Searching for The Wrong-Eyed Jesus is a captivating and compelling road trip through the creative spirit of the the Southern U.S. Director Andrew Douglas's film follows "Alt Country" singer...
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Searching for The Wrong-Eyed Jesus is a captivating and compelling road trip through the creative spirit of the the Southern U.S. Director Andrew Douglas's film follows "Alt Country" singer Jim White through a gritty terrain of churches, prisons, truck stops, biker bars and coal mines. This is a journey through a very real contemporary Southern U.S., a world of marginalised white people and their unique and home-made society. Along the way are road-side encounters with modern musical mavericks including The Handsome Family, Johnny Dowd, 16 Horsepower and David Johansen; old time banjo player Lee sexton; rockabilly and mountain Gospel churches - and novelist Harry Crews telling grisly stories down a dirt track.Written by
I am sort of split both ways about this film. On the one hand, I agree with what a lot of folks have said about it--it certainly doesn't present a picture of the "whole" South, in any way, or even much of the South, at that. I was born in rural Virginia and grew up in Austin, TX., and I'm not much like most of the folks in this film, being from a large city with a culture very different from the corners of the Deep South this film was looking at. What's more, I'm currently finishing up my college education in Massachusetts, and when people up here ask me where I'm from and I tell them I'm from Texas, it does irk me when sometimes they give me weird looks and make comments like their whole picture of anything south of the Mason-Dixon line is just like this movie and it gives them the willies to have someone like that in the car with them or whatever (though even if it was, I don't see why that should--it's not like I or the folks in this film are gonna pull a pistol on them or something).
That said, I think criticizing the film on those grounds misses its intent. It's clearly not a documentary in the same way that, say, a nature special is--the point is to focus on a very specific aspect of the South that the people involved in the film consider important and to capture it aesthetically, rather than make a "true-to-life" (whatever that means) depiction of the South as a whole. The film broadcasts that every second. Complaining about certain parts of it being "staged" or the characters in the film seeming hand-picked sounds silly to me--I mean, of course they are. This ain't a fly-on-the-wall film and it isn't trying to be; it's not trying to hoodwink anyone or pull the wool over the eyes of foreigners to sell records or whatever. I think it would be equally silly to view this movie and get the impression that it was trying to be an "objective" documentary, and if anyone sees this film and views it that way, I'm gonna say that's their fault for being thick and not the movie's for trying to "trick" them.
I do think it's understandable to see this and have sort of a knee-jerk reaction lumping it in with all the other films and books and articles and advertisements and whatever that do portray the South in a very limited, stereotyped light and do so mainly to cash in on a false conception a lot of folks have and make a quick buck. They are certainly legion and irksome. However, not only do they try a lot harder to fool people, but they--like this film--are able to succeed based on the fact that what they are trying to portray does really exist, in a sense, just not in nearly as distilled a fashion. I've spent plenty of time in small towns, out in the woods, in the desert, the middle of nowhere, wherever, and though Texas is pretty different from Florida or Louisiana, the sort of folks and the kinds of happenings portrayed in this film are definitely around, and it can be a real joy to find people willing to spin a yarn or talk with you about religion or play music--or just shoot the breeze and relax or whatever.
For some people--Jim White and a lot of the other musicians in the film, it seems, for instance--certain types of those sorts of experiences, in this case frequently the darkly or strikingly religious ones, are the heart of the South. They see them as the essence of the region, it's a distillation of what makes it important to them, and they want to capture it--in song, or film, or what have you. Doing that requires excluding a lot of other stuff about it that doesn't come as close to the core for them. Other people have very different ideas about what the essence of the South is, and that's fine, it makes sense; it's a huge and very multi-faceted area, but that doesn't make the views of those people illegitimate. In as much as this film is an attempt to capture that particular spirit, I think it's an emphatic success. It's sublime and haunting, the stories are great, and the music is wonderful. Does it show the whole, resounding South, in all its glory? Absolutely not--it has wrung a very specific type of dark beauty out of the region like a damp cloth. Woe betide anyone who views this film and thinks it's the total picture, for sure (although how any film could ever possibly hope to do that, I don't know--after all, just because it doesn't show your own experience of the South doesn't mean it misses the point, given that we've all acknowledged the South is vast), but it's hard to imagine that such a person would be able to tell the difference between the evening news and an action movie either. If you're better than that--and I think you are--you may enjoy this film.
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