John Huston’s Wise Blood

By James Calemine

 

“Necessity is the mother of several other things besides invention.”
      –Flannery O’Connor

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve revisited the work of Flannery O’Connor.

Flannery O’Connor, without a doubt, ranks as one of America’s greatest writers. Born on March 25, 1925, in Savannah, Georgia, O’Connor’s stories remain vital today as in 1964 when she died of Lupus disease at age 39. Her novel Wise Blood, books Mystery and Manners, The Habit of Being and The Complete Stories contend with the work of America’s finest writers–Southern or not…

O’Connor’s disease forced her to spend much of her time at her home. Like most great writers, her style can be difficult to comprehend at first. She was an artist’s artist. She didn’t pander to those stuffy New Yorkers who scoffed at her characters and their accents. O’Connor wrote about matters of the soul.



So, I re-watched John Huston’s 1979 film Wise Blood, based on O’Connor’s novel, this afternoon. The film stars Brad Dourif, Harry Dean Stanton, Amy Wright and Ned Beatty. The movie was mostly shot in Macon, Georgia. However, the opening still-frames were captured near O’Connor’s farm she called Andalusia in Milledgeville, Georgia.

Wise Blood tells the tale of a 22-year-old Hazel Motes. Motes is discharged from the military and makes a new life in Taulkinham. Motes sets out for a new car, and to start his own church he calls the ‘Church of Truth Without Christ’. As O’Connor would say, Motes is “Christ-haunted.”

Motes follows a blind preacher named Hawks, and a girl he believes to be the preacher’s daughter. The dialogue stays true to the novel with lines such as “Wise blood. Ain’t everybody has it. See, it’s a gift”; or “What kind of preacher are you, not to see if you can save my soul?”

Dourif, Stanton, Wright  and Beatty all shine in Wise Blood. They keep your attention. I love all the vintage cars, austere Georgia landscapes and the familiar downtown streets of Macon. The film retains the novel’s dark comedy and adheres to the thematic elements of redemption, racism, sexism and loneliness, but the ending hits almost as hard on celluloid as it does on the page.



Huston’s adaptation of Wise Blood stands as a great American film.



www.jamescalemine.com

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