You probably know that Joe Haege is no stranger to dramatic performance if you've ever seen any of his various bands (31 Knots, Tu Fawning) or seen him perform solo (he has a record out as Vin Blanc, and does anyone remember his solo piano venture? Something about a dead horse? Boy was that dramatic). Or perhaps you caught his turn in Field Guide to November Days, where his fine acting was overshadowed by the fact that the movie was insufferably twee. But we did learn that Haege does a beautiful job of both kissing boys and crying while riding a bicycle, so I was eager to see him in his next leading role, in How the Fire Fell as Edmund Creffield, a Christian cult leader who during the turn of the 20th century founded the Bride of Christ Church in Corvallis. And thank the Bride of Christ, Haege's found a film that both demonstrates the absurd breadth of his talent (that soundtrack? co-written by Haege with John Askew) and is interesting in subject matter, execution, and is awesome enough for it to be surprising that it's director Edward P. Davee's first feature. Apparently one of Portland's most talented filmmakers has been hiding out in the AV department of Reed College.
The degree of Haege's responsibility in this role is hard to underestimate. Were there any flicker of hesitation in his delivery as a hysteria-inducing holy roller the whole thing would have come crashing down. In fact for most of the film he's the only actor who does much speaking at all.
The creepiness of the film is sustained by its ambient delivery, and nearly every uncanny shot makes the hairs on your neck twitch. Davee's choice of subject was well made, but of equal importance is his decision to be expository but not particularly biographical. The bones of the story are that Creffield built a following through fervent sermonizing, often in people's homes. He was convincing enough that he was able to claim a whole slew of wives (polygamy being the benchmark of success in patriarchal religious cults), naming one 17-year-old girl to be his "bride of Christ." He also emphasized nudity as a way to tap into that Garden of Eden feeling, cursed San Francisco on the night before an earthquake and widespread fires brought the city to its knees, was once tarred and feathered, and was eventually shot and killed by the brother of his Bride of Christ. (The brother was acquitted.)
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