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Wise Blood


misswonderly3
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Give me one reason why I should like this movie.

I love Wise Blood. You should like this movie because it's a terrific movie and a remarkable filming of a great novella by Flannery O'Connor. And because, finally, near the end of his career, John Huston developed a style -- albeit a Fordian style. Wise Blood and The Dead are his two greatest achievements (compare the opening of Wise Blood to the opening of The Grapes of Wrath.) I have posted this before, but I think this quote by a Flannery O'Connor scholar is really apt and quite timely, since the characters in Wise Blood are today's harsh bible-thumping tea-party American Southerners, whom Huston captures so well in the film:

 

"O'Connor's short stories and novels are set in a rural South where people know their places, mind their manners and do horrible things to one another. It's a place that somehow hovers outside of time, where both the New Deal and the New Testament feel like recent history. It's soaked in violence and humor, in sin and in God. He may have fled the modern world, but in O'Connor's he sticks around, in the sun hanging over the tree line, in the trees and farm beasts, and in the characters who roost in the memory like gargoyles. It's a land haunted by Christ — not your friendly hug-me Jesus, but a ragged figure who moves from tree to tree in the back of the mind, pursuing the unwilling."

 

In Wise Blood, Huston captures the feel of the American South better than just about any other film maker. 

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I'm not sure if this is a reason to 'like' the film, or not but it is certainly worth seeing at least once for the performances of Ned Beatty and Amy Wright.  

 

Bogie, thanks for your input. I agree, Ned Beatty is always worth watching, and Amy Wright absolutely nails it as the libidinous teen girl whose amorality (not even talking about her sexual behaviour) contributes significantly to the moral, immoral, religious, irreligious, warmed-over brimstone stew that is Wise Blood.

 

In fact, all the acting in WB is flawless. If I enjoyed a film solely because of its acting, I'd have loved Wise Blood. Everyone, from Brad Dourif as the rage-driven seriously messed-up Hazel Motes to Harry Dean Stanton (he's always in this kind of movie, isn't he?) as the false preacher, to  Dan Shor as the sad crazy lonely young zoo employee (but is he really?), and all the assorted other characters scattered throughout the film like the tossed-away tracts floating around  Macon, are note-perfect in their depictions of these lost souls.

 

But it isn't enough for me. I don't like a movie just because the acting is excellent, or because it has interesting talented character actors. In fact, there have probably been lots of films with rubbish acting that I enjoyed more than I enjoyed Wise Blood.

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Bogie, thanks for your input. I agree, Ned Beatty is always worth watching, and Amy Wright absolutely nails it as the libidinous teen girl whose amorality (not even talking about her sexual behaviour) contributes significantly to the moral, immoral, religious, irreligious, warmed-over brimstone stew that is Wise Blood.

 

In fact, all the acting in WB is flawless. If I enjoyed a film solely because of its acting, I'd have loved Wise Blood. Everyone, from Brad Dourif as the rage-driven seriously messed-up Hazel Motes to Harry Dean Stanton (he's always in this kind of movie, isn't he?) as the false preacher, to  Dan Shor as the sad crazy lonely young zoo employee (but is he really?), and all the assorted other characters scattered throughout the film like the tossed-away tracts floating around  Macon, are note-perfect in their depictions of these lost souls.

 

But it isn't enough for me. I don't like a movie just because the acting is excellent, or because it has interesting talented character actors. In fact, there have probably been lots of films with rubbish acting that I enjoyed more than I enjoyed Wise Blood.

I agree with you in that one element, such as the performances is not enough reason to say you actually liked a film in its entirety or thought the film itself was a good one.

 

But I'm one that likes to see every type of film, even the bad ones at least once.  Sometimes I feel it is easier to learn things about film from the ones with imperfections.  You certainly appreciate the better ones that way.

 

I have only seen Wise Blood the once many years ago and thought it so-so on the whole but the performances, many of which you have noted make it worthwhile to see at least once.

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....But I'm one that likes to see every type of film, even the bad ones at least once.  Sometimes I feel it is easier to learn things about film from the ones with imperfections.  You certainly appreciate the better ones that way.

 

 

Here's the thing, Bogie: I don't think Wise Blood was a bad film. It almost couldn't be, directed by the great John Huston and based on the novel by acclaimed Georgia writer Flannery O'Connor.

I think, on some abstract cerebral level, it was a very good film. I can hardly say whether it was a good or bad movie, because my response to it was so emotional, I was so repelled by it, that all my usual cinematic critical faculties were flown out the window.

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I love Wise Blood. You should like this movie because it's a terrific movie and a remarkable filming of a great novella by Flannery O'Connor. And because, finally, near the end of his career, John Huston developed a style -- albeit a Fordian style. Wise Blood and The Dead are his two greatest achievements (compare the opening of Wise Blood to the opening of The Grapes of Wrath.) I have posted this before, but I think this quote by a Flannery O'Connor scholar is really apt and quite timely, since the characters in Wise Blood are today's harsh bible-thumping tea-party American Southerners, whom Huston captures so well in the film:

 

"O'Connor's short stories and novels are set in a rural South where people know their places, mind their manners and do horrible things to one another. It's a place that somehow hovers outside of time, where both the New Deal and the New Testament feel like recent history. It's soaked in violence and humor, in sin and in God. He may have fled the modern world, but in O'Connor's he sticks around, in the sun hanging over the tree line, in the trees and farm beasts, and in the characters who roost in the memory like gargoyles. It's a land haunted by Christ — not your friendly hug-me Jesus, but a ragged figure who moves from tree to tree in the back of the mind, pursuing the unwilling."

 

In Wise Blood, Huston captures the feel of the American South better than just about any other film maker. 

Swithin, I knew you admired this movie and was hoping you'd respond to my thread here. Thanks for your well-considered and literate (not to mention literary) response.

 

Having said that, here's what I have to say:

First, I think that quotation you posted is beautifully written. It's not often you come across such lyrical and incisive writing. It's as evocative and poetic as the Southern dreamscape they're discussing.  Who is that scholar?  

Second  (I have to get out of this habit of numerically listing what I want to say) - Everything you and that literate academic say is true. But  while attempting to grasp an understanding of the American South and its bizarre obsession with religion is a fascinating exercise, it does not do anything to help me enjoy a movie which I just find impossible to enjoy.

 

In any case, that lovely quotation is about the book, the writing of Flannery O'Connor. As we all know (if only from the several threads we've had here about books being made into movies), sometimes what is wonderfully communicated in literature is somehow lost in translation when those same literary ideas are exported into film.

 

I usually love John Huston's movies; your citing of his last film, The Dead, is a great example of how sometimes a literary work can make a successful transition from page to screen. The Dead is a great movie. But I don't know if I can say the same of Wise Blood.

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I usually love John Huston's movies; your citing of his last film, The Dead, is a great example of how sometimes a literary work can make a successful transition from page to screen. The Dead is a great movie. But I don't know if I can say the same of Wise Blood.

missw, I understand your points. I actually do think Wise Blood is an excellent adaptation to the screen of Flannery O'Connor's novella and that the comments of the writer I quoted apply to the film as well as the novel.

 

As I've said before, I've never been much of a fan of John Huston's films. I like The Maltese Falcon well enough -- but not a lot.  I do find that at the end of his career he really developed an impressive style, and that's manifest in Wise Blood. He may have learned from John Ford. The opening of Wise Blood is SO like the opening of The Grapes of Wrath; and to give one other example, there are scenes in The Dead (a perfect movie, IMHO) that are echoes of several Ford films.

 

But even apart from all that, I love Wise Blood. It has one of my favorite lines. When the lead character is caught by his landlady, wrapping barbed wire around his chest, the landlady says "What are you doin' that for, that's the kind of thing people have quit doin'!"

 

He responds with my favorite line, "They ain't quit doin' it as long as I'm doin' it!"

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Gee, I don't know if I can like it since I've had an antipathy towards Huston ever since I read about how badly he treated the author of "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre", namely Mr. B. Traven!

 

Taking all the credit for the film and not even inviting Traven to the premiere. What a louse!

 

What were we talking about again?
 

Oh, yeah, "Wise Blood". Watched a bit of it but for some reason Brad Dourif is a bit repulsive to me in anything.

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MissW, my guess as to why you seem to intellectually appreciate this film but still can't come to "like" it might be something as simple as the thought there really isn't one character in it which one can actually completely empathize with, and thus "root for" and hope for a good outcome of their fate.

 

(...I watched bits and pieces of this film last night during it's showing, and I've come to the conclusion that my disjointed viewing of it probably stemmed from this very thing)

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...But even apart from all that, I love Wise Blood. It has one of my favorite lines. When the lead character is caught by his landlady, wrapping barbed wire around his chest, the landlady says "What are you doin' that for, that's the kind of thing people have quit doin'!"

 

He responds with my favorite line, "They ain't quit doin' it as long as I'm doin' it!"

 

Ok,                  SPOILERS ALL OVER THE PLACE

 

        NOT THAT IT MATTERS, SINCE THIS IS HARDLY A PLOT-DRIVEN MOVIE

 

Well, the way you put that line, it is funny. But it wasn't funny to me when he said it in the movie. 

 

Let's see, in the course of Wise Blood we get:

 a completely unlikable main character, cold and unfriendly at best, full of rage and misanthropy at worst. He knocks down (I thought at first he'd killed him) a poor simple man who was trying to help him, and leaves him. (And it later turns out the young man was right, he did know the neighbourhood the preacher lived in.)

This main character is also extraordinarily rude and nasty to every single person he meets, he cold-bloodedly runs his car over that poor guy who had no idea what he'd done to cause offence  (except wear the same kind of clothes, at Ned Beatty's instigation) and leaves him for dead, he 's never never kind or funny (intentionally) or even very interesting, and oh yes, he deliberately blinds himself and later, wraps himself in barbed wire.

I'm with the landlady, people quit doin' that kind of thing a long time ago.

 

Yes, I know it's all about Jesus and rejecting Jesus and cruel weird fundamentalist grandfathers and The South's Obsession with Jesus  (Jesus more than Christianity) and Sin and rejecting the concept of sin and yetyoucantgetawayfromit  and Religion and how all of the above can seriously mess a body up. 

But I don't want to see some nasty mentally-ill frigged-up guy being cruel to every single person he encounters and killing people just because they're wearing the same hat as he is and mutilating themselves.

That's not my idea of an enjoyable movie in any sense of the word ("enjoyable".)

 

The Hazel Motes character was neither good nor evil; he was a kind of black hole of negativity. I prefer  downright evil characters to the kind of nihilism Hazel seemed to epitomize.

 

I read a few reviews of this film, and found they all had a couple of things in common:

 

1) They all seemed to think Wise Blood was funny. I gather you do too. I did not find one single scene or character or line of dialogue funny, not even in the "dark" way such films usually can be funny. 

 

2) I came to the conclusion, reading these reviews, that in order to appreciate Wise Blood you have to have an existing understanding, or at least awareness, of the South's obsession with Jesus and Religion and Sin. A scholarly academic understanding that precludes just the simple experience of sitting down and watching the damn thing.

All the reviews I read were extremely cerebral.   I don't think an in-depth supply of academic knowledge should be a pre-condition for enjoying a film,whatever that film's world is.

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Ok,                  SPOILERS ALL OVER THE PLACE

 

        NOT THAT IT MATTERS, SINCE THIS IS HARDLY A PLOT-DRIVEN MOVIE

 

Well, the way you put that line, it is funny. But it wasn't funny to me when he said it in the movie. 

 

Let's see, in the course of Wise Blood we get:

 a completely unlikable main character, cold and unfriendly at best, full of rage and misanthropy at worst. He knocks down (I thought at first he'd killed him) a poor simple man who was trying to help him, and leaves him. (And it later turns out the young man was right, he did know the neighbourhood the preacher lived in.)

This main character is also extraordinarily rude and nasty to every single person he meets, he cold-bloodedly runs his car over that poor guy who had no idea what he'd done to cause offence  (except wear the same kind of clothes, at Ned Beatty's instigation) and leaves him for dead, he 's never never kind or funny (intentionally) or even very interesting, and oh yes, he deliberately blinds himself and later, wraps himself in barbed wire.

I'm with the landlady, people quit doin' that kind of thing a long time ago.

 

Yes, I know it's all about Jesus and rejecting Jesus and cruel weird fundamentalist grandfathers and The South's Obsession with Jesus  (Jesus more than Christianity) and Sin and rejecting the concept of sin and yetyoucantgetawayfromit  and Religion and how all of the above can seriously mess a body up. 

But I don't want to see some nasty mentally-ill frigged-up guy being cruel to every single person he encounters and killing people just because they're wearing the same hat as he is and mutilating themselves.

That's not my idea of an enjoyable movie in any sense of the word ("enjoyable".)

 

The Hazel Motes character was neither good nor evil; he was a kind of black hole of negativity. I prefer  downright evil characters to the kind of nihilism Hazel seemed to epitomize.

 

I read a few reviews of this film, and found they all had a couple of things in common:

 

1) They all seemed to think Wise Blood was funny. I gather you do too. I did not find one single scene or character or line of dialogue funny, not even in the "dark" way such films usually can be funny. 

 

2) I came to the conclusion, reading these reviews, that in order to appreciate Wise Blood you have to have an existing understanding, or at least awareness, of the South's obsession with Jesus and Religion and Sin. A scholarly academic understanding that precludes just the simple experience of sitting down and watching the damn thing.

All the reviews I read were extremely cerebral.   I don't think an in-depth supply of academic knowledge should be a pre-condition for enjoying a film,whatever that film's world is.

missw, I didn't find the movie funny -- though there are funny bits in it. I did not take that line I quoted as a comic line but as a really well put expression of individualism.

 

Having read some of O'Connor's work, I felt the film to be totally in the spirit of it. She is an unusual writer and not to everyone's taste. And you are quite right, Wise Blood is no Little Mary Sunshine (you didn't mention that sweet operetta but seem to think main characters have to be likable.! (I've seen a few excellent productions of Richard III in the past few years. Not a very likable character either. Doesn't make it a bad play! And it too has humour.)

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missw, I didn't find the movie funny -- though there are funny bits in it. I did not take that line I quoted as a comic line but as a really well put expression of individualism.

 

Having read some of O'Connor's work, I felt the film to be totally in the spirit of it. She is an unusual writer and not to everyone's taste. And you are quite right, Wise Blood is no Little Mary Sunshine (you didn't mention that sweet operetta but seem to think main characters have to be likable.! (I've seen a few excellent productions of Richard III in the past few years. Not a very likable character either. Doesn't make it a bad play! And it too has humour.)

Richard III - no humour?  Richard trying to woo Lady Anne right next to her husband's coffin was pretty funny I thought.

Granted, the humour is pretty dark.

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missw, I didn't find the movie funny -- though there are funny bits in it. I did not take that line I quoted as a comic line but as a really well put expression of individualism.

 

Having read some of O'Connor's work, I felt the film to be totally in the spirit of it. She is an unusual writer and not to everyone's taste. And you are quite right, Wise Blood is no Little Mary Sunshine (you didn't mention that sweet operetta but seem to think main characters have to be likable.! (I've seen a few excellent productions of Richard III in the past few years. Not a very likable character either. Doesn't make it a bad play! And it too has humour.)

 

Oh, sorry, for some reason I thought you found the barbed-wire scene comical, or at least that exchange of dialogue between Hazel and the landlady. I guess I assumed you found it funny  (albeit "black comedy funny) because many of the critics I read thought it was.

 

It's interesting, I love Savannah, where of course you know, Flannery O'Connor is from. I have walked right past her family home there (meant to visit it, but there's a lot to do in Savannah, and never got around to it. Maybe next time.) There's a lovely book store right across from one of Savannah's many squares, and while there I bought a copy of Flannery O'Connor's short stories. I hate to admit this, but that was a few years ago, and I still haven't gotten around to reading it.  The road to hell.....

 

Maybe now I'll crack it open and read them. Perhaps the time is right for some good gothic Southern reading.

 

Speaking of which, I don't know if you've read William Faulkner's Light in August, but in many ways the character in Wise Blood reminded me of the protagonist in this Faulkner novel. Both of them odd, alienated from the rest of society, completely dislikable, tortured by personal demons of twisted Christianity and sin, and both murderers, an act for which neither character feels the slightest remorse. Hazel kept reminding me of this character, "Joe Christmas" I believe he was called. 

 

I guess I do prefer my fictional protagonists to be likable. This does not mean they have to be "good"; in fact, the most interesting characters are those who are, like most of us, neither "good" nor "bad". Sometimes the so-called "bad" character is the one I'm rooting for the most.

They don't have to be "good", but they do have to be fun or entertaining or witty or kind or at the very least, interesting. I did not think Hazel Motes was even very interesting.

But Swithin baby, you know I respect your movie opinions even when I disagree with them.  (insert pleasant -faced emoticon here.)

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Richard III - no humour?  Richard trying to woo Lady Anne right next to her husband's coffin was pretty funny I thought.

Granted, the humour is pretty dark.

 

Oh yeah, Bogie. The scene where he's trying to..ahem.."hump" her, right?!

 

(...sorry, couldn't resist)

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Richard III - no humour?  Richard trying to woo Lady Anne right next to her husband's coffin was pretty funny I thought.

Granted, the humour is pretty dark.

 

Bogie, it's easy to miss things in posts sometimes, especially when we're interested in the topic,so we're reading quickly. But Swithin actually said this:

 

 "(I've seen a few excellent productions of Richard III in the past few years. Not a very likable character either. Doesn't make it a bad play! And it too has humour.) "

 

And I think so too. So at least all three of us can agree that Richard III has humour in it.  (Hey, it's a little-known fact that this play was actually written by Aaron Sorkin ! )

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I first saw WISE BLOOD at around the age of 17-18, and I thought it was one of the most bizarre and hilarious films I had ever seen. I grew up in the rural south, much as depicted in the movie, and I didn't have exposure to a lot of indie or art house films. I just picked it out at the video store because Brad Dourif and Harry Dean Stanton were in it. I didn't know movies like this even existed.

In the ensuing decades, my film knowledge has greatly expanded, but I still love WISE BLOOD, and it still ranks among my 10 best of '79.

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I doubt this was the purpose that the author of the book had,

but I like it as an above average demonstration the southern

gothic genre and also of the bizarre, loony tune religious practices

of certain citizens in some parts of the southeastern U.S., and all

the manifold grotesqueries that go with it, though I don't think the

ones in Wise Blood can match the "slow thinking" man who has sexual

intercourse with  a cow in one of Faulkner's books. The acting is certainly

accomplished and the direction fairly well done. I also get a kick out of the

preachers competing for lost souls like two vacuum cleaner salesmen in

a too small town.

 

In more general terms, I've never understood how one person can

show another why they should like a film. I can explain why I like it,

but that hardly means the other person will then like it. It you don't

like it, well then, you don't like it, and that's fine.

 

And I thought it was sheep some people secretly lust after.

 

I wasn't really asking for someone to get me to like Wise Blood; as you say, you can say why you like it, but yes, that "hardly means the other person will then like it."

I wasn't asking to be converted (felicitous word choice, don't you think?) to being a Wise Blood fan, I was just curious, interested , to find out what other people saw in it. This is partly because I'd always heard so much about the film, always in an admiring context.

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I remember that I saw this movie when TCM ran it a couple of years ago.  I didn't watch it last night, though.  My reaction to it when I did see it was that it took some time to appreciate, but that in the end it was satisfying.

 

Of course, religion plays such a large part in many of these southern authors' stories, and the thing to remember about O'Connor was that she was a Catholic in that Protestant world.  Now here, some of you will have to fill me in.

 

In the introduction to the movie last night with the TCM hosts (especially Grisham), did they explain about that world that O'Connor comes from?  I have read a few of her short stories, and they can be quite disturbing.  But her Catholicism informs her worldview and gives her work a particular bent.

 

I ask about the hosts on this Southern Writers Series because I did watch Night of the Hunter last night and wondered just who the southern writer connected with the movie was.  The novelist?  The man who wrote the screenplay?  The person who wrote the credits?  The whole discussion between the hosts was along the lines of "Boy, Mitchum was great, wasn't he?"  Or, "Too bad Laughton didn't direct again after this movie." 

 

I think that TCM recently has had a couple of interesting-sounding program themes but doesn't really develop them nearly enough the way they  did with the annual minorities in film series they used to run.  Southern Writers is a fascinating subject, so I'm wondering if anyone who has seen more of this series can tell me that the hosts are providing something more than just a fan's movie review of the work. 

 

In other words, are there even brief discussions of the writers' backgrounds so that we can know what "southern" influences inhabit their work?  Do those things have to be changed when the story becomes a movie?  What happens when they are left intact? 

 

OK.  Enough for now.  A couple of cents thrown in from New Hampshire.  (Maybe next year TCM can do a series on Granite State writers!)

 

Brian

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