Saturday, July 26, 2014

WISE BLOOD (John Huston, 1979, USA)

SPINE# 470
Hazel Motes is a speck in a cosmic storm, his blood a fury of existential angst that thrusts him deeper into an emotional abyss, lost in the vacuum of nihilism, a victim of religion. Hazel returns from the savage Vietnam War, discarding his Purple Heart, discouraged and alone after haunting his broken home. His fire and brimstone past has tainted his blood, flashbacks to his Grandfather’s zealous Christian condemnations reverberate throughout his psyche, regressing to the little boy who pissed himself in fear of hellfire.

Director John Huston blasts religiosity back to the dark ages: from the opening credit sequences in stark black & white, where faith is relegated to uneducated childish scrawls to the fraudulent preachers who dominate the cityscape of modernity. Into this morass wanders Hazel screeching his new “religion”, the church of Christ Without Christ, an ironic and militantly satirical worldview that would make even Kurt Vonnegut proud! The narrative subtext seems to indicate that Hazel was a devout Christian but the horrors of war (and life) have changed him, have opened his mind towards a greater understanding…but he’s caught in a self-destructive web of anger and resentment towards society. He caustically disregards Enoch, a young worshiper who wants nothing more than to be friends. Enoch’s comic obsessions with primates and a mummified corpse seem superficial and narratively irrelevant, but could be read as a religious metaphor concerning Homo Sapiens’s superiority over our common ancestors…an evolutionary fact that the villainous faithful deny. Enoch descends into mankind’s primitive past (he actually dresses as an ape) while Hazel is juxtaposed as the empty future of his morally bankrupt philosophy.

John Huston doesn’t shy away from the racist authority that permeates Macon, GA and this gritty unrelenting drama plays as both satire and tragedy. Brad Dourif’s performance is vehemently empathetic as a young man who needs guidance, not from an imaginary savior but from a real flesh and blood person. His final penance is only self-perpetuating, he’s lost the ability to care, and becomes an echo in the void.

Final Grade: (B+)

DVD Only ( 1 disc)
•New, restored high-definition digital transfer
•New interviews with actor Brad Dourif, writer Benedict Fitzgerald, and writer-producer Michael Fitzgerald
•Rare archival audio recording of author Flannery O’Connor reading her short story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”
•A 28-minute episode of the television program Creativity with Bill Moyers from 1982, featuring John Huston discussing his life and work
•Theatrical trailer
•PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by author Francine Prose

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