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Wise Blood

****
1979

‘…an allegory, but of a wry and intelligent kind that’s peppered with memorable moments and scenes, impeccably played…’

John Huston’s final film as director was one of the best of a legendary career; The Dead was a brilliant adaptation of James Joyce’s short story that caught just the right tone for a tale of lost love and Dublin snow. But while there’s no shortage of great films in Huston’s canon, 1979’s Wise Blood, an adaptation of one of Flannery O’Connor’s two books, is every bit as well-drawn, and considerably more ambitious in scope.

The story has the feel of a dark parable. A young man named Hazel Motes (Brad Dourif) arrives in a Deep South city from an unspecified war, only to be identified by his hat and neat clothes as a preacher. Motes is anything but holy, shacked up with a prostitute and without much love for his fellow man. After meeting a fake-preacher (Harry Dean Stanton) and his daughter (Amy Wright), Motes decides to become a self-styled evangelist, and forms his own Church of Christ without Christ.

Local boy Enoch Emory (Dan Shor ) is a devotee of Motes’ teaching, but a chance encounter with a mummified museum piece and a man in a gorilla suit send him in a different direction, and Wise Blood’s unexpected, arresting narrative takes you to some unexpectedly dark places, A Gothic Feast of Snakes number that dares to explore the darker side of American life, this is a literate, grim film which locates something rotten in the American heartland.

Wise Blood is an allegory, but of a wry and intelligent kind that’s peppered with memorable moments and scenes, impeccably played and with a terrific score by Alex North. Huston’s late output is often seen as the work of a wayward talent, and some of it is, but Wise Blood is a great film for the ages and doesn’t deserve it’s current obscurity; somehow this classic, important film is currently on Freevee in the UK.

 

 

 

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  1. I really like Wise Blood and like you I can’t understand why it’s so obscure. I prize my out-of-print blu ray, which seems to be virtually impossible to buy nowadays even second hand. The Flannery O’Connor novel is similarly bizarre and fascinating. I know John Huston can be variable beyond his ‘classics’, but I reckon this and The Dead are amongst his best. Oh, for a blu ray of The Dead…

    • Indeed. Keep meaning to return to Fat City too. I first saw Wise Blood late one night on bbc2. Had no idea what it was and imagined it to be by some young hotshot director. Totally envy your blu-ray, and amazed that this is in with the junk on Freevee. Just a film that takes you on such a bizarre journey…

      • I rewatched Fat City a few months ago – it really holds up. Another under-appreciated gem. I think I also first saw Wise Blood on BBC2, probably part of Moviedrome. Who knows, maybe some unsuspecting viewer will happen upon Wise Blood in the wilderness of Freevee…

        • Such a weird and arresting film, so dark in direction. Huston went from this to Annie, so it’s hard to trace development, but he was a craftsman in tune with the right material. And there it lies in Freevee alongside the dollar store poltergeist movies ready to ensnare a random viewer.

  2. Enjoyed the book but never got around to seeing this, I think because it was hard to see. I’ll watch it on YouTube just for Chucky.

    • That’s a first! I think this is a terrific film, and would be keen to hear your thoughts. Working with Huston was an ideal warm-up for playing Chucky, a cinematic area I know that you are a recognised expert in.

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