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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Wise Blood (1979)

Here comes part three of my movies based on books series, with an adaptation of one of my personal favorite author's works. This movie was somewhat tough to find on the loose until the good folks at Janus Films decided to put out a DVD of it as part of the Criterion Collection. Being a HUGE Flannery O'Connor fan I just had to have it. It's a bizarre tail of faith and redemption, and considering that I am very far from a religious man it's rather odd that I enjoy this movie so much.


It's pretty fair to say that whoever it was that wrote the dialogue for and cut this trailer together really didn't have a clue how to advertise this movie, much less an ioda of an idea as to what this film is about. The rather cute comedic air the the preview lends in almost completely (there are a few wacky bits from the book left intact) inappropriate considering what viewers got when they sat down in the theater. While the trailer does have some of my favorite lines from the movie in it, try and ignore it and just watch the movie instead. John Huston never does anything half way and I'm fairly certain he didn't make this trailer so do yourself a favor ya dig?

(brief, ever so brief) Plot synopsis: Hazel Motes (Brad Dourif) is a young disillusioned man who "doesn't believe in anything". Fresh out of the army, he hitchhikes back to his childhood home only to find it empty. Buying a new suit and hat he goes to the (fictional) city of Talkingham (as Hazel would put it in his own words) to do some things he ain't never done before. Once there he immediately meets/confronts a blind preacher named Asa Hawks (Harry Dean Stanton), after which Hazel begins preaching on the street about his own new church, "The Holy Church Of Christ Without Christ". This leads him on a bizarre journey towards religious redemption. Along the way there are various other characters like the incredibly irritating Enoch Emory (who finds his own way to enlightenment by films end) and Asa's daughter Sabbath Lily just to name a couple. I can't really get too specific without giving away everything so let's just leave it nice and trite because I'd like to talk about some other things okay?


As I said earlier, the film is an adaptation of Flannery O'Connor's 1952 novel of the same name. Much like last weeks review of the film version of Nineteen Eighty-Four (click here to read it in case you missed it somehow) this is also very close to the source material. It is unfortunate my favorite scene from the novel isn't in it but to be fair this film was shot on a very low budget and finding a milkshake stand shaped like a giant orange crush isn't exactly easy so I'm willing to let that one slide. Some of the more superfluous scenes in the novel are left out so we can focus on Hazel's story, something which I feel works to the film's credit. Not to say that the novel is worse for having them, just that some of those bits wouldn't exactly work well with the movie as is.

Here is yet another film with quite possibly a 100% PERFECT cast. When I read the novel I honestly saw someone looking roughly like Brad Dourif in my head as Hazel Motes and this was ages before I knew a film version even existed. Harry Dean Stanton doesn't need any explanation, as his talent speaks for itself. Enoch is played Dan Shor in his first non TV appearance, eagle eyed viewers like myself will immediately recognize him as the actor who played RAM in the 1982 film TRON. Ned Beatty and William Hickey are priceless as always, even though their screen time is very short. I'll watch the hell out of anything with William Hickey in it, he's amazing. Something of note here is all of the incidental characters in the film are found actors. There's really no other way the production could have found so many people so strange or authentic, something big time productions never quite seem to get. In films like this, people who just genuinely want to be in a movie (or in some cases just did it for a quick buck and could care less) really shine in their very short amount of screen time. Apparently directors just stopped doing this after the seventies, what gives?

I am pretty confident that only a director like John Huston could translate Flannery O'Connor's scathing wit or dry sense of humor into a motion picture and still have it work. He strikes me as a man I would have either got along very well with or hated entirely- so in other words he is a genius. I'm not sure I can adequately put down the many themes of this film and exactly how I feel about them. I watch this film with less of a thought and more of an emotion, which is something you can't even really put into words. I feel much the same way about O'Connors novel, but I have to admit that part of the reason I cannot adequately explain myself is due to my lack of religious background. Religion factors heavily throughout and considering what I just told you there isn't much for me to say in that regard is there?

I'd like to take a hot minute to talk about this DVD, because there is a priceless special feature on it that I am simply over the moon about: an actual audio recording of our beloved Ms. O'Connor reading her incredible short story A good man is hard to find. Her southern drawl is thick and amazing and I wish I could have been her friend. This was the very first piece of her work that I ever read, and I was totally thrown back by her choice of words. This is probably the only recording of her in existence and is a definite gem. Also included are new interviews with the writer Benedict Fitzgerald, writer/produce Michael Fitzgerald, and actor Brad Dourif. Don't take the time to think about it, check it out from you local library, or rent it, or buy it.

I'm not sure where to put this in the review so now seems like a good time. There are some rather amusing misspellings that occur at different points in the film, not all of which are scripted. There is of course Hazel hanging a sign up informing any would be thief not to steal his mother's "Shiffer-Robe" but if one looks closely at the tombstone in his family graveyard it reads "Gone To Become An Angle". During the opening credits (which were written by a small boy in crayon John Huston's name is spelled Jhon Huston. I guess I never found that odd because I'm a fan of the industrial band COIL and their frontman Jhon Balance, so I didn't notice until later on. Prepare yourself for some amazing southern colloquialisms too, my particular favorite being the line "I followed her to say I ain't beholden for none of her fast eye like she gave me back there".

While the soundtrack does have some cheesy synth parts that would have better been done with a banjo, and the ending wasn't quite as clear as the book was, I can't really find any faults in this movie anywhere. While it might be too boring for some people to put up with it works for me just fine and I recommend it with zero reservations. May I also mention that next to the Criterion edition of Georges Franju's Eyes Without A Face this is one of my most favorite pieces of cover art for one of their releases.

No man with a good car needs to be justified.

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