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Wise Blood
Wise Blood
Actors: Dan Albright, Ned Beatty, Joe Dorsey, Brad Dourif, William Hickey
Director: John Huston
Genres: Comedy, Drama, Military & War
R     2009     1hr 45min

In this acclaimed adaptation of the first novel by legendary Southern writer Flannery O?Connor, John Huston brings to life a world of vivid, poetic American eccentricity. Brad Dourif, in an impassioned performance, is Haze...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Dan Albright, Ned Beatty, Joe Dorsey, Brad Dourif, William Hickey
Director: John Huston
Genres: Comedy, Drama, Military & War
Sub-Genres: Comedy, Drama, Military & War
Studio: Criterion Collection
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen
DVD Release Date: 05/12/2009
Original Release Date: 01/01/1979
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/1979
Release Year: 2009
Run Time: 1hr 45min
Screens: Color,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 21
Edition: Special Edition
MPAA Rating: R (Restricted)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Brilliant Huston on DVD at Last
Randy Buck | Brooklyn, NY USA | 04/22/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Finally! John Huston's wonderful, spare adaptation of Flannery O'Connor's darkly brilliant comic novel comes to DVD. I've loved this film since its original release -- saw it repeatedly in Paris during its first run there, where it was more successful critically than APOCALYPSE NOW or TESS -- and have tried to catch it at every (infrequent) opportunity since. The period details are a bit off (a low budget guaranteed a bare-bones physical production), but the screenplay and direction couldn't be better. And that cast! A career performance from Brad Dourif as the religion-crazed Hazel Motes, marvellous supporting work from Harry Dean Stanton, Dan Shor and Amy Wright, the ideal Sabbath Lily -- and Atlanta actress Mary Nell Santacroce (mother of Dana Ivey) is unforgettable as Hazel's landlady. O'Connor's violent, sin-soaked South is certainly not for all tastes, nor, in its fidelity to her work, is this film. But if you respond to her vision, this picture will haunt you the rest of your life. Hats off to Criterion for giving us another in their line of wonderful restorations."
Robin Simmons | Palm Springs area, CA United States | 05/13/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

""WISE BLOOD" is an overlooked jewel.

Southern writer Flannery O'Connor's first novel, "Wise Blood," made it to the big screen in 1979. The John Huston directed, low budget feature was widely praised and then practically forgotten.

O'Connor was a devout Catholic. She was also battling lupus, the sometimes debilitating immune disorder. Both factors may have colored her novel. Huston was a devout atheist. His world view certainly nuanced the tone of the film.

The story concerns a somewhat troubled, perhaps damaged, youth, Hazel Motes (Brad Dourif). Just out of the army and son of a fire and brimstone Pentecostal preacher, Motes is determined to open the first Church Withouth Christ in Taulkinham, Tennessee.

A young Brad Dourif is brilliant as the driven, vexed, Motes. There's not a false note or a wasted frame. His is a journey of spiritual self-exploration, penance and perhaps redemption. O'Connor's curiosity about the southern brand of Pentecostal mind set is riveting on film. Motes is trying to shed the damage of his ferocious religious childhood, but cannot shed his spirituality. He finds he's a Christian in spite of himself.

Supporting actors Harry Dean Stanton, Amy Wright, Ned Beatty, William Hickey and Dan Shor are all spot on.

The frisson between director Huston's disdain for religion and O'Connor's devoutness is a perfect match. The screenplay by brothers Benedict and Michael Fitzgerald does not stray from the core events, tone and ideas of O'Connor's story.

The obviously lower budget production, shot mostly in Macon, Georgia of the late 1970s, does not really detract, even though the novel is set in a somewhat earlier period.

The use of older, rather decayed buildings and locations amidst a more modern setting give a kind of muddy, out-of-time, appeal. A nice visual metaphor to the theme of old fundamentalist religious views in conflict with a more progressive spirituality.

This is a unique film and story. Hard to categorize. For me, it's a darkly comic, decidedly gothic, tale of profound spirituality and humanism. When the shoot was over, Huston said, "I think I've been had."

Criterion's transfer, as usual, is clean and sharp. I thought the color was unusually true and subtle. And the period monaural track crisp and easy on the ear.

The extras are all watchable. The new interviews with Dourif and the writer-producer brothers Fitzgerald are entertaining and informative.

A huge bonus is the rare recording of Flannery O'Connor reading her famous and terrific short story "A Good Man is Hard to Find" is alone probably worth the price of the disc! This is the only known recording of the author reading one of her stories.

There's also a wonderful vintage 1982 "Creativity With Bill Moyers" with director Huston."
Visions of American History and Identity
Doug Anderson | Miami Beach, Florida United States | 07/14/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"John Huston sets this adaptation of Flannery O'Connors Wise Blood not in the sin-soaked South of the early-twentieth century but in the present. This may have been due to budgetary constraints but Huston makes virtue of necessity and the result is a film that looks like it grew right out of the decaying streets of Anytown, America circa the late-1970's. The result is offsetting at first, because in this translation the story is less about religion and more about an America that has lost its unifying vision (if indeed it ever had one). Therefore, thematically, Huston's Wise Blood squares nicely with many other American films from the 69-81 Vietnam and post-Vietnam era like Schlesinger's Midnight Cowboy, Bogdanavich's The Last Picture Show, Hellman's Two-Lane Blacktop, Altman's Nashville, Malick's Days of Heaven, and Forman's Ragtime.

As the beginning credits roll we are treated to a series of beautiful black and white photographs which serve as evocations of an older America but one that in some ways still exists and lives on in the old run-down parts of town and in the old run-down neighborhoods even as a new America tries to re-invent itself and erase its ties to its sin-soaked past. Wise Blood is about American history and identity in a time of national crisis, but Huston does not emphasize the Vietnam War as the source of this crisis, rather he underplays it and instead chooses to focus simply on a lack of a substantive vision (religious, artistic, or otherwise) to lend coherence to the chaos that is America not just in the seventies but in all times and places.

To a certain extent this adaptation does feel like a loyal adaptation in so far as the characters are all lonely outcasts prey to visions and dreams that promise salvation but only bring about further destruction, and so they are all, despite their efforts, always on the verge of mental and spiritual collapse. This is certainly a vision of life that is everywhere present in William Faulkner and Nathaniel West and Tennessee Williams and Flannery O'Connor and Truman Capote and in countless other Southern writer's fictions, but its also the vision of many a writer not from the South. Huston was a big fan of Irish literature and it is also the vision of Joyce whose "The Dead' was adapted by Huston in 1987, and Beckett, as well as English writer Malcolm Lowry whose Under the Volcano was adapted by Huston in 1984. Huston is interested in the specifics of American history and identity but the film he creates addresses not just an American but a world-wide malaise.

Brad Dourif does a tremendous job as Hazel Motes. He plays Hazel as a tortured and lost soul desperately trying to free himself from America's long history of evangelical chicanery (Vietnam being just one example of something America has done using religion as a rationale). Hazel believes not in Jesus which only clouds peoples thinking and fools them into believing things they would be better off not believing, but in science which allows for a clear view of both the past and the future. But Hazel just can't get his preacher father or other preacher figures (one of which is played by Harry Dean Stanton and another by Ned Beatty) out of his mind or off of his conscious, as it were, for he's got a mighty guilty conscious even though he knows America's sins are not his own. He can't stand the superstition of religion and the way men use it to manipulate other men and yet it seems like everyone is either desperate to preach or deperate to be preached to if only to assuage the sense of being alone and lost.

Hazel wants only to believe in material reality and tangible things like his old car which he thinks is all a man needs to live his life, but he just can't altogether shake the pull of the religious life which has the power (or at least offers the promise) to lure and transport the soul and not just the material body. In the end Hazel Motes becomes not a preacher but an otherworldy saint who has rejected the world and all ties to it. Whether this is a personal failure or a triumph is up to the viewer to decide.

An Overlooked American Classic
Joshua Miller | Coeur d'Alene,ID | 04/13/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I've read that to understand Wise Blood one must read its source material, the novel by Flannery O'Connor. I didn't read this until after watching the film and prior to doing so had never heard of O'Connor or her novel. While the novel may assist in one's understanding of the film, I feel a second viewing of the film would serve a similar purpose...And I do plan on seeing the film again. While I may not have read the book and feel I do have more to understand about the film, Wise Blood is a film that came as a complete surprise to me. The film is directed by the legendary John Huston, whose filmography consists of several masterpieces...I've at least heard of many of them, but I hadn't heard of this film until The Criterion Collection released it some time ago. I didn't have high expectations for the film, but found the film only deepening my respect for Huston as a filmmaker.

Brad Dourif plays Hazel Motes, a wide-eyed man returning home from the Army. When he finds his family home abandoned, he buys some new clothes and sets off to do things that "ain't ever been done before." His new clothes make him look like a preacher and he finds himself frequently mistaken for one, but he's quick to clarify he's not a preacher...Hazel hates preachers in fact. Soon, Hazel meets Asa Hawks (Harry Dean Stanton) a supposedly blind, snake-like preacher and his nymphet daughter Sabbath Lily (Amy Wright). Hazel seems to be running from the idea of religion, but always crashing head-on into it. Finally, Hazel begins preaching the "truth without Christ."

It's a strange plot, yes...But it's worth noting that the film, while centered on religion, doesn't seem like a religious film. In fact, much of it plays like satire. Through his story, Hazel encounters all sorts of characters that could only exist in fiction, characters played by a perfect cast at the very top of their game. I don't recall ever seeing Dourif in a better role; he plays Motes wide-eyed, nervous, and with pent-up rage and religious fervor always about to bubble over the surface. It's certainly a career best for the man. Ned Beatty (in a small role) is delightfully sleazy, while Stanton is perfectly believable as the false preacher. Even Dan Shor impressed me with his performance as the child-like Enoch Emory.

Huston was not a director that needed to be visually extravagant to make a beautiful film. Wise Blood is a great film to look at, with a postcard simplicity that is quite charming. Even the score is made up of simple folk-y music. The screenplay is by Michael Fitzgerald and Benedict Fitzgerald (who co-wrote The Passion of the Christ, which may make you see this film differently) and what a wonderful screenplay it is. It shifts effortlessly from quirky and funny to serious and disturbing and characters that could easily seem like stereotypes seem very human. As I said earlier in my review; I look forward to watching the film again to fully grasp the multiple dimensions of it.

The Criterion Collection has done a beautiful job with the film's transfer and I applaud them for releasing the film and (hopefully) giving it a wider audience. While I can't quite figure out whether the film is supposed to be straight-forward or some sort of social satire (maybe Huston was confused as well), my first impression has left me thinking that Wise Blood is an overlooked American classic. I can only imagine that it would grow richer with repeated viewings.