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HISTORY

       The title credits for John Huston are written as "Jhon Huston." Michael Fitzgerald, the film’s producer and co-screenwriter, explained the mistake in an interview for the 2009 Criterion Collection DVD. A child was selected to draw the title credits and in the process, misspelled Huston’s first name. The filmmakers decided not to correct it as a way of signifying the offbeat nature of the story. Other intentional misspellings appear within the film, such as “shiffer robe” for chifforobe, “angle” for angel and “frienliest” for friendliest.
       Several sources provided information on the development of the project, including articles from the 4 Sep 1979 HR, the 11 Jan 1979 DV, the 15 Apr 1979 LAT and the 17 Feb 1980 NYT. Southern writer Flannery O’Connor wrote her first novel Wise Blood in the early 1950s at the Connecticut home of classics scholar Robert Fitzgerald, who became the literary executor of her estate along with his wife Sally. Fitzgerald’s sons, Michael and Benedict, grew up with an early interest in cinema, influenced by another frequent visitor to their home, noted author and film critic James Agee. Michael Fitzgerald said that a motivating factor in choosing Wise Blood for their Hollywood debut was learning that another filmmaker was interested in adapting the property. Since the Fitzgerald family had nurtured O’Connor’s first novel, he did not want anyone else “‘tampering’” with the story. He was able to secure the rights from O’Connor’s mother. Although Michael did not name the other filmmaker, a 21 Apr 1976 HR brief noted that ... More Less

       The title credits for John Huston are written as "Jhon Huston." Michael Fitzgerald, the film’s producer and co-screenwriter, explained the mistake in an interview for the 2009 Criterion Collection DVD. A child was selected to draw the title credits and in the process, misspelled Huston’s first name. The filmmakers decided not to correct it as a way of signifying the offbeat nature of the story. Other intentional misspellings appear within the film, such as “shiffer robe” for chifforobe, “angle” for angel and “frienliest” for friendliest.
       Several sources provided information on the development of the project, including articles from the 4 Sep 1979 HR, the 11 Jan 1979 DV, the 15 Apr 1979 LAT and the 17 Feb 1980 NYT. Southern writer Flannery O’Connor wrote her first novel Wise Blood in the early 1950s at the Connecticut home of classics scholar Robert Fitzgerald, who became the literary executor of her estate along with his wife Sally. Fitzgerald’s sons, Michael and Benedict, grew up with an early interest in cinema, influenced by another frequent visitor to their home, noted author and film critic James Agee. Michael Fitzgerald said that a motivating factor in choosing Wise Blood for their Hollywood debut was learning that another filmmaker was interested in adapting the property. Since the Fitzgerald family had nurtured O’Connor’s first novel, he did not want anyone else “‘tampering’” with the story. He was able to secure the rights from O’Connor’s mother. Although Michael did not name the other filmmaker, a 21 Apr 1976 HR brief noted that a production company created by A. J. Palmerio and Kevin Casselman was planning an adaptation of Wise Blood to be directed by Cliff Robertson for Columbia Pictures. The script was written by Palmerio and was preparing to film in Georgia.
       Michael Fitzgerald had no experience in the film industry when he decided to contact director John Huston. Aided by his father’s association with Agee, he sent him the novel and was subsequently invited to Huston’s home in Puerta Vallarta, Mexico, according to the 11 Jan 1979 DV article. Once Huston agreed to direct the project, Michael Fitzgerald was eventually able to assemble $2 million in financing, thanks to German producer Hans Brockman of Anthea Films, who negotiated presales of television and theatrical rights in selected European countries, as reported by the 4 Sep 1979 HR article. Although most sources mentioned the budget as $2 million, the 17 Feb 1980 NYT article listed it as $1.5 million.
       John Huston was completing his 1980 autobiography, An Open Book, during the making of Wise Blood, as noted in the 11 Jan 1979 DV article. In an excerpt provided in the AMPAS library file, Huston recalled that after Michael Fitzgerald had raised the money, Huston advised him to hire Tom Shaw to manage the budget. Shaw was a seasoned assistant director and production manager, who had been a frequent collaborator with Huston. Both Huston, in his autobiography, and Michael Fitzgerald, in the DVD interview, attributed the production’s success to Shaw, in terms of its economic efficiency. Huston credited Shaw for bringing in the film under budget and rewarded him with a percentage of any profits.
       According to an interview with Brad Dourif included on the 2009 DVD, Tommy Lee Jones was the top choice for the leading role of “Hazel Motes.” When Jones was not available, Dourif, who had originally been considered for “Enoch Emory,” was chosen to play Hazel after auditioning. Amy Wright was cast as “Sabbath Lily” a few days before filming started, according to a Var brief from 17 Jan 1979. With the exception of Dourif, Wright, Ned Beatty, Harry Dean Stanton, Dan Shor, and William Hickey the rest of the ensemble was composed of local talent, which was mentioned in the HR article from 6 Feb 1979. Local residents often played themselves. The 17 Feb 1980 NYT stated that the officer who pushed Hazel’s car into the lake, a critical scene in the film, was played by Sheriff Ray Wilkes from Bibb County, GA.
       Family connections were prevalent among the film crew, as explained by Huston for a 6 Feb 1979 HR interview as well as in his autobiography. Joining brothers Michael and Benedict was their mother Sally Fitzgerald, who supervised the sets and costumes, and Michael’s wife, Kathy Fitzgerald, who was a co-producer. Shaw brought three of his children to work on the set. Huston wrote that his son, Tony Huston, was a second assistant director, while an 11 Jan 1979 DV article referred to Tony’s job as assistant production manager. His participation is uncredited in the final film. Huston also pointed out in his autobiography that the crew totaled twenty-five, the smallest unit with which he had ever worked.
       The production began shooting on 22 Jan 1979 in Macon, GA, according to a 17 Jan 1979 HR brief. The 11 Jan 1979 DV article listed the start date as 23 Jan 1979. O’Connor had set the novel in a fictional Tennessee town, but the production chose Macon, approximately thirty miles from O’Connor’s hometown of Milledgeville, GA, after receiving cooperation from GA's film commission. A 24 Jan 1979 Var article mentioned that the production also used locations in Toombsboro, GA, and the 6 Feb 1979 HR column indicated that the zoo scene was shot in Atlanta, GA. In the same column, Huston remarked that there was no need to build sets, thanks to the fact that Macon was spared during the Civil War, preserving its small town character.
       The production wrapped by the end of Mar 1979, based on several sources. The shooting schedule was described as ten weeks in the 15 Apr 1979 LAT article and eight weeks in the 17 Feb 1980 NYT article. In the excerpt from his autobiography, Huston specified the length as forty-eight days. Two articles, the 6 Feb 1979 HR and the 11 Jan 1979 DV mentioned that post-production would be completed at Huston’s retreat in Puerta Vallarta.
       According to the 17 Feb 1980 NYT article, a completed version of the film was ready four weeks after the wrap date. The world premiere was in mid-May 1979 at the Cannes Film Festival as part of a special tribute to Huston, which was reported in the 15 Apr 1979 LAT.
       The positive reviews following screenings at the New York Film Festival in Sep 1979 encouraged New Line Cinema to acquire the film. A 21 Nov 1979 Var article announced that the company had purchased domestic distribution rights and booked a one week run at Laemmle’s Royal Theatre in Los Angeles, CA, starting 12 Dec 1979, in order to qualify for Academy Award consideration. The official U.S. opening was Feb 1980 in New York City and other major markets.
       Critic Vincent Canby championed the film. In a 2 Mar 1980 NYT feature article, he named it “the most successful screen adaptation of a major work to come along in a very long time.” Reviews in the 6 Jun 1979 Var and the 12 Dec 1979 LAT were also favorable. Andrew Sarris in the 25 Feb 1980 Village Voice called it “overwhelming uncompromising,” although he admitted he had no desire to see it again. There were several critics, such as Stanley Kauffmann in the 15 Mar 1980 New Republic, who felt that the film was excessive in its depiction of Southern and religious eccentricity and failed to capture the meaning of O’Connor’s novel.
      The end credits include the following acknowledgement, "With Special Thanks to the City of Macon and the State of Georgia."
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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
11 Jan 1979
p. 1, 23.
Daily Variety
14 Aug 1980.
---
Hollywood Reporter
21 Apr 1976.
---
Hollywood Reporter
17 Jan 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
6 Feb 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
4 Sep 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
12 Oct 1979
p. 2.
Los Angeles Times
15 Apr 1979
Section K, pp. 25-28.
Los Angeles Times
24 Apr 1979
Section E, p. 8.
Los Angeles Times
12 Dec 1979
Section E, p. 1, 30.
New Republic
15 Mar 1980
p. 24.
New York Times
29 Sep 1979
p. 12.
New York Times
17 Feb 1980
Section D, p. 15.
New York Times
2 Mar 1980
Section D, p. 19, 25.
Variety
17 Jan 1979.
---
Variety
24 Jan 1979.
---
Variety
6 Jun 1979
p. 22.
Variety
13 Jun 1979.
---
Variety
21 Nov 1979
p. 3, 162.
Village Voice
25 Feb 1980.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Michael and Kathy Fitzgerald Present
an Ithaca-Anthea co-Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
1st cam asst
Gaffer
Key grip
Generator op
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Sets supv
Prop master
COSTUMES
Clothes supv
MUSIC
Mus comp and adpt
Mus ed, La Da Productions
SOUND
Sd recordist
Post prod sd
Boom op
VISUAL EFFECTS
Title stills
MAKEUP
PRODUCTION MISC
Scr supv
Asst to Alex North
Transportation
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor (New York, 1952).
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Jhon Huston's Wise Blood
Release Date:
1979
Premiere Information:
World premiere: Cannes Film Festival 1979
New York opening: 29 September 1979
Los Angeles opening: 12 December 1979
Production Date:
late January--March 1979
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Lenses
Panavision equipment furnished by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
108
MPAA Rating:
PG
Countries:
Germany (West), United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
25733
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Discharged from the Army, private Hazel Motes hitches a ride to his family’s farm in the rural South. He inspects the abandoned farmhouse, which is boarded up and in disrepair. On the property’s gravesite, he pauses in front of a tombstone and thinks back to his childhood when his grandfather, an evangelist, preached under a tent. At a general store nearby, Hazel throws away his military uniform and buys a plain suit. He tells the clerk that he will not work the farm, but plans to try something new. Before leaving, he asks the clerk to cash an army check and purchases a large black hat. On the train, Hazel replies to an inquisitive woman sitting across from him that he is going to Taulkinham, a city where he knows no one. At the Taulkinham station, Hazel notices the address of the “friendliest bed in town” scribbled on the wall of the men’s bathroom and takes a taxicab there. On the way, the driver comments that preachers are not the usual company at this address. Hazel insists that he is not a preacher and vehemently adds that he does not believe in anything. Upon arriving, he opens the front door and finds Leora Watts, a prostitute, lounging in bed. She says it does not matter who he is, as long as he has $4. Two days later in the town square, Hazel is among a group of people gathered around a salesman who is demonstrating a potato peeler. A blind preacher, Asa Hawks, approaches the group accompanied by his seventeen-year old daughter, Sabbath Lily, and ... +


Discharged from the Army, private Hazel Motes hitches a ride to his family’s farm in the rural South. He inspects the abandoned farmhouse, which is boarded up and in disrepair. On the property’s gravesite, he pauses in front of a tombstone and thinks back to his childhood when his grandfather, an evangelist, preached under a tent. At a general store nearby, Hazel throws away his military uniform and buys a plain suit. He tells the clerk that he will not work the farm, but plans to try something new. Before leaving, he asks the clerk to cash an army check and purchases a large black hat. On the train, Hazel replies to an inquisitive woman sitting across from him that he is going to Taulkinham, a city where he knows no one. At the Taulkinham station, Hazel notices the address of the “friendliest bed in town” scribbled on the wall of the men’s bathroom and takes a taxicab there. On the way, the driver comments that preachers are not the usual company at this address. Hazel insists that he is not a preacher and vehemently adds that he does not believe in anything. Upon arriving, he opens the front door and finds Leora Watts, a prostitute, lounging in bed. She says it does not matter who he is, as long as he has $4. Two days later in the town square, Hazel is among a group of people gathered around a salesman who is demonstrating a potato peeler. A blind preacher, Asa Hawks, approaches the group accompanied by his seventeen-year old daughter, Sabbath Lily, and asks for donations. Lily hands Hazel a leaflet about Jesus, which he tears into pieces. She looks at him with interest. When Lily cannot afford a peeler, she and her father walk away. Hazel buys a peeler and follows them to the front of City Hall. Shoving the box at Lily, Hazel proclaims that he is not affected by her coquettish glances. Asa proposes that Hazel actually came after them because he wants to be saved by Jesus. In response, Hazel grits his teeth and contends that neither Jesus nor sin exists. As a group of people streams out of the building, Hazel warns them to walk in the other direction, away from the beliefs of Asa and Lily. With fervor, he announces to onlookers that his new church will be called the Church of Truth, Without Jesus Christ Crucified, and it will be free to join. That night, Hazel sleeps with Leora. In a dream about his childhood, he walks with rocks in his shoes as self-punishment and hears the voice of his grandfather preaching about sin. From a used car lot, Hazel buys a vintage, but battered vehicle and drives out of town. When the car stalls in front of a roadside sign about Jesus, Hazel thinks back to how his grandfather singled him out in front of the congregation, causing him to urinate on stage. After some effort, Hazel locates the address of Asa and Lily and rents a room in the same house. In a confrontational manner, he knocks on Asa and Lily’s door, declaring that he will be living upstairs and will start preaching about his own church. When he leaves, Asa refers to Hazel as “a Jesus hog.” However, Lily admits that she is romantically attracted and wants to seduce him. If she succeeds, it would free Asa to be on his own, to which Asa seems agreeable. Soon, Hazel returns and asks why Jesus did not cure Asa, if Jesus is capable of healing blind men. In response, Asa hands Hazel a newspaper clipping, whose headline reads “Evangelist Promises to Blind Self.” Lily explains that Asa did it using quicklime, and this act created hundreds of followers. Dismissing their offer of salvation, Hazel leaves. Sometime later, Lily dresses up and surprises Hazel by hiding in the back seat of his car. During the drive, she tells him that she is a bastard child. Since she has no hope of being saved, she encourages Hazel to lie down in the woods with her. Although he pulls off the highway and seems intrigued with Lily, he evades her flirtation. After his car is repaired, they drive back to town. One evening, Hazel is preaching at a street corner to a few people. Hoover Shoates, an opportunist, steps up and claims that Hazel is a friend and a gifted prophet. As the crowd becomes larger, he introduces himself as Onnie Jay Holy, a preacher who endorses Hazel’s church. Hazel tries to denounce Shoates as a liar, but Shoates speaks over him and requests a dollar from the crowd to hear the prophet’s “up-to-date” truth. Hazel shouts back that they should not pay for the truth. While Hazel struggles to crank his car, Shoates suggests that Hazel’s good ideas and image could benefit from a little promotion. As Hazel rejects him and drives away, Shoates threatens to run him out of business. Arriving at the boarding house, Hazel sneaks into Asa’s room while he is sleeping and lights a match in his face, confirming that he is not blind. Upstairs, Lily is waiting in Hazel’s bed and admits that her father is a con man. She undresses Hazel and they spend the night together. The following day, Hazel continues to proclaim his beliefs on the street. Shoates drives up next to him and steals the crowd’s attention with a preacher dressed like Hazel who claims to be from the Church of Jesus Christ Without Christ. That night, Hazel watches from across the street as Shoates and his preacher conclude their sermon and divide the profits. Hazel follows the look-alike man and confronts him on a dark, country road. After pushing the man’s car into a ditch, Hazel demands that he take off the matching suit and hat. When the man falls down in the road, Hazel drives over him. As the man is dying, Hazel leans over him and states that he will not tolerate someone who is not true. At the boarding house, Hazel hastily packs his bags. When Lily asks where he is going, Hazel responds that he is leaving for another city to preach the truth. On the way out of town, Hazel orders a gas station attendant to pour water in his car radiator, even though it is full of leaks, declaring that, “nobody with a good car needs to worry about nothin’.” Along the road, a sheriff pulls Hazel over because he does not like his face and leads him to a scenic view nearby. When Hazel gets out, the sheriff shifts the car to neutral and pushes it off the road. As Hazel stands by, his car crosses a field and lands in a lake. Carrying a bag of quicklime, Hazel returns to the boarding house and goes upstairs. Within moments, Lily screams out that Hazel has blinded his eyes. Sometime later, the landlady guides Hazel inside the house and up the stairs. With satisfaction, she informs him that Lily moved out soon after Hazel destroyed his sight, because she was not interested in a real blind man. The landlady welcomes him home and wants him to be comfortable. After some months, the landlady suggests that Hazel start preaching again to give him something to do, but Hazel, listless on the porch, remarks that he does not have the time. While making Hazel’s bed, the landlady notices blood spots on the sheets and then finds rocks in his boots. At that moment, Hazel enters the room with his shirt open, bleeding from a barbed wire tied tight across his chest. The landlady screams and asks why he does things which are not normal. He responds that he must pay for his sins. On another day, the landlady brings Hazel’s food tray and complains that it is getting difficult for her to climb the stairs and look after him. As a solution, she suggests that she and Hazel get married. Otherwise, she cannot allow him to stay. While Hazel puts on his jacket and grabs his cane, the landlady pleads that she has a deep affection for him and is the only one who cares for his welfare. In the pouring rain, Hazel leaves the house. The landlady calls out that he is not welcome back if he does not value her kindness and shuts the front door. That evening as the rainstorm continues, the landlady decides to call the police. The next day, the officers find Hazel lying by the railroad trestle, barely conscious. They bring him back to the boarding home and place him on a bed. Sitting at his side, the landlady explains that if he wants to go somewhere, they will go together. As she repeats Hazel's name, his lifeless body does not respond. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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