Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus (2005) is a British director's aimless documentary quest through America's Deep South, undertaken in a rusty 1970 Chevy to trick po' folk into revealing their hearts as they'd never do with a carpetbagger in a fancy new landrover.
The carpetbagger came away with a document that makes southern honkies look really, really bad. And maybe that's an honest view, but I can't help but feel this was a selective view.
The guys who spin stories about purdy girls in the Seers catalog made the catalog out to be a fabled paradise where everyone's got all their fingers & both their eyes, unlike folks in the actual world of southern rednecks & whores.
The soundtrack, however, is periodically pretty nice, made up of singers & musicians met along the way. This was the surface-goal of this insulting film: to find beautiful music in a world of extreme ugliness.
These are ugly people in an ugly environment with ugly jobs & ugly politics & all of them dirt poor. They nevertheless produce some impoverished artist of merit, which is supposed to be enough to transform the viewpoint of the into something more fair.
Certainly honest rural tunes can invoke dreams of sadness & joy. But without the music this would be nothing but Jesus & drunkenness & racism & profound ignorance & missing teeth. Putting some sweet tunes behind it makes it worse.
Author Harry Crews makes a decidedly eccentric entry before the camera's lens, & anyone who has read his ornery, bleakly funny, strangely sensitive novels & tales, knows there's a way to show the snaggletoothed poverty of folks while revealing their humanity, emotions, & dreams.
This mocking documentary may have intended something akin to Crews' superior tales of southern life, but Crews lives it from the inside. The documentarian is more of a fraud & a sneak who sees to the heart of very little.
The filmmaker is dead-set against showing even a lake or an everglade as anything but a retched swamp. What passes for culture is only that which can be found at truckstops or in prison.
Then there are almost no black folk anywhere to be seen. No black folk in the south? Well, can't blame 'em for not hanging out with this kind of white trash.
The "cuteness" & "talent" of one or two of these apartheid hicks wore out after half an hour. The documentary got ultra-redundant without forward momentum, insisting repeatedly that this filth is all the South has to offer, from West Virginia & Georgia to the Louisiana bayous, nothin' but iggerunt honkies, some few of whom can play guitar or banjo really swell, though not good enough for the Grand Ol' Opry. For of the music selected, only about one-third of it is worth listening to, & only one third of that third is honestly good.
If the purpose of this documentary was to undermine any romantic notion of white southerners having a musical heritage, this film does it. Fortunately authentic music collectors have made the truth a little better known than this film's exclusive focus on the worst stereotypes of justly marginalized white trash.
Fact is you can find thuggish mental cripples & snaggletoothed honky racists anywhere in America if you want to find them, but this film wants you to believe they're peculiar to the South.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl