Wise Blood


1h 48m 1979
Wise Blood

Brief Synopsis

An ambitious Southern boy tries to set himself up as a street preacher.

Film Details

Also Known As
El profeta del Diablo, sagesse dans le sang
MPAA Rating
Genre
Drama
Black Comedy
Adaptation
Release Date
1979

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 48m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color

Synopsis

When aimless veteran Hazel Motes returns to the South with nothing better to do, he becomes an evangelist. Hazel teams up with an older preacher, a veteran of the revival circuit who fakes blindness to win over converts, and the older man convinces Hazel to actually blind himself in order to "see the light.

Film Details

Also Known As
El profeta del Diablo, sagesse dans le sang
MPAA Rating
Genre
Drama
Black Comedy
Adaptation
Release Date
1979

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 48m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color

Articles

Wise Blood


Flannery O'Connor had begun work on her first novel, Wise Blood, at the Yaddo writer's colony in Saratoga Springs, New York, in 1948. Feeling that distance from her native Georgia would give the blackly satirical work some much-needed perspective, the then 23-year-old writer accepted an invitation to complete the book as a guest of Robert Stewart Fitzgerald. A distinguished poet, critic and translator of Greek texts, Fitzgerald had recently translated Sophocles' Oedipus Rex into English and the classic tragedy would have a profound effect on O'Connor as she beavered away on Wise Blood in Fitzgerald's Connecticut home between 1949 and 1951. O'Connor was diagnosed with lupus in 1951 (the disease had killed her father when she was 15), a year before publication of Wise Blood, which Signet hawked as "A Searching Novel of Sin and Redemption." A prolific writer of short stories and essays, and a traveling lecturer on both the art of writing and her own Catholic faith, O'Connor published only one more novel before her death in 1964, at the age of 39. Short listed even in life as a practitioner of "Southern Gothic," O'Connor preferred her own label of "Christian realism." In an essay published posthumously in 1969, the author opined that "anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic."

When fledgling screenwriters Benedict and Michael Fitzgerald were stonewalled while peddling their own scripts in Hollywood in the late 1970s, they turned to an almost forgotten family asset - their old babysitter Flannery O'Connor. Following O'Connor's death in 1964, their father Robert had been named her literary executor. Choosing O'Connor's first and more accessible novel as a property, the brothers set to work crafting an adaptation that they hoped would be more marketable than their original efforts. Although the downbeat tale of an angry war veteran attempting to start his own iconoclastic church in the Deep South's "Bible Belt" was anathema to investors, legendary film director John Huston provided early encouragement and committed to directing a film version if a budget could be raised. Knowing almost nothing about the film industry, Michael Fitzgerald spent two years raising $190,000, enough to make Wise Blood (1979) so long as everyone involved agreed to either defer payments or work for "minimum wage."

The principal photography for Wise Blood began in January 1979, in and around Macon, Georgia, with Huston directing and various members of both the Huston and Fitzgerald families filling out the 25-person crew. Hired to oversee the production was veteran first assistant director Thomas P. Shaw, who had added value to Huston's The Misfits (1961), as well as many films from Richard Brooks and Burt Lancaster's Hill-Hecht-Lancaster company.

"We undertook to make the picture in forty-eight days and Tommy cut more corners than Andretti in the Monte Carlo," John Huston wrote in his memoirs. According to Huston, there were no written contracts between himself and the Fitzgeralds, no call sheets or other signifiers of a legitimate Hollywood production. The cast and crew were billeted together in Macon's Hilton Hotel, where the production team won the run of the kitchen from winnings in a series of late night poker games with the hotel manager. Cast in the pivotal role of evangelical non-preacher Hazel Motes was West Virginia-born actor Brad Dourif, then riding high from his Oscar® nomination for Milos Forman's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975).

Wise Blood also marked a dynamic pre-rediscovery performance by Harry Dean Stanton, whose smaller role in Ridley Scott's Alien (1979) got him more attention that same year. Huston and the Fitzgeralds rounded out their principal players with Amy Wright, Dan Shor and Ned Beatty but used locals in smaller roles and brokered astonishing production value, including the use of a locomotive and existing locations, at no cost.

Wise Blood wrapped on St. Patrick's Day 1979 and was rushed into the Cannes Film Festival, where it was picked up for distribution by New Line Cinema for general release in early 1980. Before his death in 1987, John Huston would work again with Michael Fitzgerald, who served as executive producer for Under the Volcano (1984). Benedict Fitzgerald shared a writing credit on the controversial and hugely successful The Passion of the Christ (2004), later bringing a $10 million lawsuit against filmmaker Mel Gibson for "fraud, breach of contract and unjust enrichment".

Producer: Kathy Fitzgerald, Michael Fitzgerald
Director: John Huston (as Jhon Huston)
Screenplay: Benedict Fitzgerald, Michael Fitzgerald (screenplay); Flannery O'Connor (novel)
Cinematography: Gerry Fisher
Music: Alex North
Film Editing: Roberto Silvi
Cast: Brad Dourif (Hazel Motes), John Huston (Grandfather (as Jhon Huston)), Dan Shor (Enoch Emory), Harry Dean Stanton (Asa Hawks), Amy Wright (Sabbath Lily), Mary Nell Santacroce (Landlady), Ned Beatty (Hoover Shoates), William Hickey (Preacher).
C-106m.

by Richard Harland Smith

Sources:
An Open Book by John Huston (Da Capo Press, 1994)
Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor by Brad Gooch (Back Bay Books, 2010)
Michael Fitzgerald interview, Wise Blood DVD (The Criterion Collection)
Benedict Fitzgerald interview, Wise Blood DVD (The Criterion Collection)
Wise Blood

Wise Blood

Flannery O'Connor had begun work on her first novel, Wise Blood, at the Yaddo writer's colony in Saratoga Springs, New York, in 1948. Feeling that distance from her native Georgia would give the blackly satirical work some much-needed perspective, the then 23-year-old writer accepted an invitation to complete the book as a guest of Robert Stewart Fitzgerald. A distinguished poet, critic and translator of Greek texts, Fitzgerald had recently translated Sophocles' Oedipus Rex into English and the classic tragedy would have a profound effect on O'Connor as she beavered away on Wise Blood in Fitzgerald's Connecticut home between 1949 and 1951. O'Connor was diagnosed with lupus in 1951 (the disease had killed her father when she was 15), a year before publication of Wise Blood, which Signet hawked as "A Searching Novel of Sin and Redemption." A prolific writer of short stories and essays, and a traveling lecturer on both the art of writing and her own Catholic faith, O'Connor published only one more novel before her death in 1964, at the age of 39. Short listed even in life as a practitioner of "Southern Gothic," O'Connor preferred her own label of "Christian realism." In an essay published posthumously in 1969, the author opined that "anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic." When fledgling screenwriters Benedict and Michael Fitzgerald were stonewalled while peddling their own scripts in Hollywood in the late 1970s, they turned to an almost forgotten family asset - their old babysitter Flannery O'Connor. Following O'Connor's death in 1964, their father Robert had been named her literary executor. Choosing O'Connor's first and more accessible novel as a property, the brothers set to work crafting an adaptation that they hoped would be more marketable than their original efforts. Although the downbeat tale of an angry war veteran attempting to start his own iconoclastic church in the Deep South's "Bible Belt" was anathema to investors, legendary film director John Huston provided early encouragement and committed to directing a film version if a budget could be raised. Knowing almost nothing about the film industry, Michael Fitzgerald spent two years raising $190,000, enough to make Wise Blood (1979) so long as everyone involved agreed to either defer payments or work for "minimum wage." The principal photography for Wise Blood began in January 1979, in and around Macon, Georgia, with Huston directing and various members of both the Huston and Fitzgerald families filling out the 25-person crew. Hired to oversee the production was veteran first assistant director Thomas P. Shaw, who had added value to Huston's The Misfits (1961), as well as many films from Richard Brooks and Burt Lancaster's Hill-Hecht-Lancaster company. "We undertook to make the picture in forty-eight days and Tommy cut more corners than Andretti in the Monte Carlo," John Huston wrote in his memoirs. According to Huston, there were no written contracts between himself and the Fitzgeralds, no call sheets or other signifiers of a legitimate Hollywood production. The cast and crew were billeted together in Macon's Hilton Hotel, where the production team won the run of the kitchen from winnings in a series of late night poker games with the hotel manager. Cast in the pivotal role of evangelical non-preacher Hazel Motes was West Virginia-born actor Brad Dourif, then riding high from his Oscar® nomination for Milos Forman's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975). Wise Blood also marked a dynamic pre-rediscovery performance by Harry Dean Stanton, whose smaller role in Ridley Scott's Alien (1979) got him more attention that same year. Huston and the Fitzgeralds rounded out their principal players with Amy Wright, Dan Shor and Ned Beatty but used locals in smaller roles and brokered astonishing production value, including the use of a locomotive and existing locations, at no cost. Wise Blood wrapped on St. Patrick's Day 1979 and was rushed into the Cannes Film Festival, where it was picked up for distribution by New Line Cinema for general release in early 1980. Before his death in 1987, John Huston would work again with Michael Fitzgerald, who served as executive producer for Under the Volcano (1984). Benedict Fitzgerald shared a writing credit on the controversial and hugely successful The Passion of the Christ (2004), later bringing a $10 million lawsuit against filmmaker Mel Gibson for "fraud, breach of contract and unjust enrichment". Producer: Kathy Fitzgerald, Michael Fitzgerald Director: John Huston (as Jhon Huston) Screenplay: Benedict Fitzgerald, Michael Fitzgerald (screenplay); Flannery O'Connor (novel) Cinematography: Gerry Fisher Music: Alex North Film Editing: Roberto Silvi Cast: Brad Dourif (Hazel Motes), John Huston (Grandfather (as Jhon Huston)), Dan Shor (Enoch Emory), Harry Dean Stanton (Asa Hawks), Amy Wright (Sabbath Lily), Mary Nell Santacroce (Landlady), Ned Beatty (Hoover Shoates), William Hickey (Preacher). C-106m. by Richard Harland Smith Sources: An Open Book by John Huston (Da Capo Press, 1994) Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor by Brad Gooch (Back Bay Books, 2010) Michael Fitzgerald interview, Wise Blood DVD (The Criterion Collection) Benedict Fitzgerald interview, Wise Blood DVD (The Criterion Collection)

Wise Blood - WISE BLOOD - John Huston's 1979 Film Adaptation of the Flannery O'Connor Novel


Hollywood has always taken a play-safe attitude to religion, in the desire to please as wide an audience as possible. Only the rise of independent productions in the 1950s made possible mainstream pictures with disturbing or controversial religious themes, as with Davis Grubb's Night of the Hunter. Acclaimed author Flannery O'Connor wrote Wise Blood in 1952. Her tale of the street preacher Hazel Motes was considered as un-filmable as her short stories about other southern "grotesques", until the keepers of her estate brought a script to John Huston. The movie was made quickly and for very little money.

Wise Blood (1979) does justice to O'Connor's mysterious, quirky examination of Bible Belt mania. Sustained by Huston's usual impish delight at the irrationality of human nature, the Impeccably cast and brilliantly acted film seems to be happening in an alternate universe of frauds and heretics.

Ex-serviceman Hazel Motes (Brad Dourif) returns from war to find his family home an empty ruin. A haunted man with a zealot's concentration, Motes exchanges his uniform for a preacher's suit and hat, although he vehemently denies any such connection. Haunted by memories of his grandfather, a fire & brimstone revivalist (John Huston), Hazel seems consumed by the desire to both escape and embrace God. Always belligerent, he clashes with street-corner preachers and conmen. Hazel is offended by the shameless pamphleteering of the blind prophet Asa Hawks (Harry Dean Stanton), yet is both attracted to and repelled by Hawks' flirtatious daughter, Sabbath Lily (Amy Wright). Hazel starts his own sidewalk sect, "The church of truth without Jesus Christ Crucified". His incoherent speeches claim that Jesus is a fraud, that mankind hasn't sinned and doesn't need to be redeemed; yet his hysterical tone indicates a believer trying desperately to deny his own beliefs. Slick conman Hoover Shoates (Ned Beatty) attracts an audience for Hazel's rants and wants to go into business with him. Hazel is of course outraged.

Nothing in Wise Blood is predictable. Hazel can't rid himself of Enoch Emory (Dan Shor), a homeless yokel desperate for companionship and obsessed by a diminutive, shriveled mummy in a local museum. Motes buys a pathetic junker of a car and proceeds to praise it as the measure of his worth: "Nobody with a good car needs to be justified." Sabbath Lily sets her cap for Hazel, asking her daddy not to interfere. Enoch Emory steals the museum mummy to serve as Motes' "New Jesus"; the boy then fixates on a gorilla suit worn by a man promoting a matinee movie attraction called "Gonga, Monarch of the Jungle". Hoover Shoates creates his own "false prophet", a feeble assistant dressed identically to Hazel, and uses him to lure away the curbside congregation of The Church of Truth without Christ.

Wise Blood is a bizarre mix of rage, guilt and warped faith, but it is not at all blasphemous. O'Connor, a devout Catholic, targets the lunatic excesses of Bible Belt Evangelicals, where self-styled prophets compete for sidewalk space. We're confronted with unexpected inversions of religious imagery, as when Sabbath Lily appears at Hazel's door holding the museum mummy, pretending to be the Virgin Mary. The scene's purpose is not subversion: Hazel immediately attacks Lily's joke as an abomination. Later on, Hazel will commit a serious crime and lose his precious car. To pay for his sins, he then performs acts of self-mutilation associated with the most extreme religious fanatics.

Some of the perplexing dialogue comes across as comedy writing, or lies on the surface begging further interpretation. But the story's strange inventory of material "things" -- Hazel's blue suit and preacher's hat, his all-important car, the withered mummy, the gorilla suit -- are highly cinematic. Critics sometimes fault John Huston for his literal approach to great novels, complaining that he illustrates their basic outlines without communicating their essence: Moby Dick is cited as a prime example. In reality, Huston often takes on projects other director's wouldn't touch. Difficult pictures like Freud and Under the Volcano deal with interior themes difficult to visualize -- but have a strong central character. When Huston's actors are up to the task, the movies thrive.

Brad Dourif (Dune, Ragtime) keeps Hazel Motes focused on his personal crusade. Motes is so keyed up, he can barely communicate with people. We can't tell if the perpetual strained, pained expression on his face is inner- or outer- directed. The film's other "grotesques" are equally unforgettable. Harry Dean Stanton's Asa Hawks is a streetwise sharpie with his own history of failure. As Sabbath Lily, Amy Wright (The Accidental Tourist, Inside Moves) is a decidedly strange temptation in Hazel's path: she wears a crown of may flowers to seduce him, and still can't get his attention. Dan Shor's Enoch Emory is another young man adrift and yearning, dismissed as feeble minded by all he meets; it's too bad that Hazel isn't looking for disciples.

Wise Blood is yet another idiosyncratic late-career John Huston movie to stand alongside Under the Volcano and Fat City. The director would devote his time to a labor of love like this one, and then take on a bloated whale like Annie presumably as a path to a hefty payday. Released by New Line, Wise Blood came and went like a flash, leaving little more than a wake of positive reviews. It's a genuine original, shot through with Huston's knack for quirky characterizations. Flannery O'Connor's cryptic contradictions align well with Huston's dark humor: when a prospective landlady asks whether Hazel Motes' flaky "Church without Jesus Christ" is Protestant, or ..... foreign, Hazel is quick to assure her that it's definitely Protestant.

Criterion's DVD of Wise Blood presents this unusual film in a flawless enhanced transfer with very clear audio. Alex North's soundtrack makes prominent use of the standard "The Tennessee Waltz".

Disc producer Karen Stetler has lined up key source interviews to accompany the feature. Brad Dourif explains that he auditioned well for what would become his defining role but got it only when Tommy Lee Jones proved unavailable. Writer Benedict Fitzgerald and writer-producer Michael Fitzgerald explain their association with the famous author (who died in 1964) and their efforts to faithfully interpret the novel for the screen. John Huston is represented by a cursory career overview on a 1982 TV installment of Creativity with Bill Moyers. Flannery O'Connor reads her short story A Good Man is Hard to Find in a rare audio recording from 1959.

The original trailer tries to sell Wise Blood as a wacky comedy. Author Francine Prose contributes a knowledgeable essay to the disc's insert booklet.

For more information about Wise Blood, visit The Criterion Collection. To order Wise Blood, go to TCM Shopping.

by Glenn Erickson

Wise Blood - WISE BLOOD - John Huston's 1979 Film Adaptation of the Flannery O'Connor Novel

Hollywood has always taken a play-safe attitude to religion, in the desire to please as wide an audience as possible. Only the rise of independent productions in the 1950s made possible mainstream pictures with disturbing or controversial religious themes, as with Davis Grubb's Night of the Hunter. Acclaimed author Flannery O'Connor wrote Wise Blood in 1952. Her tale of the street preacher Hazel Motes was considered as un-filmable as her short stories about other southern "grotesques", until the keepers of her estate brought a script to John Huston. The movie was made quickly and for very little money. Wise Blood (1979) does justice to O'Connor's mysterious, quirky examination of Bible Belt mania. Sustained by Huston's usual impish delight at the irrationality of human nature, the Impeccably cast and brilliantly acted film seems to be happening in an alternate universe of frauds and heretics. Ex-serviceman Hazel Motes (Brad Dourif) returns from war to find his family home an empty ruin. A haunted man with a zealot's concentration, Motes exchanges his uniform for a preacher's suit and hat, although he vehemently denies any such connection. Haunted by memories of his grandfather, a fire & brimstone revivalist (John Huston), Hazel seems consumed by the desire to both escape and embrace God. Always belligerent, he clashes with street-corner preachers and conmen. Hazel is offended by the shameless pamphleteering of the blind prophet Asa Hawks (Harry Dean Stanton), yet is both attracted to and repelled by Hawks' flirtatious daughter, Sabbath Lily (Amy Wright). Hazel starts his own sidewalk sect, "The church of truth without Jesus Christ Crucified". His incoherent speeches claim that Jesus is a fraud, that mankind hasn't sinned and doesn't need to be redeemed; yet his hysterical tone indicates a believer trying desperately to deny his own beliefs. Slick conman Hoover Shoates (Ned Beatty) attracts an audience for Hazel's rants and wants to go into business with him. Hazel is of course outraged. Nothing in Wise Blood is predictable. Hazel can't rid himself of Enoch Emory (Dan Shor), a homeless yokel desperate for companionship and obsessed by a diminutive, shriveled mummy in a local museum. Motes buys a pathetic junker of a car and proceeds to praise it as the measure of his worth: "Nobody with a good car needs to be justified." Sabbath Lily sets her cap for Hazel, asking her daddy not to interfere. Enoch Emory steals the museum mummy to serve as Motes' "New Jesus"; the boy then fixates on a gorilla suit worn by a man promoting a matinee movie attraction called "Gonga, Monarch of the Jungle". Hoover Shoates creates his own "false prophet", a feeble assistant dressed identically to Hazel, and uses him to lure away the curbside congregation of The Church of Truth without Christ. Wise Blood is a bizarre mix of rage, guilt and warped faith, but it is not at all blasphemous. O'Connor, a devout Catholic, targets the lunatic excesses of Bible Belt Evangelicals, where self-styled prophets compete for sidewalk space. We're confronted with unexpected inversions of religious imagery, as when Sabbath Lily appears at Hazel's door holding the museum mummy, pretending to be the Virgin Mary. The scene's purpose is not subversion: Hazel immediately attacks Lily's joke as an abomination. Later on, Hazel will commit a serious crime and lose his precious car. To pay for his sins, he then performs acts of self-mutilation associated with the most extreme religious fanatics. Some of the perplexing dialogue comes across as comedy writing, or lies on the surface begging further interpretation. But the story's strange inventory of material "things" -- Hazel's blue suit and preacher's hat, his all-important car, the withered mummy, the gorilla suit -- are highly cinematic. Critics sometimes fault John Huston for his literal approach to great novels, complaining that he illustrates their basic outlines without communicating their essence: Moby Dick is cited as a prime example. In reality, Huston often takes on projects other director's wouldn't touch. Difficult pictures like Freud and Under the Volcano deal with interior themes difficult to visualize -- but have a strong central character. When Huston's actors are up to the task, the movies thrive. Brad Dourif (Dune, Ragtime) keeps Hazel Motes focused on his personal crusade. Motes is so keyed up, he can barely communicate with people. We can't tell if the perpetual strained, pained expression on his face is inner- or outer- directed. The film's other "grotesques" are equally unforgettable. Harry Dean Stanton's Asa Hawks is a streetwise sharpie with his own history of failure. As Sabbath Lily, Amy Wright (The Accidental Tourist, Inside Moves) is a decidedly strange temptation in Hazel's path: she wears a crown of may flowers to seduce him, and still can't get his attention. Dan Shor's Enoch Emory is another young man adrift and yearning, dismissed as feeble minded by all he meets; it's too bad that Hazel isn't looking for disciples. Wise Blood is yet another idiosyncratic late-career John Huston movie to stand alongside Under the Volcano and Fat City. The director would devote his time to a labor of love like this one, and then take on a bloated whale like Annie presumably as a path to a hefty payday. Released by New Line, Wise Blood came and went like a flash, leaving little more than a wake of positive reviews. It's a genuine original, shot through with Huston's knack for quirky characterizations. Flannery O'Connor's cryptic contradictions align well with Huston's dark humor: when a prospective landlady asks whether Hazel Motes' flaky "Church without Jesus Christ" is Protestant, or ..... foreign, Hazel is quick to assure her that it's definitely Protestant. Criterion's DVD of Wise Blood presents this unusual film in a flawless enhanced transfer with very clear audio. Alex North's soundtrack makes prominent use of the standard "The Tennessee Waltz". Disc producer Karen Stetler has lined up key source interviews to accompany the feature. Brad Dourif explains that he auditioned well for what would become his defining role but got it only when Tommy Lee Jones proved unavailable. Writer Benedict Fitzgerald and writer-producer Michael Fitzgerald explain their association with the famous author (who died in 1964) and their efforts to faithfully interpret the novel for the screen. John Huston is represented by a cursory career overview on a 1982 TV installment of Creativity with Bill Moyers. Flannery O'Connor reads her short story A Good Man is Hard to Find in a rare audio recording from 1959. The original trailer tries to sell Wise Blood as a wacky comedy. Author Francine Prose contributes a knowledgeable essay to the disc's insert booklet. For more information about Wise Blood, visit The Criterion Collection. To order Wise Blood, go to TCM Shopping. by Glenn Erickson

Quotes

No man with a good car needs to be justified!
- Hazel
...the Church of Christ Without Christ. Where the blind can't see, the lame don't walk, and the dead stay that way.
- Hazel
'Twas like where you're from weren't never there. Where you're going doesn't matter. And where you are ain't no good unless you can get away from it!
- Hazel

Trivia

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1979

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1979

Shown at 1979 New York Film Festival.

Re-released in Paris April 26, 1989.

Released in United States 1979 (Shown at 1979 New York Film Festival.)

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1979