As the title suggests, Wisconsin Death Trip isn’t a lot of laughs; adapted from Michael Lesy’s book, the film details the bizarre and deadly occurrences that took place in a small town towards the end of the 19th century. Black River Falls seems, on this evidence, to have been wrestling with ghosts, demonic possession, suicide, madness and paedophilia, all re-enacted with stack veracity in black and white. James Marsh went on to win an Oscar for Man on Wire, but his talents for reconstruction are evident in this quirky, dark and absorbing film about a town in the throes of societal breakdown.
Following on the back of his Oscar-winning Man On Wire, James Marsh chose to adapt Elisabeth Marsh’s book about the remarkable story of Mim Chimpsky, a chimpanzee raised by BYC academics as a human in the free-thinking 1970’s. Marsh shoots his interviews with an odd flourish, with the camera panning away as contributors finish their story. It’s a neat shorthand for the way in which Nim’s hosts continually let him down; after being raises as a man, the funding for the project was pulled, and poor Nim found himself ghetto-ed in zoo conditions, where he passed the time by teaching other chimps to talk using sign-language. Marsh’s documentary is a heart-rendingly sad story about man’s accidental cruelty to animals, with Nim’s predicament artfully outlined for maximum impact. Project Nim would make a good double bill with Rise of The Planet of the Apes; if Nim had went on to lead a revolution, it would have been no more than mankind deserved on this evidence.