Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Watching: Wrong-eyed Jesus

I've gotta say that Andrew Douglas's "Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus" (2003) is one of my favorite films about the American South, although a good many folks I know down that way would wash my mouth out with soap for saying it --- if they could lay hands on me. It's irresistable, so I didn't resist when a DVD turned up on the bargain table at Borders over the weekend.

Part of the problem is that "Wrong-eyed Jesus" is advertised as a documentary and some who see and review it take it to represent the whole South. Neither could be farther from the truth. What it is is a film essay of great beauty with a stunning soundtrack devoted to a tiny slice of the South --- rural white working poor and religion, mostly Pentecostal.

But there's hardly a black face to be seen, let alone a Southern Baptist or Roman Catholic; most church folk would object to the implication they all stagger home from the nearest cut-and-shoot bar early Sunday for nap before Sunday school; and there are dentists in the South, too.

Still, you've got to love a film that starts with alternative-country entertainer Jim White dickering for a 1970 Chevy Impala with more rust than paint, investing $60 in a painted plaster statue of Jesus (a Catholic statue, by the way, since the Sacred Heart is exposed in a way that would appeal to neither Southern Baptists nor Pentecosals), popping it in the trunk and setting out along (apparently) the Gulf Coast from Florida to Louisiana, then northeast to West Virginia.

One weakness of the film is that you never know exactly where you're at, since locations never are identified. Another is that while the musical performances are spectacular, they're staged. In some cases well-equipped performers are plunked down unexpectedly in junked cars or along highways. It's great entertainment and works well in an essay, but hardly in a documentary.

And the cinematography is wonderful. So I figure it was well worth the $13.50 it cost me and I think I'll go home this weekend and watch it again.

The film's title and theme are based on Jim White's 1997 album, "The Mysterious Tale of How I Shouted Wrong-Eyed Jesus." Andrew Douglas is British as were most of the principals involved in conceiving and producing the film.

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