You’re going to need the right car. You can’t show up in some Land Rover or some Lexus or something and expect poor folks to talk to you about what’s in their hearts.” So says Florida-born folksinger Jim White near the beginning of
Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus. White serves as guide on this musical tour of the rural South, conceptualized less as a state of mind than as an atmosphere. Andrew Douglas’s vivid documentary drinks it in, casting aside road movie linearity in favor of a trailer park surrealism cobbled from
drifting traveling shots and abstracted images—a rusty bus abandoned in the woods, a house floating on a lake, the disembodied arms of a prostrate Pentecostal worshipper.
Casually philosophical, White pointedly resists any essentializing truths about this most mythologized of American regions; indeed, he seems determined to preserve a sense of mystery —not least about himself. Alluding vaguely to extensive world travels, White describes himself as an “imitation Southerner” and later expresses his admiration for the unselfconscious realness of a roadside tavern’s patrons. Still, even the most incredulous New Yorker may begin to understand the South’s notoriously trenchant politics. In a land of no middle ground between the salvation of the church and the ritual sin of bars and strip clubs, the lifers locked up in a prison appear as the inevitable mirror images of the devout churchgoers seen later on. Occasionally, our genial host gives us a sociological nugget (he posits the hellfire religion endemic to the area as a natural response to poverty: “They invent a god who’s going to whup some ass”), but mostly this trip’s about the journey, not the destination, and so we watch the natives—hanging out in bars, speaking in tongues, or just feeling gravity’s pull. Joshua Land