Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus takes us into the soul of the small town Deep South. And finds that life is pretty much a choice between Jesus and sin, with not much in between. Where criminals turn to crime out of boredom, and follks turn to the Pentecostal Church for perhaps the same reason. But maybe, we realize, the something in between is art. The music and storytelling that seems to thrive in the humidity, not to mention the film which is capturing the music and storytelling. The resulting 84 mintues are so damn good, itís sinful.
At first the documentary appears to be the personal journey of Alt Country singer Jim White, returning to his native South with his ten dollar guitar, a three hundred pound concrete statue of Jesus and an appropriate mix of revulsion and reverence for the culture that spawned him. White says his muse is always trying to find the gold tooth in God's crooked smile. He appears to have a lot of friends in the same boat, young and not so young musicians who write mournful songs and look unsure of their place as rebels among rebels. We watch the toothless and haggard tell stories dripping with violent redemption, then the camera may pan away to to reveal that the haunting music weíve been admiring on the sountrack is actually a couple musicians playing in the next room to nobody. These are set pieces, cleverly staged, but it hardly matters to the authenticity. Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus is less of a documentary than it is a sculpture or poem anyway. If it wanted to be fair it would look a little harder for life between the biker bar and the Pentacostal church. But I donít recall ever hearing a good song about life being fair.
There are Southern bars that Jim White still wonít walk into, but he invites the camera to go on in without him. Which the camera does. And that's when we realize this movie isnít so much about Jim White as it is hunting down demons in general. One might expect to find fellow alt Southerners behind the camera, wrestling with their own fitful souls. But nothing could be further from the truth. Director Andrew Douglas and writer Steve Haisman are from England and bring with them careers in big budget television commercials. What attracted them to this project, how they survived the deep-fried journey, and how they managed to pull the film off so beautifully sounds like the a dark and mesmerizing tale in itself. Only clue I managed to dig up was that Douglas was a fan of Whiteís music and pitched the documentary to the BBC, which originally commissioned it.
I'd like to see more films like Searching for the Wrong Eyed Jesus. I'd like to see filmmakers this good searching every nook, cranny and subculture this country's got. And if it takes the BBC to look into the soul of America, I can handle the irony.
© 2005 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 7/27/05
Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus
USA - 2005