October 3, 2005

Cornell Cinema

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Cornell Cinema has always been proud of its reputation of showcasing great, insightful (and sometimes overlooked) documentaries. In addition Cornell Cinema has been very successful at providing added features and guest commentaries to accompany these films. This upcoming week is no exception with Cornell Cinema not only offering two remarkably different, but stirring documentaries but also accommodating their showings with guest commentators. Winter Soldier will be followed by a discussion from various war veterans on October 4 and the October 6 showing of Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus will feature one of the musicians shown in the documentary.

Winter Soldier (1972)

In a simple conference room in 1971 numerous Vietnam War veterans came together to offer testimony. The conference was sponsored by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War with the hope of exposing the brutality of the conflict through the stories of multiple veterans. This film of the soldiers’ narratives was planned to cause outage against the war, but when television and film balked at producing it, it was only shown amongst anti-war circles. Only now has it seen wide distribution.

Don’t let the grainy black and white footage of testimony fool you, this is one powerful film. The emotional and chilling testimony has not aged one bit in the past 30 years. Each veteran approaches his story differently; one openly cries, others retell their memories with disbelief and others show anger.

The common, and most chilling, theme repeated by veteran after veteran is the change that went through each man as he fought. Each witness tells how eventually he came to view the Vietnamese not as people, but as things that had no value alive or dead. Many veterans testify how they saw no difference between Viet Cong enemies or common civilians; they were all just “Gooks.” It is only after hearing this same statement over and over again that the audience can approach an understanding of this mentality and the senseless violence that it creates. The discussion by veterans following this film will probably cast even more light on the nature of warfare and violence.

Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus (2005)

This wonderful eclectic odyssey through the South (albeit its more eccentric parts) is a refreshing and insightful documentary. The real guide through this journey aren’t the filmmakers, in fact they seem to be tagging along just like us; instead its music. Whether it be in bars, barbershops, truck stops, or churches, music is everywhere and it is often through songs that the film makes its most significant points. It is therefore appropriate that the main narrator and guide through the film is alt-country singer Jim White.

White takes us along the back roads in a beat up 1970 Chevrolet Impala with a large Jesus lawn ornament precariously hanging out of the trunk. As we travel, we are introduced to people in various places ranging from prisons to Pentecostal churches. At times, the people they meet express feelings of remorse and hopelessness, others express a deep sense of faith and a positive outlook.

Of course the entire journey is helped by White’s colorful commentary. He seems to have a bizarre metaphor for nearly every aspect of Southern life. In one of his best moments he illustrates (amazingly successfully) the nature of life in a small town in the Deep South by smushing his frostee ice cream into its cone and eating it.

Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus doesn’t try to pass judgement or any deep sociological experiments upon the people that we encounter. It simply is a great road trip through a often forgotten corner of America. As mentioned previously, for the Friday showing of the film musician Johnny Dowd will be present. Hopefully he will play a few of his songs that are featured in the movie’s moving and harmonious soundtrack.

Archived article by Mark Rice
Film Editor