SEARCHING FOR THE WRONG-EYED JESUS (Andrew Douglas) Rating: NNN
Searching For The Wrong-Eyed Jesus opens with languorous shots of gnarled trees dripping with Spanish moss, and wrecked shanties moored in bayou swamps, which unfold to the eerie strains of Jim White's Still Waters. It's so easy to get caught up in the sensual beauty of the Deep South, you almost overlook the sanctimonious tone of this oddball documentary.
Inspired by the gothic narratives of alt-country kook White's music, a team of Brits led by director Andrew Douglas (the dude behind this year's crap-o-delic Amityville Horror remake) try to figure out why art from the American South is so gosh-darn creepy. With White as their guide, the filmmakers trawl barbershops, Pentecostal meetings, truck-stop bars and pawnshops in Louisiana, Kentucky and Florida. In between rambling interviews with toothless sad sacks, musical chums of White's like the Handsome Family and bluesy necromancer Johnny Dowd show up for sudden performances on porches and used car lots.
While the tunes are great and the cinematography is stunning, the whole thing feels awkwardly staged. A squinty fella on a crutch suddenly appears on an old dirt road to drawl about how he and his kinfolk used to make up stories about the models in the Sears catalogue. A sad-eyed belle sits in an abandoned car in a bog and sighs about her grandpa's funeral. We never learn their names or backstories. In his bid for a magic realist tone, Douglas ends up dehumanizing his individual subjects by playing up the wacky romance of the South and ignoring the real conditions (poverty, racism) that shape life there. (August 12 to 16, the Royal)