Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus|
Actors: Harry Crews, Johnny Dowd, David Eugene Edwards, The Handsome Family, Rev. Gary Howington
Director: Andrew Douglas
Genres: Indie & Art House, Documentary
Take a captivating and compelling road trip through the creative spirit of the American South, a world of churches, prisons, coalmines, truckstops, juke joints, swamps and mountains. Along the way you'll meet musicians inc... more »
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Worthwhile, but lacking integrity
Bob Fancher | United States | 05/21/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"My family has lived in the South since it was jungle, since before Mississippi was even a territory, much less a state. But I moved away from Mississippi thirty years ago, and from the South altogether over twenty years ago, and I have nothing good to say about the South. My criticisms of this movie, then, aren't due to wounded Southern chauvinism.
After I'd rented this movie, I knew I'd want to watch it repeatedly, so I bought it. I don't regret that decision, but the more I watch it, the more suspect the film, and its makers' intentions, become.
From the first, I knew that the film is profoundly inaccurate: to call this a mirror of the South, or a deep exploration of Southern culture, is about like saying the truth about New York City is found in the voodoo subculture of certain parts of Harlem.
But I thought that was probably a mistake of perspective, a matter of the filmmakers not knowing any better--and maybe getting taken for a ride by the Southerners. (That's something Southerners get a kick out of--pulling the legs of outsiders--and it's a well-developed, socially-prized art form.)
I have come to think, though, that some of the errors are just too glaring to be honest mistakes: For instance, the total absence of any reference to race, which is surely central to any story of the South, especially its religion. Or the film's completely omitting the fact that the religion portrayed in the movie is not only generally shunned, but held in contempt, by Southern evangelicals, who are the vast majority of religious people in the South.
Then there's that strange-looking old crippled guy who tells so many stories--like the confabulation about the Sears catalog. On the assumtion that this is a documentary, you might think he's some backwoods poet, some exemplar of hillbilly wisdom, some local wonder that they've found on their search. But he's Harry Crews, the novelist and critic, college professor, playwright, etc. In the context of the movie, the presence of this (imported to the scene, most likely paid) professional writer, without his being identified as who he is, is at least a bit misleading.
I found his stories mostly fanciful, at best. For instance, I never ever knew anyone who did with the Sears catalog what Crews said "we" do. And I certainly never saw a greater proportion of the populace lacking body parts, or suffering "open sores," in the South than in other places I've lived. The arrival of the Sears catalog was certainly a major cultural event, and we *did* all talk about it for days after it arrived--but it didn't signify what Crews said it did, and our conversations didn't take the form Crews claims, in my experience. And the story about keeping birds in the house, or birds spitting, bears no relation to anything like anything I ever heard, saw, or experienced in the South. Harry Crews is a very inventive fiction writer--and he's at it here, I think.
Sometimes Jim White seems very real, with genuine compassion for the people of whom he speaks, but much of his cosmological grandiloquence seems contrived, to me. Occasionally, he seems caught in his own pose. For instance, he declines to go into a bar, telling the film makers, "I got no use for a place like that," and his disgust seems like one of his more spontaneous, authentic reactions, quite genuine. But then in his narrative voice-over, obviously (from the difference in production values) recorded separately, he waxes lyrical about the "great beauty" of such "real" places. His contempt felt more authentic than his affectation of deep insight.
At least one of White's best aphorisms is, shall we say charitably, borrowed--"Between grief and nothing, I'll take grief." (Faulkner, the last page of The Wild Palms.) Leaves you wondering about some of the other good lines--whether they're borrowed, too. My favorite line in the movie, "I was looking for the gold tooth in God's crooked smile"--I certainly hope White didn't borrow that one, uncredited. But I just don't trust that it's original.
The posed musical numbers seem more like a Gothic caricature of someone's overwrought, and ill-researched, idea of the South, since few of them seem to be actual performances by local musicians. This is not documentary--this is affectation posing as discovery.
Now, on the plus side, parts of the film are an invaluable glimpse into the spiritual lives of what Southerners call "white trash." Though I'm the son of a rural Mississippi Baptist minister, I never had a chance to see any of this up-close in real life. This movie is, for a Southern Baptist boy, a nice chance to get to know something about a slim, unhappy slice of the South that ordinary Southern life would never allow him to see.
When the movie goes into local settings, and observes the lives and activities of the people, there's much that's worthwhile. Some of it is touching, some scary, some just bewildering. None of it has much to do with the Meaning of The South, or other overblown non-sense like that. But it has much to do with the hardscrabble efforts of some folks to get through life, well or badly, that most of us (thank God) will never see up-close and personal. To see it is very instructive, and very valuable if you can see it for itself, not as the filmmakers want you to.
On wrong-eyed views of the Wrong-Eyed Jesus
J. Evans | 09/23/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"One of the things about the current intellectual climate of this country that I hate the most is this muddle-headed idea that every view expressed in a writer's work must in every instance be seen as representative of, and in total agreement with, what some critic or another perceives to be the prevailing view of some larger population on whose behalf the critic presumes to speak - be it a culture, a race, a religion, an entire nation, or in this case merely a small portion of one. And if in the critic's view the work fails to measure up to what the critic already has it in his mind the work ought to be or ought to say, then the creator of the work is chided for "being biased", "not objective", "not telling it the way it really is", "having an agenda", or what is far worse, of not being "fair and balanced" (Pardon me while I harf).
Look up Roger Ebert's critique of the Coen Brothers film, "Raising Arizona", and you'll get an idea of what I'm talking about. Ebert, who surely knows better than this, actually criticized the film because in "real life" people don't talk the way the characters do in the movie. Imagine, characters in a Coen Brothers movie not behaving normally. You might as well accuse Bugs Bunny of not behaving like a real rabbit.
The truth is a writer's responsibility is only to his story. To tell it his way. In his own words. The story may correspond to the "real world", or to what some larger population of people perceives the real world to be but it need not and, in fact, shouldn't. Thus it's not so much that critics of this film miss the point when they say that it doesn't fairly represent all Southerners, it's that the criticism is more true than they realize. The film really does represent a narrow point of view, that of its primary narrator. But that's exactly what it is supposed to do and nothing more. It does this with such extraordinary beauty, that you can forgive its occasional lack of clarity. Well, to be completely honest, the narrative unravels nearly to the point of incoherence. But that is, as I said, forgivable given that the film is a such a beautiful and captivating thing to see. Some have criticized the film for lacking philosophical sophistication. Now who, I ask you, would have expected that of a film by and about poor Southern white trash? The fact is this film never intends to dissect Southern life, merely to ponder it, to brood over it, and at times to even sulk about it.
The point I'm trying to make is that this film is indeed as one reviewer has described it - a visual poem. Sadly, in our culture poetic musing has become such a dying art (God help us) that would-be critics afflicted with some sort of aesthetic myopia too often mistake it for flawed analysis. Don't let that happen to you. When you view this film, and you really should, it is worth bearing in mind that what you are watching is not so much a visual recording as a vision itself - one that was created specifically for your entertainment, if not necessarily for your assent. So whether you should or should not agree with what the film has to say about Southern life, I don't pretend to know. But I can just about guarantee that in your whole life you have never experienced a film quite like this one. That alone is enough to recommend it highly.
Salvation on White Mountain
S. Harris | Spotsylvania, VA | 01/07/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a strange move to watch. It's not a documentary, even though it resembles one. Probably the best way to think of "Searching for the Wrong-eyed Jesus" is that what you are watching is one man's visual poem of a (large) region and people. And White's version, which is that of a musician's, is highly selective, jumping from the deep South into Appalachia, with hardly a blink - though these two regions, though similar, also have many differences. White can be annoying in his own way, since many of his musings regarding the South, can sound both pithy and full-of-it at the same time. If you are from the South, it seems pretty darned manipulative, even more so when you realize this film was done for BBC. White, clearly, is pushing buttons for a foreign audience, but he does it with such a clear-eyed sincerity that he's easy to forgive. It's kind of like listening to the Rolling Stones singing "Hand of Fate." You enjoy the song -- it rocks -- but you also know it's a bit hokey. Whatever his sins, White loves the South and its people, so roll with it.
But where does that leave the viewer? Well, it's not the real South with all of its complexities, but to be fair, that would take a series. Still, the parts that White offers up are real enough, and important to him, so I suggest you allow him his idiosyncracies, because he does entertain with some pretty fine music by some excellent folks you may not have even heard of. Cat Power, 16 Horsepower, The Handsome Family, to name a few, along with good story telling by the original literary wild man, Harry Crews. Accompanying many of the songs, are haunting film images that will hang with you. For example, the Handsome Family, singing from the porch of nearly flooded shotgun shack, or David Eugene Edwards (who strikes me as some sort of musical genius), from 16 Horsepower, singing Wayfaring Stranger out in the woods, his hands dancing lightly over his banjo, while his voice sends chills down your spine. Whew. These are real diamonds, and they're not rough."
How Did David Johansen Get In This Movie ?
drstrangefunk | NC USA | 05/15/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a very beautiful film. Although very staged at times, it still seems slice of life. Me being a 47 year old black man from a city in eastern North Carolina, i didn't see myself here, but i saw what goes on DEEPER off-roads than the comparitively regular off-roads i usually encounter.
i repeat. How did David Johansen get in this movie ?"