Jesus + the South = fertile ground for films

I know I’m, oh, two or three years behind on this, but I just got a Netflix subscription. I think I’ve finally found a rival for my internet addiction: a steady stream of movies delivered to my front door.

The first dozen or so movies I’ve put in my queue are all documentaries. There have been some nice thematic convergences—Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus and Jesus Camp were my first two.

Wrong-Eyed Jesus is a brooding, lyrical study of the South, seen through the aviator-clad eyes of an alt-country musician in a rusty, borrowed Impala. Swamps, drunken locals, and the most deranged-muppet-looking little old lady Christian radio host you’ll ever see are just a few reasons to see this movie.

Jesus Camp picks up with the Pentecostals, this time in the Midwest, who give disturbingly earnest explanations for how to properly education your children for service in God’s army, what to expect from the coming rapture, and why non-charismatics have such boring church services. There’s also a priceless bit in the deleted scenes in which Ted Haggard gets a bit too up close and personal with a steadicam.

I didn’t agree with all of the directors’ choices—the Air America Radio segments criticizing the religious right seems less like “balance” and more like heavy-handed editorial—but the intimacy with which they capture the unapologetic zealotry of both children and adults alike makes Jesus Camp compelling no matter where on the political/religious spectrum you may pitch your tent, revival or otherwise.

I then made a cinematic return to the south and its concomitant weirdness at the Alamo Drafthouse this past weekend, where I saw two of the Rural Route Film Fest’s shorts programs.

The highlight was “Muskrat Lovely,” a documentary about a small Maryland town’s joint “Miss Outdoors” pageant and muskrat skinning contest. It invites immediate comparisons to Christopher Guest’s mockumentaries but has not the slightest hint of ridicule or mean-spiritedness. All you should need to know in order to want to see it is that one of the teenage contestants, after the opening dance and business attire segments, skins a muskrat onstage for the talent competition.

Thump Queen poster

I was of course highly entertained the next day to see campaign posters for the Luling, Texas, Watermelon Thump’s “Thump Queen” while in town to sample the Luling City Market barbecue. I haven’t been to the Thump, held every year in June, but judging by the early campaigning and the amount of permanently watermelon-adorned objects scattered around town (including oil derricks), it’s quite the event. Sadly, my UT thesis supervisor beat me to the punch with his doc “Spit Farther!” (a seed-spitting contest is also part of the festivities).


Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., 1922-2007

A fond farewell to the man who, if not the spiritual father, was the spiritual crazy uncle of my blogging efforts. If I could believe that anyone would wake up after death in faraway worlds peopled with strange yet highly literate aliens, I’d believe it of him. I hope he enjoys himself there, because he will be sorely missed here.

Kurt Vonnegut