The Arthur Blessitt story, if true, is every bit as intriguing as, say, Philippe Petit‘s story: ‘A man strung a cable across the empty space between the roofs of two World Trade Center Towers and walked across it.’
A Story Is What You Make It
Both stories, when presented as one-sentence briefs, give rise to dozens of questions that are variations and/or fill-ins of the six basic questions -- Who? What? Where? When? How? Why? -- you've been conditioned to consider since you were writing assignments in grade school. Who are these fellows, these dreamers, who've come up with and carried out such audacious plots, and who helped them? What did they do to realize their dreams and what did it cost them -- materially and emotionally? Where, along the way, did they reach meaningful milestones? When were they most challenged? How did they convince themselves and others to stick with the plan? Why, for heaven’s sake, did they want to perform these stunning stunts? These are essential questions, and you'd rightly expect them to be answered -- and artfully so -- in a documentary.
The Power of Storytelling
Well, we know Man On Wire satisfies. Marsh presents a well-crafted compilation of fascinating archival footage mixed with insightful interviews with people who were there and beautifully shot dramatic reenactments of events. There’s a terrific score that’s used to heighten the audience’s experience of Petit’s journey. It all fits together and, as a result, the film is a thrilling ride, one that deserves the gold.
The Director's Cut
Unfortunately, not much.
Like Marsh, Crouch mixes archival footage with current interviews with Arthur -- but with only Arthur, who's alternatively shown in extreme close up and full body with his twelve-foot cross balanced on his knee. Sometimes the shot is set from the right, sometimes from the left. That‘s about as varied as it gets. And, while it might seem unlikely that could lead to a mash up, there's just no discernible reason why shots are sequenced as they are. Arthur appears in a white shirt from the left, then in a blue shirt from the right, then white from left again. It's dizzying. And, where is he? I dunno.
Crouch’s occasional voice over gives no clue. That wouldn’t much matter if Arthur's comments had a through line. Unfortunately, they're pretty much one note--Arthur saying he wants to tell everyone Jesus loves them. Perhaps that’s a heart-felt message, but it’s repeated so many times -- frankly, I lost count -- in Arthur’s preachy croon that his mantra is our torture.
At least the interview clips are in focus. The archival footage is fuzzy, low grade, home video stuff. The shots are either stand ups of Arthur, center screen, announcing to the camera that he‘s in Antarctica, Easter Island, Bangkok, Moscow, Bali or wherever, or what I suppose is supposed to be verite coverage of Arthur trudging through a neighborhood, in downtown Los Angeles, for example, or rural farm country, with the crossbeam of his twelve-foot cross slung over his shoulder and its tail, balanced on a small wheel, rolling over blacktop. We see snippets of interactions with strangers, who variously ignore, tolerate or thank him as he tells them Jesus loves them (countless times), leads J-E-S-U-S pep rally cheering, and hands everyone a round sticker. Kids love stickers, but who's Arthur’s supplier and where does he stow these tokens while he’s climbing mountains with his cross in tow? I dunno. How does Arthur get from Antarctica to Bangkok? I dunno. Where does Arthur sleep and bathe? I dunno. Who, for that matter, holds the camera when he does his stand ups? I dunno.
Too Many Unanswered Questions
The confusion is exacerbated by a lack of continuity in the editing--shots filmed outside LA’s Whiskey A-Go-Go, for example, are shown out of sequence and, another example, that archival footage of Arthur on the road is sequenced without consideration of Arthur’s progressing age.
So, as it turns out, Arthur Blessitt is a somewhat lackluster subject with a very interesting story that's insufficiently presented in The Cross. As a result, we may never know whether Arthur Blessitt is blessed or nutsy. And, sometimes you really do have to blame the messenger.
If You Like This Film, You May Also Like:
- Jesus Camp
- Man On Wire
- Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple
- In The Footsteps of Marco Polo
- Release Date: March 27, 2009
- Running Time: 93 mins.
- Locations: Around the World
- Language: English
- Company: Gener8Xion Entertainment