If you've never fallen under the spell of alt-country singer/songwriter Jim White, then this "documentary" won't give you much in the way of facts that could help decipher his strange talents. But if you have been seduced by the musician/poet's hypnotic bluegrass musings, Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus is powerfully informative in an indirect way. The South is not a state of mind, says White, but an atmosphere. The footage and narration do deliver the peculiarities of this part of the country, which disturbed yet influenced the artist during his childhood years in the Florida panhandle.
Directed by Andrew Douglas a Brit who is better known for his commercials, music videos and the lackluster remake of The Amityville Horror this cinematic excursion is guided by White himself. And it is as enigmatic as it is charismatic.
The film opens with a brief paragraph of text that explains how the director became engaged in this mission. He received a copy of White's 1997 Wrong-Eyed Jesus (Mysterious Tale of How I Shouted) CD and wanted to better understand the source. Thus their collaboration began on a project that was originally produced for the BBC's Arena program and is now seeing its first U.S. screening dates.
As the film opens, White explains that in order to really talk to down-home Southern folks, the first thing needed is a credible car. After coaxing the use of a 1970 Chevy from a friend, he's off and wandering. The remainder of the film is a series of evocative, unrelated vignettes that capture the colorful characters, the sad stories, the lonesome music (recorded for the soundtrack CD) and the confused motivations of the people who dwell in White's songs.
Without manipulation, White taps into the religious fervor that's at the root of Southern life. He lyrically explains how the culture recognizes only two eternal options heaven or hell leaving the masses to struggle in between.
This is the only film I have seen that captures a true essence of the South's unique if odd beauty.