Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Diner-lovers, drunk Pentecostals and one big plastic Jesus
Now that the holidays are over and I’m just about out of energy to party, I’m making a list of movies to watch as I snuggle on my new couch and listen to the annoying Chinook winds blow outside my window. There’s a few embarrassing favorites (Pretty in Pink, more Pretty in Pink) but also a long list of documentaries and dramas I can’t wait to get my cold little hands on.
One gorgeous documentary I can’t stop talking about is Searching For the Wrong-Eyed Jesus, an absorbing road trip film that follows alt-country singer Jim White through the American South. White drives through small towns, bayous and forests with a life-sized plastic Jesus in his trunk. He ruminates about what it means to live in an environment where the ideas of eternal damnation and faith are constant companions-- and constant inspiration for writers and musicians. Along the way, he meets drunk Pentecostals, enthusiastic preachers, diner-loving locals and at a handful of folks who claim their brother’s cousin’s best friend was dragged into hell.
Interviews with locals and scattered shots of church scenes offer context for the film, but what cast a spell on me was the built-in soundtrack sung on the edge of lakes, in the middle of roads and in the back of greasy spoon diners. I’m a blossoming alt-country fan, so it was an awesome treat to see performances by the Handsome Family, banjo player Lee Sexton and guitarist Johnny Dowd. These musicians show up at the corners of the story and slowly turn the lonely landscape into organic concert halls for their impromptu performances. In my favorite scene, David Eugene Edwards of 16 Horsepower sits alone in the forest, singing the haunting traditional hymn “Wayfaring Stranger” on his banjo. As he sings, a kid pushes his bike toward him, stops to listen for a minute, then pushes his bike away.
The simplicity of each shot and the unhurried, thoughtful tone of Searching For the Wrong-Eyed Jesus convinced me that there is creative and spiritual inspiration at every turn--even when inspiration comes from dirty truck stop bathrooms and cramped, hot barber shops. White’s view of the South may be crusty, imperfect and full of contradiction, but that’s what he loves so much about it. His outlook reminds me that the crusty, imperfect corners of my own landscape are just as valuable and just as packed with inspiration.