04 April 2006
Back in 2000, I made a 17-minute film called Residue as part of my MA in visual anthropology. It was awarded distinction, I moved back home to the Southern US and then to NYC and then back to the UK, and I never got round to doing anything with it.
My film basically dealt with the strange world of the Deep South and fundamentalist Christianity there. There are interviews with local characters and friends who tell stories about bizarre high school murders and their connection to religion.
There are slowed-down drive-by shots of suburban houses and churches, scenes of Sunday services, and a soundtrack of creepy songs about the devil, courtesy of Daniel Johnston.
Last night I finally watched the BBC-commissioned film, Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus. Which was basically about the strange world of the Deep South and fundamentalist Christianity there. There are interviews with local characters and friends of Jim White, the narrator, who tell stories about bizarre accidents and their connection with religion.
There are slowed-down drive-by shots of trailer homes and churches, scenes of Sunday services, and a massive soundtrack (via live performances) of creepy songs about religion courtesy of the Handsome Family, Johnny Dowd, 16 Horsepower, and others. Oh, and Harry Crews drops in to tell stories from time to time.
Plagiarism on a bigger budget, obviously!
It's lovely film, no doubt about it. There are beautiful opening shots of swamp roads and Jim White talks about hating the South as a teenager but then later being in foreign places and catching a passing scent of his old home on the wind, and eventually being drawn to return there. He talks about how necessary it was to leave the South to appreciate it and do something with it (which resonates with my own experience).
But despite the pretty cinematography, the great musical performances, and the nicely disjointed nature of the film, there's something troubling about it, something that makes me question my own strategies and intentions regarding my filmic aspirations down yonder.
There’s a scene where White (and presumably the invisible film crew) are driving around some trailer park, and he says to the camera, “You could go into any of these trailers and hear the saddest or the funniest story you ever did hear. Hmm. There is a part of me that, as an insider,” really believes that. I know my friends and relatives in the South well.
There is another part of me that immediately registers this kind of sensationalist talk as tourist brochure schlock that feeds the ridiculous notions about the South that most Brits have. M. said, though, "Imagine seeing this film as a music-obsessed 15-year-old British kid. It'd be magic and you'd want to know more."
Maybe so. And you know me. I'm all for magic and festishism, even in anthropology and tourism. But it makes me wonder what side of the fence I'm on with my own upcoming film plans. Who am I making stuff for, given my insider/outsider status, and the fact that it took living in the UK for years to draw my interest back there?
[All images from Residue by yours truly, 2000]