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Image Entertainment presents
Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus (2005)

"In a poor world like this, gravity seems a lot stronger. It's pulling you down into the Earth, and everyday it's a fight not to disappear."
- Jim White

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: March 13, 2006

Stars: Jim White
Other Stars: The Handsome Family, Johnny Dowd, Harry Crews, David Johansen, Larry Saltzman, Trailer Bride, 16 Horsepower, Lee Sexton
Director: Andrew Douglas

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (language)
Run Time: 01h:22m:35s
Release Date: March 14, 2006
UPC: 014381300024
Genre: cult


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A+ A+B-B A-

DVD Review

The impetus for this odd little road film—a carefully crafted "constructed documentary" in the words of director Andrew Douglas (The Amityville Horror)—rose from alt-country musician Jim White's release The Mysterious Tale of How I Shouted Wrong-Eyed Jesus, a CD that he called, "a record so full of strangeness that you had to wonder, in a shrinking world, where this music comes from."

Using the exploration of White's music as the tent pegs to build a BBC-sanctioned narrative—originally intended not as a doc, but as a feature—Douglas and writer Steve Haisman traveled to the heart of America's backwoods Bible Belt. With White, a self-described "imitation of a Southerner," serving as the travel director/host, he drives a rusty vehicle from town to town, lugging a concrete statue of Jesus in the trunk, dragging Douglas' camera along to meet a world and people that seem alien and forgotten.

The film is a shadowy journey through what is referred to as "Jesus Central," with White spewing endless anecdotes and stories from the driver's seat while leading Douglas into a world of Pentacostal-fueled weirdness. Some of the sequences are delicately staged, as when crusty novelist Harry Crews wanders upon White as he sits parked by the side of the road. It's Crews' recurring stream of consciousness ramblings, in a tangled glob of Southern gothic folk history, that push this film at times into a unique kind of deep-fried art house chic. Likewise with alt-country musician Johnny Dowd, who becomes Robin to White's Batman, whether it be strumming forlorn dirges or sitting at a bar sipping a beer.

And it's the twangy spectre of roots Americana music, a careful mixture of modern alt-country and the genuine article, that lurks beneath the surface for Douglas. New artists like The Handsome Family, who at one point float by on the porch of a rundown shack, and Trailer Bride become more than just soundtrack participants; they are part of the film's density, appearing and performing onscreen as transitional markers or, more accurately, eerie phantoms that count the time until the next town. Melissa Swingle of Trailer Bride contributes a thinly chilling rendition of Amazing Grace played on a saw, and as the theremin-like tones gently resonate, Douglas moves the camera slowly into a dense southern wood, coming across a late-model car where Swingle sits on the edge of the open trunk.

It's a David Lynch music video moment, but it tells us is that Trailer Bride is truly a part of the scenery, an authentic branch of the resurgency of the Americana music scene that is an indelible part of the story here.

As the road trip travels deeper into yet another unnamed ramshackle town, the progression of religious fervor gets more dramatic, leading to a visit to a manic Pentecostal service, complete with speaking in tongues and faith healing. The redemptive power of religion and the born-again world is harnessed like the morning-after pill to alcoholic/drug-induced carousing; one of the inhabitants of a grubby roadside bar reminds us that no matter what happens on Saturday, all is forgiven on Sunday morning.

It's a world where even the utility poles look like crosses, and a barbecue/fireworks business does triple duty as a place to get your soul saved. To his credit, Andrew Douglas avoids pointing a finger and laughing at what Jim White shows off—that would be the drunken frat boy way, to laugh at something that is different—and maybe that's the proper Brit in him coming through.

There's a strange world out there, and it's closer than you think.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Originally shot on 16mm, this surreal southern doc has been issued in a decent 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. There is quite a bit of grain, and some of the interior shots look a little muddy, but the daylight scenes look presentable, without being excessively ugly or pristine. Not much in the way of debris or print damage, so that's a good thing.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Audio is presented in 2.0 stereo, and for dialogue it's clean and mostly hiss-free. The musical passages, especially performances by The Handsome Family, actually fare much better, sounding deep and full-bodied.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 19 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
6 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Andrew Douglas, Steve Haisman
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Director Andrew Douglas and writer Steve Haisman contribute a commentary track, and unlike most rambling, disheveled discourses, this one is one of those rarities that is required listening to get the full impact of the film. Douglas and Haisman fill in a lot of blanks in what they refer to as their "constructed documentary," and how they melded the traditional documentary approach into something loosely scripted, at least by theme. The mix of fact and staged reality is answered honestly, and even simple things like identifying the names of the musicians helps flesh out some of the unknown bits. A very easy listen, and almost as enjoyable as the film itself.

A set of six deleted scenes are billed as "additional performances," and they are a mix of music and spoken word. 16 Horsepower performs My Narrow Mind (04m:13s), David Johansen and Larry Saltzman cover James Alley Blues (04m:03s), and Melissa Swingle (aka Trailer Bride) does a haunting acapella version of Thankful Dirt (02m:45s) while sitting in her car trunk. For spoken word, David Johansen discusses The Harry Smith Story (03m:36s), banjo old-timer Lee Sexton offers his Moonshine Recipes (01m:59s), and writer Harry Crews retells The Pig Boiler Story (03m:32s).

There's also a theatrical trailer, too. The disc is cut into 19 chapters, and features optional English subtitles.

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

Here's a hypnotically bizarre alt-country tour of the Deep South, one part fire-and-brimstone travelogue, one part Americana musical odyssey. A strange narrative voice moves this one all over the map, literally and figuratively, as director Andrew Douglas pulls back the covers on what lurks not so far off the main highway.

One of my favorites of the year, and hence, highly recommended.

 


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