August 14, 2005

Screen Door Jesus

John Waters once said that he hates "message movies." And I remember nodding my head in agreement when I read that. However, I found Screen Door Jesus to be more entertaining that any piece of John Waters crap that I've seen. I must hastily state that Mr. Waters does not strive for anything too far above crap, and I do like him and his approach generally, but I don't want to digress into that.

If you haven't heard of this film that's probably because it hasn't been officially released yet. Screen Door Jesus has been shown at some festivals, but won't hit any theaters until September.

So how in the hell did I get to watch it? And on DVD no less.

Well, when I set up this little blog I knew that someday it would bear some interesting fruit. If you've been following this blog, you know that I haven't written about any movies for some time now. It just got to be too time consuming and I have another writing project that deserved my full typewritten attention. However, a few weeks back I found a not-your-everyday-enlarge-your-penis email in my inbox, asking if I might like to review a movie, this one. I was sooooo flattered by the attention that naturally I eagerly agreed. And a few days later we found the disc in our PO box downtown.


Screen Door Jesus is a very lovely little indie production. I say "little" but judging from the end result and the long list of credits at the end, this was not done too much on the cheap.

The subject matter tended to put me off, but I hung in there, and was glad I did.

Screen Door Jesus takes place in the mythical little east Texas town of Bethlehem. Yes, the name of the town is symbolic but it's up to you to determine in exactly what way. Mother Harper is a Jesus-loving and God-fearing lady on the downhill side of her lifespan and faints one day when she beholds the image of her Lord Jesus Christ, which has miraculously formed in the screen door on her front porch.

From that point all heaven and hell breaks loose, as pilgrims from all over the damn place start showing up to see the image of Jesus for themselves. The locals all react in their own ways, and from this arise several different stories which weave themselves in and around each other to create the movie. I really like a story which is told this way, but it has to be done right, or it will drive you crazy. The director, Kirk Davis, and the editor, Sam Adelman, deserve a lot of credit for this.

The subject matter puts me off a bit, because we just moved from New Mexico back to my home and very red state of Kansas, which lies right on the Bible belt. (I was just realizing that that is a very wide belt.) We didn't go to church this morning, nor last Sunday, and I doubt that we'll go next Sunday either, but I still get a little defensive when I see somebody making fun of church-going folk. My personal beliefs aside, those are my folk. (My mom and most of my family did go to church today.)

However, while this film is critical of Christians (not so much Christianity), it is not too cynical. Miracles do happen in this story and as to the film's theological points, though an attendee of the Southern Baptist convention might disagree with them, I don't think said attendee would try to start a riot and burn the film. You have among these many characters, the full gamut of Christian: the blind faith zealot to the borderline agnostic with his own take on what the Bible says, to the guy who hates God because something bad happened to him. I don't think there was an atheist, except maybe the drunk who lives across the street from Mother Harper.

I have a feeling that Christopher Cook, the author whose short stories were used as the basis for the screenplay, is a practicing Christian or at least has a tolerance for Christians not usually shared by your average Greenwich Village anarchist/liberal. I was frankly surprised that the film did not deliver some wholesale condemnation of Christianity. I appreciate that. Cook's work contains a conflict between the Pentecostals and the Baptists that reminds me of Garrison Keillor's Catholic vs. Lutheran scenarios.

Screen Door Jesus just might be the most entertaining "message movie" I have ever seen. There is a good amount of humor to go with some suspenseful drama. There is a little too much theological discussion but that's easily forgiven (get it? forgiven? hehehe). I've never heard of a single one of the actors, but the movie is very well acted. There is even some pretty decent music -- southern-style rock and roll from a band called Back Porch Mary, which portrays a group called The Renegade Ohms in the film. The band's lead singer is a major character in the story. I really wonder about the character name of that band. Anybody who has taken physics or basic electronics knows what an ohm is, but is that some backdoor reference to the hindu Om? God only knows, and the writer I guess.

The movie stills I use here were sent along with the DVD by one of the producers, David Stuart. If you click on them they pop open larger. Do so with the one of the porch. I got a kick out of the house number. There's no way that was an accident.

Posted by Wayne at August 14, 2005 10:01 PM
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