Features and Columns · Movies

Curdled Nostalgia: Why You Should Watch ‘Wisconsin Death Trip’

Ian Holm voice: “the mines began shutting down last June …”
Wisconsin Death Trip
By  · Published on June 20th, 2023

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay that explores why you should watch the 1999 docudrama Wisconsin Death Trip.

In 1973, Michael Lesy published his first non-fiction autopsy. It was a coroner’s report on the American Dream. And its name was Wisconsin Death Trip. Lesy’s book — mostly comprised of historical photographs — lays bare a number of incidents that took place during a five-year period in Jackson County, Wisconsin around the turn of the 20th century. Eccentricity. Plague. Demonic possessions. Teenage arsonists. The works.

With sparse commentary by Lesy and excerpts from relevant texts, Wisconsin Death Trip is primarily made up of photographs and articles from the town newspaper. How, then, do you adapt such bleak, intimate, historical rubbernecking into a film?

Almost thirty years after Lesy’s book hit shelves, James Marsh (of Man on Wire fame) released a docudrama of the same name, which, like its source material, became a cult hit.

Ironically, considering the film’s inherent and explicit American subject matter, Marsh’s film is notoriously difficult to find online outside of the UK. This is, in part, because the film was financed under the auspices of BBC’s Arena.

Reminiscent of Twin Peaks and narrated with a simmering bile by Ian Holm, Wisconsin Death Trip is as hypnotic and lyrical as they come. A bleak assemblage that reeks of the despair rotting under the floorboards of rural America.

Interest piqued? Here’s a video essay that expounds further on why Wisconsin Death Trip is a film well worth hunting down.

Watch “Wisconsin Death Trip – Authentic Gothic Americana”

Who made this?

This video essay on the American Gothic docudrama Wisconsin Death Trip is by You Have Been Watching Films. United Kingdom-based writer Oliver Bagshaw produces the channel, creating video essays on an assortment of movies, from cult to classic strains of cinema history. You can subscribe to their YouTube channel here.

More videos like this

Related Topics:

Meg has been writing professionally about all things film-related since 2016. She is a Senior Contributor at Film School Rejects as well as a Curator for One Perfect Shot. She has attended international film festivals such as TIFF, Hot Docs, and the Nitrate Picture Show as a member of the press. In her day job as an archivist and records manager, she regularly works with physical media and is committed to ensuring ongoing physical media accessibility in the digital age. You can find more of Meg's work at Cinema Scope, Dead Central, and Nonfics. She has also appeared on a number of film-related podcasts, including All the President's Minutes, Zodiac: Chronicle, Cannes I Kick It?, and Junk Filter. Her work has been shared on NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, Business Insider, and CherryPicks. Meg has a B.A. from the University of King's College and a Master of Information degree from the University of Toronto.