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WISE BLOOD / Bloody PASSION


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#1 Ron Reed

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Posted 17 September 2003 - 01:38 PM

Viewed WISE BLOOD yesterday, noticed that the screenplay is written by Benedict Fitzgerald. Which caught my interest: turns out he's the son of Robert and Sally Fitzgerald: Dad was Flannery O'Connor's literary executor, Mom the editor of the collected letters. (His brother Michael produced the film, along with another Fitzgerald, Kathy. A family affair.)

I was further intrigued to notice that Benny's next project is Mel Gibson's PASSION. (Blood, blood, and more blood - he also did a 1996 TV adaptation of IN COLD BLOOD.)

#2 Diane

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Posted 17 September 2003 - 02:28 PM

Ron, I'm so glad someone's actually seen Wise Blood. We were wondering if anybody had watched it over on the O'Connor thread in the literature forum. Well, what did you think of it? I've never seen the film, but I'm a huge fan of the novel.

That's interesting about the screenplay and the Fitzgerald/O'Connor connection. FWIW, here's an article discussing the differences between the film and novel. The author believes the movie fails to convey O'Connor's spiritual convictions and humorous style.

SPOILERS

The film seems to have been made by...a disbelieving reader: subtle changes in narrative order, characterization, and imagery make Huston’s version a more human story than is O’Connor’s. But to humanize O’Connor’s story is to take it out of the realm of spiritual mystery and to place it into the realm of mundane reality; to close the ironic distance between the story of Hazel Motes and the consumer (whether that be reader or spectator) is to change comedy to tragedy. O’Connor’s Wise Blood may be a novel about salvation, but Huston’s Wise Blood is a story about a man who suffers from a tragic delusion. In the film, when Hazel Motes ultimately reverts to his childhood faith, he is defeated, not saved.



Did you get this feeling when you watched?

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#3 Ron Reed

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Posted 17 September 2003 - 02:42 PM

Ron, I'm so glad someone's actually seen Wise Blood. We were wondering if anybody had watched it over on the O'Connor thread in the literature forum.


Sheesh, the stuff a guy misses when he only hangs out in the one neighbourhood. I need to get around more!

That's interesting about the screenplay and the Fitzgerald/O'Connor connection. FWIW, here's an article discussing the differences between the film and novel. The author believes the movie fails to convey O'Connor's spiritual convictions and humorous style.


Yes, that's a great article! I found it very interesting, and think that she may be right about the conclusion;

SPOILERS

The film seems to have been made by...a disbelieving reader... O’Connor’s Wise Blood may be a novel about salvation, but Huston’s Wise Blood is a story about a man who suffers from a tragic delusion. In the film, when Hazel Motes ultimately reverts to his childhood faith, he is defeated, not saved.


As for what I thought of the film, here's what I wrote about it - which touches on the difference I sense in tone of the humour;

WISE BLOOD (1979, USA)
"That belief in Christ is to some a matter of life and death has been a stumbling block for readers who would prefer to think it a matter of no great consequence. For them Hazel Motes' integrity lies in his trying with such vigor to get rid of the ragged figure who moves from tree to tree in the back of his mind. For the author Hazel's integrity lies in his not being able to." Flannery O'Connor

Critic Jonathan Rosenbaum writes that this is conceivably John Huston's best film, certainly his finest adaptation. While not widely seen, it was widely celebrated by critics for its unfailing faithfulness to what might seem an unfilmable novel – the screenwriter (see also Mel Gibson's Passion) and producer are sons of Robert and Sally Fitzgerald: Dad was O'Connor's literary executor, Mom the editor of the collected letters. Virtually all the dialogue is lifted directly from the page, and it plays well, at times authentic or bizarre, evocative and poetic, or downright funny. Motes swaps his faith in Jesus for faith in an absurdly broken-down car, and confidently proclaims " Nobody with a good car needs to be justified" as the radiator water pours straight through the rusted shell and onto the ground.

A strikingly boyish Brad Dourif is perfection in the central role, bringing an unadorned naivete that combines with a rat-like nastiness to create an unsentimental, multi-layered performance utterly suited to one of O'Connor's most uncompromising, confounding creations. (Intriguing to learn that Dourif ends up as Grima Wormtongue in Jackson's Lord Of The Rings trilogy, and – this is trivia, now – the baddie in Myst III, a groundbreaking computer game). Where another actor might have "played crazy," his work is uncluttered and direct, an earnest drivenness that will not be deterred – ideal in a film that is essentially about a man on the run from his divine calling. In Mystery And Manners the novelist writes "while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted," and Hazel Motes is the ultimate embodiment of that. Even a charlatan of a blind street evangelist can smell it on him: "Some preacher's left his mark on you. Did you follow me for me to take it off or to give you another one?"

John Huston himself plays Hazel's hellfire and brimstone grandfather in lurid flashbacks, and there are other strong performances in the key roles as well as in a number of the peripheral parts. I usually find that non-professional actors detract from the believability of the scene by their self-consciousness, the constant awareness that they are acting. Here that's simply not so: the amateurs are almost without exception both authentic and believable, and add an almost documentary quality that echoes some of the photography, such as the unforgettable opening montage of billboards, gravestones and even Dairy Queen signs that proclaim sin and redemption.

These elements all remain strong decades after the film was made. Others have aged poorly. One wishes Huston had retained the 1940s setting: late-Seventies details jar, and the musical soundtrack – unremarked on in its day, as far as I can tell – is a problem. While humour is essential to O'Connor's voice – she remarks that her tongue is always in her cheek – there are times when the wacky soundtrack is more suited to Green Acres or Hee Haw than a film where the comic turns need a certain ironic, sometimes tragic bite. She's playing for keeps, but too often this music is playing for laughs: imagine the sequence where Hazel's car drives down the hill in silence instead of to the accompaniment of "ain't this cute" banjoes for a sense of the impact such scenes could have had.

Flannery O'Connor is a literary and spiritual force the twentieth century had to reckon with, and her enthusiasts – there are many – should make the effort to seek out this rare film. They won't need to be warned that it's odd, grotesque, eccentric, perhaps even unsatisfying. Lauded by critics and avoided by movie-goers on its initial release, that's just how Ms O'Connor would probably have wanted it. As she herself wrote, "Art never responds to the wish to make it democratic; it is not for everybody; it is only for those who are willing to undergo the effort needed to understand it."

See also The Apostle

#4 Josh Hurst

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Posted 17 September 2003 - 02:53 PM

"Art never responds to the wish to make it democratic; it is not for everybody; it is only for those who are willing to undergo the effort needed to understand it."



Mega cool points to Ron for bringing up my favorite O'Connor quote.

#5 Diane

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Posted 17 September 2003 - 03:32 PM

Nice review, Ron. I'm glad that Brad Dourif managed to pull off Hazel Motes. I should check out the movie....

How was Enoch Emery? The article I mentioned hinted that his character had been cleaned-up, so to speak, so he would be much more sympathetic. In the book, he is often repulsive, sometimes pitiable, idiotic, needy, and absolutely hysterical.

there are times when the wacky soundtrack is more suited to Green Acres or Hee Haw than a film where the comic turns need a certain ironic, sometimes tragic bite. She's playing for keeps, but too often this music is playing for laughs: imagine the sequence where Hazel's car drives down the hill in silence instead of to the accompaniment of "ain't this cute" banjoes for a sense of the impact such scenes could have had.




:roll: Oh boy, from the way you describe it, they really blew the mood for that car scene.

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#6 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 17 September 2003 - 07:04 PM

Flannery O'Connor wrote:
: Art never responds to the wish to make it democratic; it is not for
: everybody; it is only for those who are willing to undergo the effort
: needed to understand it.

Interesting, in light of the fact that film, by virtue of being so expensive to produce, pretty much HAS to be a democratic artform, unless of course the film in question is a multi-millionaire's vanity project (see Ted Turner's Gods and Generals or Mel Gibson's The Passion) or is funded by the state (which takes its money from the people whether anyone sees the films it produces or not).

#7 Ron Reed

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Posted 17 September 2003 - 09:13 PM

How was Enoch Emery? The article I mentioned hinted that his character had been cleaned-up, so to speak, so he would be much more sympathetic. In the book, he is often repulsive, sometimes pitiable, idiotic, needy, and absolutely hysterical.


I'd say pitiable would be perfectly applicable, and certainly needy. Eager to please, desperately lonely. Not ever repulsive or hysterical, I'd say.

The scene where he's trying to make a connection with Hazel after Hazel has bought the potato peeler and is looking for the girl to give it to is wonderful: a long, long single shot that tracks with Enoch and Hazel as they hurry through the streets. Great kinetic energy, with Enoch scrambling to keep up with the single-minded Hazel, talking a mile a minute.

:roll: Oh boy, from the way you describe it, they really blew the mood for that car scene.


Yes, I think so. Especially following what it follows, and preceding what it precedes. Though a nice touch is the fac that Huston has the car end up, not on its back, but sinking into a lake - imagery of both death/drowning and baptism, which are very right.

#8 Ron Reed

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Posted 17 September 2003 - 09:16 PM

Flannery O'Connor wrote:
: Art never responds to the wish to make it democratic; it is not for
: everybody; it is only for those who are willing to undergo the effort
: needed to understand it.

Interesting, in light of the fact that film, by virtue of being so expensive to produce, pretty much HAS to be a democratic artform, unless of course the film in question is a multi-millionaire's vanity project (see Ted Turner's Gods and Generals or Mel Gibson's The Passion) or is funded by the state (which takes its money from the people whether anyone sees the films it produces or not).



Well yes, and the lack of financial success of the film version of WISE BLOOD may demonstrate something of the truth of that observation. But then again, the film festivals seem to manage to find hundreds of movies each year that to one degree or another would stand as "art" in O'Connor's definition: they require a certain amount of effort toward understanding to be worth viewing. And somehow they keep getting made, broadly commercial "democratic" appeal or no.

#9 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 18 September 2003 - 12:54 AM

Ron wrote:
: But then again, the film festivals seem to manage to find hundreds of
: movies each year that to one degree or another would stand as "art" in
: O'Connor's definition: they require a certain amount of effort toward
: understanding to be worth viewing. And somehow they keep getting
: made, broadly commercial "democratic" appeal or no.

Yes, and a lot of those films are either commercial successful in their homelands or they are produced with state money -- or, of course, they are so inexpensive that there is nowhere near as much of a need for them to find an audience in order to be profitable. In other words, the less expensive a film is, the less of a need it has to be democratic.

#10 Cunningham

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Posted 21 September 2003 - 09:33 PM

Just a random thought I had the other day: I think that the Coen brother's could do an awesome adaption of Wise Blood. They have such a great feel for dark humor as well as the thick, sticky, sweatiness that is the South.

#11 du Garbandier

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Posted 04 May 2008 - 09:32 AM

Wise Blood is showing today on TMC-W from 5:45-7:35 (EST), for your viewing pleasure.

#12 Overstreet

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Posted 07 April 2012 - 11:36 AM

Wise Blood is free on Hulu this week.

#13 Scott Derrickson

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Posted 07 April 2012 - 12:13 PM

I think Huston's WISE BLOOD is a weak adaptation of the book. The hammy hillbilly score that sets the in-your-face tone for the film feels like a desperate attempt to bolster what is otherwise a film with a tone that's totally adrift. There are some good performances in it for sure, but watching it, I kept thinking it felt more like a failed John Waters film than a John Huston film -- the comedic elements - so well-played in the novel - were over-the-top and fell flat in the film, and the more severe elements of the book felt lost. Flannery didn't think her work was adaptable to film and/or television, and WISE BLOOD backs up her argument.

Edited by Scott Derrickson, 07 April 2012 - 12:37 PM.


#14 Tyler

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Posted 07 April 2012 - 12:37 PM

I think WISE BLOOD is a weak adaptation. The hammy hillbilly score that sets the in-your-face tone for the film feels like a desperate attempt to bolster what is otherwise a film with a tone that's totally adrift. There are some good performances in it for sure, but watching it, I kept thinking it felt more like a John Waters film than a John Huston film -- the comedic elements of the novel were over-the-top and fell flat, while the more severe elements felt lost. Flannery didn't think her work was adaptable to film and/or television, and WISE BLOOD backs up her argument.


One of the commentaries I read about the film said that Huston was really uncomfortable with the religious elements in Wise Blood, and the only way he would do the movie is if they tried to make it into a comedy.

#15 Ryan H.

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Posted 07 April 2012 - 01:51 PM

Yeah, apparently Huston originally saw the film purely as a mockery of the loony religiosity of the American south.

#16 Attica

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Posted 07 April 2012 - 01:54 PM

the comedic elements - so well-played in the novel - were over-the-top and fell flat in the film


Yeah. I felt the same way. They weren't really funny, just kind of weird and creepy, in a way that didn't really work for the film. They moved the film from being bizarre in a unique and compelling way, to being just kind of odd at times.

Edited by Attica, 08 April 2012 - 01:22 AM.


#17 Nathaniel

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Posted 07 April 2012 - 06:39 PM

I agree Huston probably wasn't the wisest choice to direct, but at least the Fitzgeralds' screenplay successfully harvests O'Connor's lip-smacking dialogue.

Scott, when are you going do a 30-minute rendition of "A Good Man Is Hard to Find?"

Edited by Nathaniel, 07 April 2012 - 06:40 PM.


#18 Scott Derrickson

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Posted 07 April 2012 - 07:14 PM

I agree Huston probably wasn't the wisest choice to direct, but at least the Fitzgeralds' screenplay successfully harvests O'Connor's lip-smacking dialogue.

Scott, when are you going do a 30-minute rendition of "A Good Man Is Hard to Find?"


Unfortunately, the rights to that story are unavailable. I am, however, attached to direct The Violent Bear it Away.

#19 Nathaniel

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Posted 07 April 2012 - 07:39 PM

I am, however, attached to direct The Violent Bear it Away.

Congratulations! I sincerely hope this project comes to pass. The book is a masterwork.

I wager I'll be following this story as it develops. What a scoop!

Edited by Nathaniel, 07 April 2012 - 07:41 PM.


#20 Tyler

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Posted 07 April 2012 - 09:28 PM

I am, however, attached to direct The Violent Bear it Away.



That could a difficult adaptation, since so much of it takes place in Francis's head, but I think it could work really well. Having Mason as a presence onscreen could be an effective way to interpret it.