Searching For The Wrong-eyed Jesus

on July 13, 2005 by Sheri Linden
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British filmmaker Andrew Douglas, who directed this year's remake of "The Amityville Horror," finds far more unsettling -- and inspired -- material in this dark road trip through the Deep South. Douglas' tour guide is musician Jim White, whose album "The Mysterious Tale of How I Shouted Wrong-Eyed Jesus!" inspired him to seek out the places behind the "strangeness" of the songs. This brooding, often beautiful tone poem of a documentary goes a good way toward finding them.

The literary terrain of Faulkner, O'Connor, Welty and McCullers meets alt-country Gothic in "Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus." With a concrete figure of Jesus himself hanging out of the trunk, White pilots a rusty, big-engined 1970 Chevy Impala he's rented from a friend for the film -- a Land Rover or Lexus, he tells the offscreen director, will get him nowhere if he wants poor people to open up to him. The rural burgs, coal mines and truck stops of this South haven't changed much in 50 or more years -- a breath of fresh air for the WiFi-weary. But Douglas and White aren't concerned with dewy-eyed nostalgia; though the film starts out with a sense of outsider's romance, the underside starts creeping through soon enough. Storytelling stakes its claim in this mortality-obsessed Pentecostal landscape as a kind of penance or balm, the blood tales of violence and murder accumulating. Novelist Harry Crews shares twisted childhood memories while walking down a country road, and backwoods philosopher White's ghosts and demons reverberate in what he leaves unsaid.

Douglas, who also serves as cinematographer, has an eye for lyrical imagery full of portent. But the least organic visual aspects of the film are the musical interludes, staged by former music-video director Douglas in auto mechanics' yards, diners, motel rooms, barbershops and swamp shacks. Still, that doesn't lessen the haunting power of the music itself -- by White, the Handsome Family, David Johansen, the Singing Hall Sisters and others (none of them IDed) -- with its roots in junkyard roads where "every lamppost is a crucifix." Directed by Andrew Douglas. Written by Steve Haisman. Produced by Andrew Douglas and Martin Rosenbaum. A Shadow release. Documentary. Unrated. Running time: 82 min

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