsin accent, as he sets the scene. In the flesh, Cooper is played by Jeffrey Golden. Cooper, we are told was the editor of the Black River Falls local newspaper, and he has a optimistic view of his state and county.
This optimism is juxtaposed with the dark tales that will unfold. Using the photography of Charles Van Schaick and newspaper reports from the 1890s, the director, James Marsh, delivers bleak reconstructions and dramatisations of those tales. The stories of terrible weather, economic woes, madness, murder and suicide are woven before our eyes in sumptuous black and white, again, juxtaposed with colour footage of the region as it was at the time of filming.
There is something deeply disturbing about the way these little newspaper reports seem divorced from the visceral nature of the reality, a dispassionate madness of it’s own, the calmness of inevitable doom. Ian Holm’s voice is perfect for this: he reads with inflection, but without emotion.
There is a second narrator, John Schnieder, who delivers non-newspaper reports in a low, soft whisper which is in itself deeply creepy. There are also vox pop voice-overs and interviews with modern residents of Black River Falls, but even the way these are shot carries dark and terrible undertones.Tweet