In this acclaimed adaptation of the first novel by legendary Southern writer Flannery O’Connor, John Huston vividly brings to life her poetic world of American eccentricity. Brad Dourif, in an impassioned performance, is Hazel Motes, who, fresh out of the army, attempts to open the first Church Without Christ in the small town of Taulkinham. Populated with inspired performances that seem to spring right from O’Connor’s pages, Huston’s Wise Blood is an incisive portrait of spirituality and Evangelicalism, and a faithful, loving evocation of a writer’s vision.
John Huston’s Wise Blood is presented by The Criterion Collection in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 on this dual-layer disc. The image has been enhanced for widescreen televisions.
I found the image transfer to be a surprise, despite the good word of mouth for the region 2 Second Sight DVD (I haven’t seen it.) Colours are bright and bold, far better than I thought they would come off. The image is consistently sharp throughout with excellent detail. Artifacts are fairly minimal, though edge-enhancement shows up every once a while. Blacks are quite solid but become a little washed during some night sequences. The print is in wonderful shape, only showing a few small marks throughout, the restoration looking to have been rather vigorous.
Some issues are present but I was still pleasantly surprised with it. It’s still up there with some of Criterion’s better transfers.
Wise Blood is presented with an English Dolby Digital 1.0 mono track. It’s a surprisingly lively mono track, clean and free of distortion. Music has a fantastic amount of range and excellent volume, never sounds harsh or distorted, and dialogue is clear and intelligible. Considering the indie nature and the age of the film I was actually shocked how good it sounds.
Criterion has put together a modest collection of supplements, most of them ported over from the region 2 DVD of the film from Second Sight.
The first feature on the list is the theatrical trailer, which captures the film’s rather bizarre and unique tone.
Following this are a collection of interviews (taken from the Second Sight release I believe,) the first of which is a 13-minute interview with actor Brad Dourif. While elsewhere on the disc it’s suggested that Dourif was always envisioned to play the role of the main character, Hazel Motes, he says he was actually approached to play Enoch Emory. He insisted on playing Motes instead but apparently that role was to go to Tommy Lee Jones. When Jones couldn’t do it, Dourif was then asked to play the lead. He is very fond of the story and shows his passion for it in this interview, and he talks about some of the conflicts he had with Huston, who was reading the work a little differently than most everyone else involved with the film. I’ve never seen an interview with Dourif and I was glad to see he made for an excellent interviewee (and it was also nice to see him looking normal, not playing up the crazy eyes.)
The next interview is with writer-producer Michael Fitzgerald, running about 20-minutes. His family knew Flannery O’Connor, the author of Wise Blood, and she even wrote the novel in their family home. Fitzgerald talks about her and the book, touching on the themes within it, and then moves on to the subject of his brother and him trying to get into the movie business. After some failed script attempts they decided to adapt O’Connor’s Wise Blood and eventually approached John Huston to direct. He said he’d do it if they got the funding and after they got a small amount of money filming began. He remembers fondly about the filming, his first experience on a set, and recalls working with Huston. He also touches on the photos at the beginning of the film and explains why Huston’s first name is misspelled in the opening credits (it appears as Jhon.) He then finishes on its premiere at Cannes. This one was probably my favourite of the interviews.
The final interview is with brother Benedict Fitzgerald, running about 13-minutes. He expands on what his brother covered, talking a bit about how he and his brother got into films, and then adapting the novel to the screen, saying that their aim was not to do a direct adaptation but to at least capture the spirit of the book. He also points out the locals that were cast in the film, though it sounds like they took slight advantage of the homeless people that appear in the film. Together with the other two interviews we get a decent account on the making of the film.
The next section, titled Flannery O’Connor presents the only known recording of the author reading one of her own works, recorded in 1959. The recording is divided into two sections, an “Introduction” and then the “Story”. The intro is about 10-minutes, featuring O’Connor and Walter Sullivan, and the story features O’Connor reading her short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, running about 38-minutes. Audio quality overall is not the best, coming off a little muffled and at times is sounds as though it speeds up briefly. Still an interesting feature that gives some insight into the author’s writing. It’s a shame they couldn’t include the original novel of “Wise Blood”.
Finally, John Huston presents an episode from a PBS series called Creativity with Bill Moyers. This episode focuses on John Huston and offers an interview with the man, also giving a brief biography of his life. The episode was made while Huston was filming Annie and we get some footage from the set as he directs a musical number (which I must say comes off unbelievably odd, almost horrific, when viewed in this fashion.) The interview portions are fantastic, Huston coming off quite honest but fairly funny. He talks a lot about working with actors, directing his father, Walter Huston, in The Treasure of Sierra Madre, what attracts him to a project (either a good story or the fact the movie may take place in a country he’d like to visit, though he may be somewhat joking with that comment) and his method of editing and cutting, which involves shooting very little. The bio portion covers his early years and his family, making their way from their vaudeville days to Huston getting his start in Hollywood. It’s a wonderful segment overall, probably the best feature on the disc. It runs 25-minutes.
A short 12-page booklet includes an essay by author Francine Prose, who talks about the track record of adaptations in Hollywood and Walter Huston’s handling of not only Wise Blood, but his later film, Under the Volcano. It’s short but an excellent read.
Unfortunately this DVD is a higher-tier release, priced at $39.95. The quality of the supplements are quite good, the Huston segment and the O’Connor reading being the standout, but there is barely 2-hours worth of material here.
This is my first experience with the film and I’m glad I finally got around to it. It’s an ultra bizarre yet funny film; I haven’t seen anything like it before. As for the DVD I’m not sure why it’s priced at the higher end, especially since there are only a couple of hours of supplements on here. Maybe licencing material from Second Sight or getting the recording of O’Connor made the release more expensive but it’s not as lavish as some of their other higher-tier titles and lacks a commentary track, which does make the price point questionable. Still, the transfer is great and the supplements are all high quality. A mild recommendation.