Some late night insomnia lead me to watch the excuisite documentary Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus. It was first broadcast in 2004 and is an exploration of the music and religion of the poor, white South by musician Jim White. At the outset, White hires a very broken car from a wary owner, then buys a four-foot statue of Jesus as a kind of oversized dashboard memento to accompany him on his drive across the American south. En route he meets all manner of swamp dwellers, bikers, woodsmen and tele-evangelists.
What binds these people together is their choice of where they sit on a very stark divide. On one side is a perilous life of crime, hedonism and alcohol often resulting in prison or death. The others choose god and, while their lives are no less punishing, they are completely convinced of the rewards they will receive in the hereafter. Thus the small towns tend to have two neighborhoods - that of the brothels and bars, and that of ramshackle churches.
The lyrical speech of the subjects is mirrored by the photography of the documentary. In this respect Wrong-Eyed Jesus reminds me of the excellent 1999 Wisconsin Death Trip. Long tracking shots describe the rugged, jumbled landscape while interviewees tell weird and depressing tales of their youth. The effect is utterly brilliant and provides a fascinating window into how capitalism and western values can fail miserably and how humans have the capacity to comprehend and choose between instant or deferred gratification.
Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus is currently on BBC iPlayer.