– 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.
Like the book, the film is constructed entirely from authentic news reports from the Black River Falls’ newspaper with occasional excerpts from the records of the nearby Mendota Asylum for the Insane. The film also makes use of the haunting black and white photographs taken by the resident portrait photographer of Black River Falls at the end of the 19th century. The film unfolds over four seasons and certain characters feature throughout the film as their criminal behavior lands them in the newspaper again and again. Jo Vukelich portrays Mary Sweeney, a cocaine snorting school mistress with a compulsion to smash windows, who frequently runs amok in the area. Another eccentric is Pauline L'Allemand (played by Marilyn White), a mildly famous opera singer who gets washed up in the town with no money and ends up going more and more crazy. A 13 year old boy (Marcus Monroe) murders an old man for kicks and then engages in sporadic gun battles with a pursuing posse. All the while, buildings are being torched by a bored teenage girl, a diptheria epidemic devastates the town’s infant population and all manner of strange suicides are being reported in great detail.
'Wisconsin Death Trip' was made over the course of two years by a small documentary crew working with a very tight budget. The film was shot on location in Wisconsin, in each of the four seasons, using existing historical sites across the state. All the actors in the film were recruited from open casting sessions in Wisconsin - most are non-professional and many had never acted at all before their appearance in the film.
An online oracle of all things cultural, from music, art, design, literature, entertainment and beyond, Spilt Milk is a carefully selected celebration of all that we find beautiful or fascinating, providing our readers with their daily fix of inspiration and reference.
An online oracle of all things cultural, from music, art, design, literature, entertainment and beyond, Spilt Milk is a carefully selected celebration of all that we find beautiful or fascinating, providing readers with their daily fix of inspiration and reference.