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Grew up in similar places, but its a bit skewed. Don't really think you
can get the whole of the South by going to a prison, some roadside bars
and some Pentecostal churches. Its basically rubbernecking
anthropology, searching for and finding the extreme without bothering
to mention that it is the extreme...
Not every southerner is poor, or has to either be a holy-roller or a heathen. Southerners generally are more religious than the norm, but for every Pentecostal, you'll find a baptist, Methodist and a Church of Christ patron that isn't nearly as eclectic and thinks the Pentecostals are a little weird too.
But I've never been all that bothered by the Southern stereotypes (they are sort of true) so beyond that, a real entertaining film.
As a 'stranger' to the American culture, I was really impressed by this
docu-movie. It gives me a look in the American South. Of course one can
not give a complete portrait of something. There always a need for some
subjectivity. I understand there a million other sides of the American
For example, if you make a movie about Holland, surely you'll see mills and klompen. This is not representative for modern-day Holland, but it's a part of our culture, our history. I think the same applies to this movie.
Apart from this, the movie is intertwining music, art and storytelling. This is fantastic!
I saw this movie late at night myself as well and it's a mesmerizing
film. I am from Canada, and the world portrayed in this film seems like
from a far away distant country. Substitute Christianity for Islam or
Hinduism or whatever crazy religion you want and there's not much
difference, extremely poor, uneducated emotional people being whipped
into a frenzy by charismatic preachers. It is fascinating but also
disturbing. Jim White travels around describing this strange surreal
world of misfits and fringe elements of an unforgiving society. But he
looks at them with pity and sympathy, and it made me have a different
view on these people. They live extremely hard lives in a land of
obscene riches, if that isn't enough to drive anybody to the church, I
don't know what is. Everything is black and white as one interviewed
inmate describes "you're either an outlaw our your in the church",
you're either going to hell, burning forever or you will be saved and
go to heaven. They go to church, twirl around, speak in tongues and
basically act completely crazy and if this were done anywhere else,
they would be locked up, but in the church it's okay, which makes it
kind of cool. It's kind of a enclosed crazy house where go absolutely
bonkers and then (presumably) go back into the world and live a normal
life. (Kind of reminds me of that episode of Star Trek with "Landrew",
where the population goes completely looney at exactly noon for about
10 minutes every day). Of course there is the odd person, liked Jim
describes, that goes absolutely nuts and stays that way. The saddest
thing is these people and their leaders seem to be dictating a lot of
decisions in the U.S. government right now, and after seeing this
movie, the thought of that will send a shiver up your spine.
Interspersed among these scenes is some really beautiful music, some by Jim White himself, it's adds a really nice touch to all the grimness that you witness throughout this film. There is beauty here, there is a rawness of emotion that can express itself in religious fervor or musical incarnations. It almost seems like the message is to leave the former for the latter.
This is a nice companion piece to "The True Meaning of Pictures" a film by Shelby Lee Adams, a photographer who takes an unflinching look at the deep south. He goes even a little deeper than this film, interviewing the snake handlers and the strychnine drinkers, the REALLY wacked out elements of this society.
Anyway, if this subject interests you, seek these two films out, they are honest, unexploitive, unflattering and not condescending looks that the deep south.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
We need more negative comments on this film. Sadly it is a strong
expression and will continue to influence people, especially
youngsters. But we should expose its "alt. country" aesthetic for the
exploitative hubris it pretends not to be.
If you make it through this film without laughing out loud at Jim White's nonsense, you should watch it again and really use your brain.
"I decided I'm going to come back to the South and become a Southerner. As best I can. I will never be a Southerner. I will be this imitation of a Southerner. But in a way, I feel like that brings me closer to God, because I've chosen--it's almost like a form of divinity. I've chosen my divinity rather than my divinity choosing me."
Oh yeah? You're like this guy I know who decided he's going to go back to L.A. and become a gangster. He'll never be a gangster. He'll be this imitation of a gangster. But in a way, he feels like that brings him closer to reality, because he's chosen . . . it's like a new form of authenticity. He's chosen his authenticity rather than his authenticity choosing him. Last I heard he'd started an "alt. hip-hop" group no one cares about.
"You don't see the south ... on the interstate. You go 5 or 10 miles off the interstate and you get the South as it was 50 years ago or a 100 years ago. And you can't do that in many places."
SFWEJ is ostensibly a film about "Southern" culture, but its composition--its contrived southern Gothic aesthetic--tells us much more about contemporary American cultural stagnation, evidenced in such desperate identity-quests as White's. It's a shame that he inscribes that identity onto people he doesn't know and I daresay would never ACTUALLY hang out with, just so he can legitimate the ersatz prewar Southern image he's constructed for himself. He's like, what, 40? And he acts like a verbally gifted high-school kid who's still finding himself. He naively makes up stories about people he may not have really known, and inserts himself in between scenes of "authentic" (non-actor) Southerners to remind us that he and they are one and the same (as if such gestures could conceal his position of literary and social power over his subject-cum-object).
By focusing only on the most remote and eccentric locales and people, White, the filmmakers, and the other musicians are only furthering irrelevant Southern stereotypes--keeping the fictional literary South alive so the mediocre, media-addled Anglo-Americans for whom it was constructed more than 100 years ago can go on dreaming their jaded, irrelevant dreams--and buying albums and concert tickets. This aesthetic object, the "South," contains no meaningful or useful information. It has two purposes: to make money, and to get our collective rocks off on an Other.
No one disputes that Pentecostal gatherings are unusual, even Pentecostalsunless they are too young or sheltered to know that there are other people in the world besides Pentecostals. But because they are unusual and there are quite a few of them in "the South" (not to mention in the more Southern nations of the Caribbean and elsewhere all over the planet) they supposedly embody the aesthetic paradox of hell/heaven, bliss/torment, that characterize "the South"'s "atmosphere." Great job, guys. I've never encountered that before. It's not like Faulkner and O'Connor used poetic metaphors a million years ago to justify the ignorance, poverty, and needless suffering they perceived around them. But when ignorance, poverty and needless suffering are the lived reality rather than a marketing tool I have a hard time caring whether there's "beauty in it."
The film doesn't come clean; it doesn't admit that it's primarily a promotion for the handful of alt. country musicians we see trying to blend in with the extras (read: human props). Everything about these pretentious protagonists betrays their conceit and their second-hand rip-off of the '60s folk revival (which was itself an ersatz identity-crisis that had no bearing on the lives of most real people living in the South). How derivative can you get? The way Johansen plays Geechie Wiley's "Last Kind Word" shows me nothing about the "South." It only shows me he has probably seen Crumb, the documentary about R. Crumb, whence most anyone's knowledge of that recording comes. Admit it.
The cinematography is beautiful, but the pretense to ethnography (or whatever you'd call it) is a shameful context for such talent. The scene with Melissa Swingle playing "Amazing Grace" on the saw is gorgeous, but is only palatable as a stand-alone music video; I could do without her oh-so-"Southern" anecdote. Some of the other musicians are talented and seem sincerely inspired. White seems like a nice guy, a dedicated artist and a hard worker. But they've opened an undead can of worms. No doubt many of my fellow Arkansans have seen this film. To what degree it inspires the alt. country scene in this region I don't know, but it can potentially warp lots of minds and that is depressing.
Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus is perfect proof that the neo-Gothic, alt. country "Southern" aesthetic is a "postmodern" (in Fredric Jameson's sense) symptom of America's lack of historical sense. Don't buy into the pseudo-populist fantasy that the South hasn't sold out, that urban sprawl is not the "real" South, that if you rambled aimlessly in this vaguely-defined region you would find the philosopher's stone Jim White wants to be there. It's all mythology, and unoriginal mythology at that. This film masquerades as a rediscovery or celebration of something the "South" has kept which the rest of America has lost, but if you were to ask White exactly what that is, he couldn't give you a straight answer. If he could, there would be no reason to make this film and the poet/guru facade he cultivates in order to make his living would crumble.
To amend the other comment, it is not primarily Louisiana, but North/Central/East Florida up to North Georgia/South Carolina area. I lived 23 years in Gainesville, FL, my master's thesis required me to extensively examine Southern Appalachian culture, I know people who have had Harry Crews for a professor, I have read much southern literature, and I am familiar with the Cracker culture. I only state this to show I am more researched with the "true" South. It is a good and rather accurate documentary but biased in that it focuses on finding out the meaning of something. Thus the documentary is not an accurate portrayal of the entire South but of sub-cultures to the South. Another good look at more Eastern Florida is "Vernon, FL," showing a different sub-culture well. The other review comment's enough and is accurate but to note it is hard for any one documentary or film to capture what the South is considering how regional and place specific traditions, religions, and lifestyles are, so don't take the film as "truth" creating a stereotype. A lot of behavior examined in this documentary comes from, in my opinion, boredom, difficult financial conditions, and the heat and humidity. Not a rather atypical result of these either I might add. Anybody staying anytime in any of these places will soon experience emotions contributing to this behavior and cultural identity. Other than that, it is worth watching if you are at all interested in documentaries, aspects of southern culture, or are just interested in people.
"Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus" is a great documentary, it took me into a world I had never seen, the world of deep-South music combined with Pentacostal fanaticism. Great website too, see it at www.searchingforthewrongeyedjesus.com. I saw this movie at the LA Film Festival in June, 2004, and had no idea what to expect. The culture of lower-middle class rural Southern whites (mostly in Louisiana) is a world of work Monday-Friday, get REAL drunk on Saturday, and show up to church on Sunday with a hangover. The movie shows a certain intensity to this "Southern week", as there isn't much else to do but work, drink, and church in those parts. Oh, and play music. Some incredible solo artists and bands that I've never heard of are in this films as well! Jim White, Johnny Dowd, The Handsome Family, 16 Horsepower, and Trailer Bride just to name a few. This is one of the most original documentaries I've seen in the last five years, and I've seen quite a few. Go see it!
This was the best movie i saw in 2005, and i even saw it in the theater twice. That's 10.50 for a ticket and i saw it twice! It is the perfect blend of beautiful cinematography, interesting subject matter and music, and exceptional editing. On top of all of that the camera work was unbelievable. That one scene where they man and the women are singing in the barbershop left me with that awesome feeling of "how the hell did they do that?" which I haven't felt since the elevator shot in Touch of Evil. Every time I talk to a friend about movies i tell them to see this one right away, and I don't do that a lot. I read a newspaper article that described Wrong Eyed Jesus as a "Surrealist Look at the South," and it is. It is a collage of incredible sights and sounds that will leave you breathless.
Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus takes the outsider on a beautiful lyrical esoteric journey through a part of the South that most of us have never seen. In that sense, it is eye-opening. However, its Cinema Verite approach lacks context and leaves the outsider to understand that are being presenting with something truly central about the essence of the modern "South" when in reality they are only seeing a highly-selective isolated and fading subculture of the poor, rural, white, poorly-educated, mostly Pentecostal world of a few small Southern towns. By only presenting this small piece of the South, the director seems to reinforce, probably unintentionally, the negative stereotypes of Southerners as "hicks" that too many outsiders unfortunately already hold. As someone who has lived in more urban parts of Virginia and Texas for the last 26 years, I find this selective picture of the "South" to be very off-putting and incomplete. The outsider is not given the context to understand the true complexity of the American South. Most Southerners live in urban and suburban areas. The importance of African-Americans to southern culture is sadly not shown. Most Southerners are not Pentecostals speaking in tongues. Most Southerners are better educated and more sophisticated than those shown in this film. The South is an increasingly multi-cultural region as well. Nor does this picture provide the viewer with any sort of analysis or economic understanding of why this part of the rural South has been left behind. Rather than presenting the heart of the South as the film implicitly claims, it shows the margins of the modern South. That's fine and important, but without more context it risks doing a disservice to the world it is trying present fairly. The viewer would be better served by a fuller accounting of today's south and an explanation of why these people shown have been marginalized.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As a quirky film promoting singers this movie is just fine. That's the only nice thing I can think to say about it. Otherwise it's portrayal of the South is about as accurate as The Beverly Hillbillies or The Dukes of Hazzard. I wasn't sure if I should laugh or scream at the ridiculousness of this flick. Having been born and raised in South Georgia, and having spent years in Florida and other parts of Georgia and the South, I can't help but wonder how long it took to find all these places. The movie goes from the armpit of Louisiana to one tiny town in the armpit of Florida over 600 miles away. Then, it sets off for the darkest speck in the Appalachians, another 800 miles away. All this is done in a beat-up old car, because apparently Southerners don't own anything made in the current millennium (with Jesus hanging out of the trunk). I'm not saying they should have set up a musician on an Atlanta skyscraper, or even in the middle of a college football field (although that's the real church of the South). I just don't think that the movie should position itself as a general look at the South, its music and its religion. Jim himself lives in Athens, GA. This is the land of REM and the University of Georgia. As a recent resident of a town only 30 minutes from Athens, I can assure you that snake-handling religious freaks and Jesus Saves Catfish Truck Stops are just as laughable here as they are in NYC or the UK. And no these are not the people electing our politicians (well, maybe that place in Florida). To say they are the margins of the South is putting it mildly. These places made for some great gritty backdrops to play some music in front of, but that's about it. This all might have been more believable if the stories told didn't sound so obviously scripted. I'm thinking the location scout for this film is the same guy that finds people to interview right after a tornado in the Mid-West. Quite a knack for finding the freaks. I've also lived in Cali and NYC. I find it hilarious that people from these places took this movie so seriously. Try getting out of your bubble. The South is actually a really nice place. You should see it sometime. We've learned to read and write and think for ourselves. We hardly even eat dirt or opossum anymore. Jackasses.
Being an import into the South, I was mesmerized by the opening scenes of this movie, and was filled with a unique representation of the Gothic South. I was displeased though to read the comments here with a clear misunderstanding of the movie was trying to portray. The movie is about the South, not about a mindless devotion to Pentecostalism. Although that is portrayed in the movie, I feel it's important to understand that the South, unlike other parts of the country is a place full of the clash of religion and "hell-raising." The Church is only one element in this film as the other elements of ghoulish beauty, good-natured people, and a love for simplistic things seems to have been overlooked by other commentaries here on IMDb. I just felt inclined to mention the movie is more about THE South, than just a pocket of the Church, and it's notable that the comments have all come from Yankees, who after seeing this movie, might not still have a clue about the charming,haunting beauty of the South.
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