Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Reflections on: "Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus"

Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus: A documentary that is "a spiritual journey (which) explores the "Soul of the South" and a world of marginalised white people and their unique and intense home-grown culture" (BBC Four summary).

The landscape of Louisiana in this film is a desolate junkyard of swamps and trailer parks, truck stops on empty roads and burnt out cars left to rust. It's the flip side of America that we do not usually see. Alt country musician Jim White is our guide through this soul destroying world. Here, in Pentecostal country Jesus Saves from the corrugated iron roofs of warehouses and the preacher is an ex-junkie that plays country rock while his congregation weeps and speaks in tongues. It is a place of suffering and pain, murder and violence where the only hope of escape is into the next life.

And yet, there is a poetry bursting out from the people of this place - in their voices and in their music. The music, part country, part blue-grass, transcends the poverty and hopelessness of their surroundings. There is an old coal miner who plays the banjo with delicate beauty, telling us how his daddy had his hands blown off with dynamite one day in the mines. Singer Johnny Dowd, pale-faced and grim, sings of armed robbery and hanging. The language and lilt of the South has a lyricism of its own, playing with the words and images as if they were song. Harry Crews, the novelist, explains in his gravelly voice that the stories that these people tell give them a sense of themselves - when they have nothing and the world has forgotten them, their stories make them known to themselves.

Jim White drives us through a vast trailer park of dreary trailers. The trailer trash are sitting out in folding chairs, passing the time of day. He speaks our thoughts - this is the sort of place that we may snigger about. But, in every trailer, there is a person with a story.

When a person tells you their story, they become human - real. No longer just "that rapist", "that trailer trash" - or even "that rich banker". That's one of the reasons I love listening to people's stories and telling mine. The joy out of our daily struggles is the heart and passion that makes us create music and write poetry or even just simply tell the stories of our lives over a cup of tea. It's like touching the light inside another person.
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