Wednesday, February 6, 2019

the gospel of eureka

The Gospel of Eureka reaches its peak in vivid visual symmetry between an arena Passion Play and a local drag bar. Narrated warmly by Justin Vivian Bond, the doc captures a handful of characters and the mood of its title town, Eureka Springs, burrowed in leafy Arkansas mountainside, exceptionally well. In its brisk, but leisurely and elegantly-filmed 75-minute run-time, directors Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher's doc looks at the divides and the occasional surprising cross-sections between evangelical and LGBTQ life.

We are introduced to a son of two gay dads, now grown with children of his own. The manager of the Passion Play, staged in the mountains of the Christ of the Ozarks, the third largest Christ statue in the world, and the actor who portrays Jesus himself--with syrupy blood and bombastic resurrection and all. But the heart of the picture are couple Lee Keating and Walter Burrell who run Eureka Live--a homey strobe-lit dive dubbed the "hillbilly Studio 54." The documentary, mostly low-key and plain, makes its most canny and exceptional cut midway through in a flash forward scene. It punctures with humor and pain and delves deeper into Keating and Burrell's love and beliefs.

Overall, I appreciated the slyness Palmieri and Mosher often interject and the coyness of Bond's narration. Unlike many slash and burn docs of late, the film's low-key matter-of-fact presentation visually doesn't pit two sides so harshly against one another--it's already burning within the subtext. In fact, there's a lack of outright judgement (except for deserved scorn for Anita Bryant) that would have been an easy brush stroke. The movie savors the natural world--a quick close-up of a spider is a small and grand gesture--a Pride march interrupted by a storm. It's a reminder how silly and complicated human life is as nature strums on. The Gospel of Eureka ends up being a temporary salve in these times, and a southern-fried tale wrapped up deeply by the end of the journey, above the misty mountains. ***

-Jeffery Berg

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